Is Your Charity Resilience or Compliance Focused?


As a Charity, the likelihood is that much of your time and energy is taken up ensuring that you comply with the many and various legal obligations that apply to you. These are wide-ranging, encompassing such issues as health and safety, data protection, safeguarding, equal opportunities and diversity, financial and employment law. It is important to meet these obligations, both for the benefits which they can bring in terms of sound charitable governance as well as to avoid the adverse implications of failing to do so, such as inviting unwelcome external investigations, legal disputes or potentially hefty fines.

Nonetheless, an important question to ask yourself as a Charity is whether your governance activities have compliance as their narrow destination or whether compliance merely forms one component and a stepping stone, albeit it an important one, of your overall efforts towards becoming more resilient as an organisation.

A common weakness for organisations, including Charities, is to become so preoccupied with trying to meet the myriad of often onerous legal, regulatory and insurance requirements that they lose sight of the bigger picture of what they are trying to achieve. Ultimately, this is the realisation of charitable objectives through enabling the most efficient running of charitable business in the short term as well as ensuring the Charity’s viability and sustainability in the longer term for which becoming resilient is critical.

Many risks facing an organisation are compliance related, such as the risk of an employee dispute, a data breach, or a health and safety incident. Not all are though, as the current Covid 19 pandemic has starkly highlighted for many organisations. Potential risks and vulnerabilities facing an organisation can take many different forms, such as failing to ensure business continuity through adequate planning for the possible occurrence of different types of incidents or scenarios, whether in the form of a cyber hack or virus which temporarily impairs or disables your IT system, the occurrence of a man-made or natural disaster (such as major power outage or severe flooding) or a health pandemic which radically changes your business operations and plans overnight.

The problem with a compliance weighted approach is that it can unduly limit and constrain your outlook, especially in terms of what you prioritise and invest your efforts and resources in as an organisation. Ensuring that all of the correct policies, processes and procedures are in place will not on their own make your Charity resilient. That is, they won’t enable you to effectively identify actual and potential risks which may disrupt your core charitable business nor to take necessary measures which either prevent or at least reduce the likelihood of them occurring. Nor will such a focus encourage your organisation to develop an adaptive mindset and capability which enables you to flex more easily to challenging and evolving contexts.

A stark lesson that Covid 19 has brought to the fore is that only those organisations with an adaptive resilience mindset are likely to not only survive but also thrive, in both the short and longer term.

Katja Samuel is the founder and CEO of GSDM(R4C), with broad ranging resilience experience and expertise.