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A for-purpose recipe: the ingredients to drive impact and sustainability today

24 September 2020 at 7:00 am
Heather Morecroft
Effectively leading for-purpose organisations in today’s uncertain climate is no walk in the park. However, there are a few key strategies that are helping impact-driven organisations to thrive, writes Heather Morecroft from Spark Strategy.

Heather Morecroft | 24 September 2020 at 7:00 am


A for-purpose recipe: the ingredients to drive impact and sustainability today
24 September 2020 at 7:00 am

Effectively leading for-purpose organisations in today’s uncertain climate is no walk in the park. However, there are a few key strategies that are helping impact-driven organisations to thrive, writes Heather Morecroft from Spark Strategy.

Many people have been cooking up a storm in recent months. However, it has by no means been freshly baked cookies and smooth sailing either. Recognising the challenges and the complexity, at Spark Strategy we’ve outlined five key ingredients that effective for-purpose leaders and teams are focusing on right now.

In many ways, recent months have been a tale of opposites. At the time of writing, nearly one million people around the world have tragically lost their lives due or linked to COVID-19. But some health outcomes are improving, such as rates of influenza (predicted) and preterm births (unexpected and largely unexplained), which are both down significantly. For some, like supermarkets and online retailers, business is booming. Alongside this, un- and under-employment continue to climb, with programs like JobKeeper both masking and protecting us from the “real” picture. Emissions are down but waste from single-use plastics has skyrocketed. Views on lockdown approaches and restrictions are mixed at best, and often polarising and alienating. The list goes on.

This diversity of our experiences and outcomes is nothing new. Saying that, it is blindingly obvious – and completely unacceptable – that COVID-19 has highlighted and exacerbated inequity, such as for the elderly, young people, women and other oppressed community groups.

In this complex, changing and often challenging context, we are fortunate to work with incredible for-purpose leaders and teams. These people are committed to making a real difference to our health, wellbeing, relationships, safety, community and economic participation, and so much more. Being immersed in this space everyday, it’s easy to see that impact-led work is hard and important. It’s also easy to forget how remarkable and under-appreciated it is. So, to put it simply, thank you all.

Despite the many, many differences in experiences, approaches and perspectives, we’re seeing similarities across the sector’s high performers. So, we’ve put together our for-purpose recipe for impact and sustainability. 

First, set a clear, shared direction and priorities based on need and value.

Now more than ever, the organisations that are succeeding are relevant and aligned. Being relevant is about recognising the core community and environmental needs and challenges of today, and responding to these with strong value propositions. By aligned, we mean that boards, leaders and teams are on the same page – everyone is working towards the same north star, which guides their decisions and actions. This is as much about knowing what to do as what not to do; saying no is no mean feat.

Putting this into practice: Review and refresh your strategy with our step-by-step guide here.

Next, keep an unwavering focus on team wellbeing, sustainability and connectedness.

The for-purpose sector is a fundamentally human sector. Effective leaders recognise and respect this, and are investing in their people. This can come in many forms, be it taking the time to meaningfully check-in with colleagues, enabling flexible working arrangements, providing an employee assistance program (EAP), running weekly yoga, purchasing ergonomic equipment or offering access to mindfulness apps. 

Putting this into practice: The wonderful people at Small Giants show how Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) framework can be quickly and effectively applied to team wellbeing here

Maintain an open, outward, systems-level mindset.

It’s easy to go insular at times like this. After all, there’s a lot to be done internally. However, if we are to build back better, we need to go beyond the individual and organisational level. We need to look out. This is about going beyond tokenistic (virtual) hand shaking and information sharing. Instead, the time has come to reconsider partnerships, coalitions, joint ventures and M&A. It’s also about exploring systems reform opportunities to change policy, law, social norms and financial mechanisms for the better. 

Putting this into practice: Use the template below as a conversation starter. Map how you allocate your efforts and resources, and whether you think this should change in future. Are you currently a triangle, separate squares, a rectangle, an hourglass or something else? What would you like to be?


Concentric circles showing systems, partnerships, services

Seize the digital moment and encourage innovation.

The last few months have seen all of us rapidly scale our digital use and capability. This has led to the acceleration of many positive changes, such as one-time place-based programs now being available online nationally, and – after years of incremental progress – telehealth becoming widely available. Effective for-purpose leaders and teams are only pining for the “good old days” of face-to-face some of the time, and focusing their efforts on digital and other innovation opportunities. For example, some are viewing the JobKeeper payments as an innovation grant that can fund creative endeavours and experiments.

Putting this into practice: Run an idea mash-up exercise, in which you blend your services and products with existing technology offering and experiences. See IDEO-U’s instructions here.

Always powerfully articulate and demonstrate your impact. (Note: It’s not a decorative topping, it’s central to success.)

Some people see impact assessment and demonstration as a nice-to-have. The last few months have really challenged this point-of-view. Organisations who can powerfully tell their story and evidence their impact have been front-of-mind for government, the media, the general public and other key partners. This equates to funding, share of voice, volunteers and other forms of in-kind support. Furthermore, those with a strong focus on outcomes and impact have generally been able to flex their activities away from in-person events and programs, while still maintaining funding (e.g. through outcomes-based contracts) and driving impact.

Putting this into practice: Develop a theory of change and impact assessment framework, which considers your contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals. See my colleague Kuppal’s Pro Bono News article here.

At times like these, we need a strong and sustainable for-purpose sector more than ever. Despite the challenges behind us and to come, we’re encouraged by the resilience, adaptability and creativity of the sector, and looking forward to seeing how we build back better together.


About the author: Heather Morecroft is a senior strategic advisor at Spark Strategy, where she works with for-purpose leaders on strategy development, sustainable business models, impact assessment and other strategic projects. Drawing on her experience in the not-for-profit and private sectors, Heather’s focus is on creating strategies and solutions that blend purpose, profit and pragmatism. Collaboration is key to both Heather’s approach and the models she develops, taking into account that authentic engagement and partnerships takes time, energy and consideration. 

Heather Morecroft  |  @ProBonoNews

Heather Morecroft is a senior strategic advisor at Spark Strategy.

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