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Aligning your strategy amidst a pandemic

20 November 2020

National poverty charity Turn2us was about to launch its new strategy, when the UK went into lockdown and everything suddenly went on hold. What the charity found, however, was far from being no longer relevant, it was in fact well placed to respond to people’s needs in the crisis. On top of that, the process of putting the strategy together had ensured the charity’s team was prepared for a new way of working in an unexpected context.

‘Nothing about us without us’ is a phrase many of us are aware of in the charity sector, but not necessarily proactively living.  At Turn2us is we’re on a journey of deeply understanding what co-production means for our work, and building our new strategy was the first step to putting it into action.  So here’s how our new strategy was developed, put into action and how it has actually become something that has made us stronger through Covid times.

Our beginnings

Turn2us was founded by Elizabeth Finn in 1897 and started out as the Distressed Gentlefolks’ Aid Association. Its sole purpose was to provide grants to people who had ‘fallen into hard times’.

We maintained that core approach for over a hundred years, recognizing that there was always a need for people to have financial assistance. Over time, we added different approaches to our work, for example, supporting people to access their benefits through the Benefits Calculator, creating a grants search tool for individuals, and introducing new grant funds.

A charity for the future

As the context of financial hardship changed it became clear that we needed to reassess our purpose, strategy and values. What was even clearer was that we needed to co-produce our new strategy with the people the organization exists to serve.  We realized that we needed to listen harder to the reality of people’s lives, and be an organization that is relevant and responsive to people who are living in financial hardship.  Our new strategy needed to be developed in genuine partnership to enable us to look to a future where we have contributed to ending both the symptoms and causes of poverty.

Building the purpose together

So that is what we did.  Together with lived experts, staff, trustees, partners and stakeholders, we used the traditional tools of sticky post-it notes, flip charts break-out rooms and blue-sky thinking in workshops to think about our new purpose together.

The same themes kept coming up from different perspectives. This helped us shape the purpose we have today that guides our organisation: So everyone has the opportunity to build financial sustainability and thrive, Turn2us offers the information and support people need in the face of life changing events, and collaborates to tackle the causes and symptoms of poverty. 

Next stop, strategy

Once we had a clear and definitive purpose, we were ready to build a three-year strategy to put it into action. In different forums, with the same range of stakeholders, we listened, debated, contested, challenged, considered, deliberated, and after some months and, after many iterations, agreed on our strategic aims: 

  1. Deliver high-quality, practical programmes that include information and financial support so that people can build their own financial sustainability and thrive.
  2. Deliver even better impact for people facing financial hardship through the co-production of our work with experts who have lived experience, in collaboration with other organisations and through a dedication to insight, evaluation, learning and improvement.
  3. Build the profile of Turn2us and its work to reach people facing life-changing events and experiencing poverty, and secure support for the work.
  4. Develop our influence on policy, practice and public opinion, tackling the prejudice towards people experiencing poverty and insisting on their fundamental rights to access social security.
  5. Invest in our culture, systems, knowledge and skills.
  6. Maximise our assets and secure income ethically to achieve impact.

And what about Covid

We were ready to officially launch our new strategy in March 2020 after a year of planning. Then the coronavirus struck. With the confidence of our purpose and organisational ambition, we switched into response mode knowing that in a crisis people need information and financial support – and that has always been what we know how to do best. We ran a fundraising appeal and media campaign; launched a new Turn2us Coronavirus Grant Fund awarding £1.3m in emergency grants; constantly updated our Benefits Calculator with the new legislations and increased our capacity to deal with a 500% rise in demand for our services.

This response would not have been possible if it wasn’t for all the work on the strategy, without our staff who are so committed and passionate about what we do, without our co-production partners guiding us, without our Trustees supporting us, and without our partners who stayed with us while we were all dealing with the ‘new normal’ reality.

What next?

Having finally launched our strategy in the same week that the UK heads into a second lockdown, we are reflecting on the first six months of our three year strategy, and its continued relevance to the current context. Going forward, we will strive to continuously improve the impact of our work. We will deepen our relationships with partners across the sector, and beyond. We will keep listening, and supporting the active agency of lived experts. We will challenge the systems that keep people in financial hardship. And of course, we will continue to provide the practical support people need to be able to cope no matter how long this pandemic lasts. We don’t have all the answers but we are unashamedly ambitious to tackle the causes of poverty and give people the support they need to not just survive, but to thrive.

Going through the process of reviewing our strategy together, in the midst of a global pandemic, has been a definite learning experience. It shone a focus on the need to be agile and responsive; as well as the continued importance of co-production with lived experts. While it may seem an easy step to skip, co-production is vital in ensuring any support or services are designed to meet the needs of the people they are for. This is a crucial step and should not be overlooked, even when we’re in rapid response mode.

Read the new Turn2us strategy here.

Discover more about strategy development:

Image: Pixabay on Pexels

Sonya Ruparel

director of programmes and partnerships, Turn2us

Sonya Ruparel joined Turn2us in August 2019, coming from ActionAid International as acting humanitarian director. Sonya focused her 10 years in the humanitarian sector on women’s leadership, shifting power and accountability to affected communities. Her interests are promoting social justice through an intersectional feminist lens and ensuring a strong gendered analysis is front and centre of all anti-poverty work.