The lessons we’ve learnt along the way…
26 January 2016: posted by BigChange
2015 was a great year for Big Change – we ran a successful ‘mini’ Strive challenge raising £80,000, partnered with some exciting new projects, had a bit of a makeover (after disagreeing about shades of blue for what felt like an eternity), and published our first formal impact report.
As if the above wasn’t exciting enough, two of our project partners – NCS and Frontline – secured (even more) funding from the government. It is safe to say that as 2015 drew to a close we were feeling pretty chuffed. Tired, but chuffed nonetheless.
There were of course challenges and lessons learnt along the way amidst all the growth – that’s the reality of being a new organisation with big ambitions. Things didn’t always happen the way we thought they would, or in the time we thought they would… and sometimes things don’t happen at all, but that’s all part of the journey. Here are some of the greatest and most useful lessons we learned along the way that we hope might also be helpful for you in any scenario.
In the start-up world, and especially in the charitable sector, things are bound to change – and quickly. You can plan ahead all you want, but rest assured that there will be curveballs, cancellations, and new players that come into the picture. It’s easy to get attached to a certain way of doing things or a preconceived outcome, but in business, it’s crucial to know when to let go and change course.
Last year, we had planned to hold a STRIVE challenge that would be 150 people walking the West Highland Way and hiking Ben Nevis. When it came down to it, we realised it would be incredibly difficult to accommodate that many people in rural Scotland. We decided that we couldn’t pull it off , and opted to run a smaller, more intimate Virgin STRIVE Challenge with 56 Big Changers.
It was a very different event, and we were nervous about how it would go after the success of 2014 – but it turned out that having a smaller, more intimate group on a shorter challenge had a huge number of benefits and we’ve definitely taken note of a lot of ideas for the coming years. Plans will change, so being flexible is key in moving forward and enjoying yourself along the way.
Find your focus
Sometimes, the bigger picture becomes clouded when you have to-do lists that rival ‘War and Peace’ in length. In our early years, we knew that we wanted to select and support projects that catalyzed change for young people in the UK. These were projects that improved the lives of young people in one way or another – but we were having a hard time identifying the golden thread that ran through all of them.
In 2015, Essie joined us, and she has been invaluable in helping us get to the bottom of what it is that inspires Big Change and unites our project partners – the concept of Growth Mindset. Having this focus has helped to inform our decisions as an organisation, and has meant that every ounce of our energy is going in the right direction. It has also allowed us to set bigger goals for ourselves in terms of where we want to go and what we want to achieve – all with the overarching goal of creating a better world for young people.
Be confident in what you have to offer
Being a small team with big ambitions can feel overwhelming at times. At Big Change, we approach charity differently, and we don’t always fit the mould of what people are expecting in the not-for-profit sector. Rather than focusing our energy on addressing setbacks after they have occurred (which many charities are doing very successfully), we focus on supporting early stage projects – projects with big ideas that have the potential to change the system and the way we support young people in the long term. This way, we hope we have a better chance of preventing these setbacks from happening in the first place.
The issue with this is that people have a tendency to only donate where they can see immediate returns – where they know they have sponsored a child or a school, or have provided much-needed materials to a particular family for example. This is the case with our work – we don’t always see immediate returns because the ideas we support are at an early stage and are focused on long term change. We have to be patient as we nurture the organization to pilot and test their ideas so they can scale. It’s an incredible return to see these projects make it after years of hard work. Just this year, two projects that we sponsored in 2013 have secured ongoing government funding and are being expanded to a national scale (Frontline and NCS). It took a few years and a lot of hard work, but how cool is that?
The challenge with being different is that you can face a bit of apprehension and doubt. It’s crucial that we trust ourselves in these moments. We are always learning from and testing our ideas with experts across the sector, but it’s new ground and that can be scary. This year has taught us to be proud of the ways we are different, because that’s what makes us valuable. Remember that once you embrace change and find your focus, it’s easier to stand tall behind your mission and recognise its worth. This is key in driving your work forward.
These are some of the things we will be keeping in mind this year, when we will be looking to find new partners, running a Virgin STRIVE Challenge that’s bigger and better than its successors and working hard to grow the scale and impact that we as a team have. (confidence will help us cycle 1,000 kms, right?!).
We know there will continue to be growing pains, and we will need to be prepared to learn as we go, but every lesson learnt is a step in the right direction. Stay tuned for an exciting year in 2016.