Dr. Lynne Guyton is CEO at John Lyon’s Charity, which gives grants to benefit children and young people up to the age of 25 who live in nine boroughs in North and West London. Since 1991, the Charity has distributed over £130 million to a range of organisations that seek to promote the life-chances of children and young people through education.
As a charitable organisation that heavily supports projects delivered for young people in educational settings, you can only imagine the effect the current crisis caused by Covid-19 has had on the charity and the concerns of its grantees. However, as the leader of John Lyon’s Charity, I knew it was important to keep steering the ship during these uncertain times to ensure support was always offered where needed.
A month ago, like many of you, I had just returned refreshed from a half-term holiday to warmer climes. As I adjusted back to my routine reviewing grant applications, checking the performance of our endowment to ensure our grantees are properly supported, Covid-19 went from a distant threat to a very real one. Now, we are faced with an unprecedented crisis that few of us ever expected to witness. As we all learn to practice social distancing and isolation, communication – in so many ways – becomes ever more important in terms of what is being said and the tone behind it. Over many years, whether facing a personal crisis close to home or dealing with a public disaster such as Grenfell, the following key points are ones that I reach for in times like this.
In the past two weeks I have been deluged with emails concerning action being taken on Covid-19. Driving this onslaught of messages is the interchange between the need to communicate something and doing the right thing. In times of crisis, however, it is important not to fill a vacuum just for the sake of it. As a charity leader, I know people are looking to me for advice, leadership or guidance. While there may be an urgency to do something, it is important to create your own ‘calm’ to address what is necessary. Being responsive may be about reacting to a crisis, but it is also about digging deep and being proactive in offering tangible support to your team and your grantees that you can follow through on.
It is essential that decisions taken during a crisis are accountable and recorded. Support from your board is imperative to ensuring transparency and clarity are adhered to, not just at the beginning but throughout a crisis or period of upheaval. You need that support and buy in to validate what you are doing.
Think about who the audience is you want to communicate with. If you are offering to help by making pledges of support, don’t forget about your own staff. Supportive external messaging to beneficiaries, suppliers etc should echo communications to your own staff. This is about thinking what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes and help them from their perspective and not your own. Your employees are central to how quickly your organisation can respond to or recover from a crisis. Make your staff a priority audience for any communications at times of stress.
If you have nothing useful say, then don’t say it! We are all flooded with Covid-19 communications so make sure it’s practical and has value to it. If you decide to reach out to your audiences and offer to support them, make sure you are able to provide the support you have promised. If you know you want to act, engage other organisations to collaborate with them or endorse and promote what they are doing rather than compete with them. This is why John Lyon’s Charity signed up to the joint London Funders statement; we are stronger and more effective in partnership. This is particularly relevant right now as different funding proposals and programmes appear. Don’t re-invent the wheel! Flag-up the ones that have impetus, buy-in and infrastructure in place rather than creating your own scheme.
When the crisis you are facing changes, make sure you adapt your communication and approach. While consistency of messaging is important, so is relevance, particularly when events move at a pace. Look at the messages you are putting out; if they need to be changed or updated explain why. Being relevant is also an opportunity to re-imagine how you operate. Organisations which reinvent themselves to make the most of insight gained through a crisis will succeed, because a crisis doesn’t just reveal vulnerabilities, it also gives opportunities to improve performance and be more productive/supportive. A case in point is that within the last week, John Lyon’s Charity has written to all its grantees about the flexible approach it will take to grantmaking in this unparalleled crisis.
Before you start to help others, first and foremost, remember to be kind to yourself. This means not worrying about juggling childcare/grocery shopping or anything else. You cannot be a superhero, so remember one task, one step, one day at a time. If you need to take time out in the working day or week to allow your mind/body to breathe, then do it. Whether its Pilates, yoga, mindfulness, walking the dog, making a cake…. whatever is a distraction or a treat for you, then do it and learn to be kind to yourself. There is only one of you!
ACEVO is hosting a series of webinars on resilience and mindfulness, for more information please click here.