During my year as High Sheriff, I have been deeply impressed by, and grateful for, the many charities who provide essential support to the people of West Sussex
These remarkable organisations, known together as the third or voluntary sector, provide transformational and often unique services to those who are vulnerable or have specific needs.
Of course, charities are dependent on the generosity of others for their funding and the pandemic has had a huge impact upon the whole sector and especially smaller charities - contact with clients has had to adapt dramatically and traditional fundraising opportunities have been all but impossible.
Despite this, the Charities’ Aid Foundation has reported a very generous 17 per cent increase in donations from the public during 2020 and, as a result, many smaller charities have managed to ‘batten down the hatches’ and survive.
Now, with the vaccination programme promising a return to more normal business in the next few months, charities have been encouraged to build up their activity once again with many taking to initiatives such as online fundraising.
However, quiz nights on Zoom can be only part of the solution for charities seeking to come out of the pandemic both stronger and smarter than they were before, and one way that smaller charities can benefit is to plan strategically with the support of an experienced mentor.
In 2021, this has become a real possibility for charity leaders in West Sussex as Charity Mentors, initially inspired by the Lieutenancy in East Sussex, have expanded their services to cover the whole of Sussex.
Recently I caught up with Ian Noble, the organisation’s project co-ordinator, to discover more about this exciting and important new initiative.
Charity Mentors, a charitable incorporated organisation established in 2016, offers short-term strategic support, usually up to six months, by providing an experienced mentor to work alongside a charity leader. It costs nothing other than a commitment and energy levels from the mentee.
Naturally, the mentoring is in strict confidence and while pre-Covid, the mentoring would always happen face-to-face, Charity Mentors have had to ‘pivot’ their operations during the pandemic by resorting to one-to-one meetings on a virtual basis.
As Ian commented: “Of course, we have all become more used to working virtually and, while there are time-saving benefits to meeting online, I’d fully expect our mentoring to evolve into a hybrid of both online and face-to-face meetings, once social distancing is no longer necessary.”
So, how does Charity Mentors work? By recruiting an experienced team of volunteer mentors from a range of backgrounds, Charity Mentors can match a mentee with a member of its team depending on what help is needed.
For each charity, the areas requiring attention will vary greatly. Fundraising plans, identifying resource requirements, job descriptions, trustee issues and the production of strategic plans are common themes but the discussion may well range more widely.
However, the key to the initiative’s success is in the way the mentors help their mentees achieve their potential by asking challenging questions and allowing them the time and space to prioritise their actions to maximum effect.
For Natasha Britton, co-founder and artistic director at Parable Dance, this approach has had an enormous impact.
She said: “My mentor really helped me to map out the plans and coping strategies that I needed to give my organisation a clearer focus. I learned how to delegate more effectively and bring in others around me to support the company. Having a mentor has made such a difference.”