We're gonna need a bigger boat

In the coming months, we need to channel Chief Brody from Jaws - our CEO, Debra Allcock Tyler on looking to the future as a sector.

I’m writing this before the election, while Trump is in Saudi Arabia and during the week of the Manchester arena bombing, not knowing what the outcome of any of these events is going to be. And my mind, perhaps not surprisingly, has turned to horror films and one of my top-ten favourites, Stephen Spielberg’s 1975 cult classic Jaws.

If you haven’t seen it, Chief Brody, played by Roy Scheider, is in a boat tracking a killer shark (the “Jaws” of the title). As the shark rears up he realises its gargantuan size and utters the famous words: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” What I love about that line is the sheer pragmatism of it. Faced with what seem like overwhelming odds he doesn’t panic or go into meltdown about the size of the problem. In fact, the first words out of his mouth are about what he needs to defeat this particular monster.

Faced with so much local, national and global uncertainty I think we charities might need to channel Chief Brody over the coming months, especially when it feels like our seas are teeming with toothy fish waiting to bite!

Or course, we’ve always had to navigate our way through shoals of sharks and posses of piranhas in our sector. Has anything really changed? Sure, some might argue it’s been easier in the past but, even if that’s true, it wasn’t all good. For example, in the previous decade it might have felt like there was a lot of state support for our work, especially financial, but I remember lots of mutterings about nanny states and over-interference in our work (Capacitybuilders springs to mind).

This decade, state funding has felt harder to come by, particularly for our smaller colleagues, but dramatically reduced levels of this sort of funding can be tremendously freeing for those who have felt gagged by the paymaster. There is now arguably the possibility of braver, more vocal, robust dissent and challenge to the government’s policies and priorities if they’re not serving our beneficiaries. And one thing is for sure, if Her Majesty’s opposition has a leaky, fragile boat we’d better make sure ours is shipshape and sea-worthy.

We simply must not use lack of money as an excuse for not bolstering our bulkheads. At the very least, to strengthen ourselves we can focus on building up our volunteer numbers and persuading more companies to give and give more. We can use our voices, get friendly with our local media and campaign loudly for change at local level. We can persuade our trustees to be braver, bolder and less risk-averse. We can streamline our information so that our decision-making is fast and focused. Above all, we can refuse to allow an anti-charity narrative to barnacle itself to our hull and create unnecessary drag.

When we are facing storms we just need to get ever more proficient at gunkholing* until the waters calm and the sharks get bored and swim off. And we can do all that regardless of who is running our country or threatening to divide our communities. All we need is a bigger boat.

This article was first published on Third Sector.