Leonora has a successful track record supporting charities and social enterprises with the development of business strategies, mergers and partnership development. Leonora uses her excellent internal and external stakeholder engagement skills to turn market insight into actionable propositions and has supported many of EP’s clients over the 5 years she has been a member.
What led you to get involved with EP?
I took a career break about 6 years ago, and that gave me an opportunity to explore a different way of balancing paid work with family and other commitments. I was pretty sure I didn’t want to go back into a full-time role in a company, and I was lucky enough to spend time with an outplacement service which enabled me to explore the options available. When I described the type of work I would like to do, the outplacement team recommended I take a look at Eastside Primetimers.
How much of a career change was it for you?
The things I left behind were the advantages and disadvantages of corporate life – the benefits of a well-stocked stationery cupboard, photocopier and IT support team. I was glad to leave behind office politics, annual appraisals and tick box bureaucracy.
As for the type of work I was doing, that wasn’t such a significant change, I had many varied roles and ‘problem-solving’ projects in my working career.
What do you find most rewarding about your involvement and work with EP?
Two things stand out for me: the people I get to work with, and the amazing charitable work they do. It has really opened my eyes to the wonderful work that is being done by many charities, and it is great to have an opportunity to help them be more effective and successful.
Can you tell us about one of the assignments you have enjoyed most and why?
It is difficult to pick an individual project. I have really enjoyed the organisational diagnostic work as that provides an opportunity to independently review all aspects of a charity.
I have also enjoyed the projects where I take on a facilitation role and help the charity team resolve a problem or work out their plan; it’s so interesting to see how the dynamics in the room evolve and watch the ‘light-bulb’ moments appear.
However, the projects where I feel I have had the greatest impact are the ones that I have probably enjoyed most. I have had two merger feasibility projects where the recommendation was not to merge, and that felt like a huge responsibility. However, bringing the teams along the journey, and making sure the ‘gut feel’ was supported by evidence, has meant that the trustee boards were grateful for the advice.
What has been your most challenging assignment and why?
This was with a small advice charity in London. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but looking back I could see that the charity really wanted an additional resource for a period of time, rather than become investment-ready for the assigned project. The main contact was a temporary hire who never had the time to properly focus on the project, there were always the best of intentions, but there were too many short-term issues arising that needed to be dealt with and it really prevented the charity operating more strategically.
Has anything really surprised you about the sector? What differences have you noticed between the corporate sector and the not-for-profit sector?
I have been surprised and impressed by the professionalism and calibre of the senior leaders I have met. It’s easy to assume that the lower average salaries in the Third Sector attract people who are not as skilled as people working in the corporate sector. If anything, they are more impressive because senior leaders are juggling multiple stakeholders, uncertain income, as well as serving their beneficiaries.
Overall, I think the sector is very accommodating when it comes to work-life balance or supporting people who are balancing health issues alongside their work. But that ethos can make it challenging to address performance issues and I feel that underperformance is often tolerated for longer periods than would be the case in the corporate sector.
What advice would you give to people new to the sector/ new to EP consulting?
1) Trust your instincts and be intellectually curious. If something doesn’t sound right, then take advice to make sure you are getting the best outcome for the charity.
2) Do your homework before you meet the charity. The people you are meeting have often had amazing, varied careers and it is very insightful to have that background at your fingertips when you first meet them.
3) Ask for feedback. Although I was never a great fan of appraisal systems, it is really important to keep checking in with the project lead at the client organisation to make sure the project is meeting their needs.
Do you have any top tips regarding consulting generally? For example, client relationship management, working with and leading a small team of Eastside Primetimers consultants without any formal line management relationships, preparing clients for taking on contracts, etc.
1) Spend a little time getting to know the people you will be working with on the project. Building a relationship will make the project run more smoothly, particularly when you need that extra bit of information or need a favour.
2) Check the EP databank. There may have been similar projects to the one you are working on, or previous interactions with that client, that you can draw upon.
3) Regularly check with the client ‘what success looks like’. What was on paper at the beginning of the project may well need interpretation or may evolve.
4) Don’t feel you need to be the expert on everything. The pool of talent at EP is huge so it will produce a much better outcome for the client if you draw on the resources of the wider team when that is required.
5) Keep in touch with your previous clients. Make a point of sending some relevant information or check in to see how the project has progressed after your involvement has ended. One of the things I really enjoy is that the work is not purely transactional, we have a great opportunity to build relationships, and occasionally those relationships can lead to or benefit future projects.
Can you think of any more advice to give to anyone thinking of moving to the not-for-profit sector?
Be involved in the sector yourself. It makes a huge difference if you have hands-on experience of the challenges of the workings of a charity and makes you a more credible adviser to clients in the sector.
Are you considering making the switch to the not-for-profit sector? Join us at our next information event on September 25th to learn more about how you can get involved in the sector, or contact Hannah today for a discussion about how we can support you in your career transition.