Policy, Government and the Voluntary Sector

If you try to have everything at once, it’ll be a bit of a mess

Growth for growth’s sake is neither healthy nor effective.

I’ve recently got back from holidaying in a hotel which had the most amazing breakfast buffet I have ever seen.

You could go up as many times as you liked. That appeared to be lost on some. Talk about piling on the food – I’m sure folk don’t eat that much at home.

But more bizarrely was how they constructed their plates.

There was one chap who had beans, bacon, fried potatoes, fresh fruit salad, two Danish pastries and a chocolate brownie – ALL ON THE SAME PLATE!

“Why don’t they just go up several times?” I asked my partner bemusedly. “No one is judging them.”

He replied: “Well, you are,” which was both funny and true.

It made me think about how folk can sometimes almost panic when faced with a range of options and completely forget they can prioritise.

It’s as if they’re afraid they’re going to be deprived. They lose the ability to plan: I’ll have beans and sausages first, then I’ll go back for fruit, then cake.

We face those challenges as a country and as a sector.

It is so easy to forget, when we are faced with crises, whether economic or strategic, that if you try to have everything all at once, it’ll be a bit of a mess.

We have to pick and choose what is right for the size of the plate we have – and for our ability to digest things.

The first attempt made to fix the economy by our now former Prime Minister felt a bit like an overloaded plate, trying to have everything, but without a plan on how to digest it or evidence that it’s good for us.

We do that as charities, too – thinking that we have to sort out the finances, the wellbeing, the marketing, the operations, all at the same time. Which is when folk get overloaded and things go wrong.

It’s also about not even trying to do everything; doing more than your capacity allows, just because you know the need is so great.

Think about what your charity alone can do that nobody else is going to do. Start there. Only add additional things when you are sure they are not going to fall off your plate or be beyond your digestive capacity.

We live in a world where financial growth is seen as inherently good for its own sake – in companies, in countries and in charities. Growing your plate is seen as THE major measure of success. Yet I would argue that growth for growth’s sake isn’t healthy or effective.

It’s no good having an overloaded plate if you can’t eat it all, or you do snarf it and end up throwing up!

A bigger plate doesn’t mean better food. Perhaps time for us as a sector to redefine what success means for us?

My learning from the chap at breakfast is: you don’t need to overload your plate. The answer is not really ‘More! More! More!’

Let’s focus on what is effective, what works and what we are capable of, and then prioritise.

Originally published on the Third Sector website, you can view it here.