Lisa has a successful track record in supporting international NGOs to move from grants to commercial contracting and working with UK charities supporting them in the areas of contract readiness, business development, business planning and impact evaluation. Lisa has taken an active role in developing the new business continuity offer to support the not-for-profit sector and organisations in solving the challenges of COVID-19. This is a blog in a series of stories created by the Foundation – here, Lisa shares her EP story.
What led you to get involved with EP?
I took voluntary redundancy from a large global third sector organisation 10 years ago, after working there for 20 years, and I was looking for opportunities that would enable me to be self-employed. At the time EP were conducting a recruitment drive in the North West and were holding an introductory event at Manchester Metropolitan University, so I took part in that and then joined up with a group of four or five other consultants.
How much of a career change was it for you?
It was a big career change in terms of ways of working as I had become very ‘institutionalised’ at my previous organisation so working independently was very different. In terms of the type of work it felt very similar because although I was dealing with different clients – UK based charities rather than international organisations, it was still working in the third sector so I felt very ‘at home’ in that respect.
What do you find most rewarding about your involvement and work with EP?
I really enjoy being part of the EP network because I have learnt a lot from other EP members and find that they are all very willing to share their knowledge and experience even if it means doing so on a pro bono basis.
I’ve also really enjoyed the challenge of transferring my skills from international development to the UK not for profit sector and I’ve found that I have learnt a lot in new areas as a result of the work.
Can you tell us about one of the assignments you have enjoyed most and why?
In the past two years I have been working, through the ACCESS funded Impact Management Programme, with two charities in the North of England on impact measurement and this has been particularly enjoyable because the assignments have stretched over a 12-month period. A lot of EP assignments tend to be short term so working over a longer period with these organisations gave me a chance to become more involved with the work of these teams and to develop relationships beyond the CEO level.
What has been your most challenging assignment and why?
One of my most challenging assignments has been one I conducted recently with an organisation in the North West. The aim of the assignment was to support the organisation with the development of a business strategy which would help it to become more sustainable into the future. The piece of work in itself was not challenging, as this was something that I had done on many previous occasions but there were no full-time paid staff in place which made it incredibly difficult to make progress. A lot of the time we were dependent upon the good will of some very dedicated volunteers but setting up meetings and following up on actions was very challenging. Fortunately during the assignment the organisation was successful in securing a small amount of funding for a part time worker and this made a huge difference from that point onwards.
Has anything really surprised you about the sector?
The main surprise for me about the sector was the amount of time it takes to get things done! Although I worked previously in a third sector organisation the department that I worked in was run on a commercial basis and as were tendering for new contracts our response time was usually pretty quick. In my experience, with the exception of some of the bigger charities that I have worked with, response times are very slow in the sector and this means that we have to be cautious when estimating how quickly changes can be brought about in the sector.
What advice would you give to people new to the sector/new to EP consulting?
If you’re coming from the private sector the point above on response times needs to be borne in mind for the sector!
Secondly, I would say that it takes a while to generate a sizeable portfolio of EP work, as most assignments are short term. For this reason, it works best if you are able to combine EP assignments with your own portfolio of work. The upside of this is that the nature of EP assignments, for example 7 days of work over a 3-month period, gives the consultant the ability to accommodate the work into their regular schedule.
Do you have any top tips regarding consulting generally?
One of the things I have enjoyed in particular is the ability within EP to bid for opportunities as a team and then, if successful, to deliver the projects together. My background is in business development and project management, so I have enjoyed taking on the lead role in developing applications for funded programmes and then coordinating the delivery of these projects with other EP colleagues. This has given me a chance to utilise my client management skills and to develop relationships with CEOs that have often led to future repeat business. The EP consultants I have worked with have nearly always gone above and beyond their original remit and in many cases contributed pro bono days as well as delivering on their contracted inputs.
Is there anything else you think anyone thinking of moving to the NFP sector should know?
One of the challenges for the NFP sector is that many of the charities we work with are not large enough to be able to afford to contract us directly, so a lot of our work comes through funded programmes that include a consultancy element. That is fine so long as the Government is investing in new third sector initiatives but when these type of programmes dry up (as they have tended to do during Brexit) it can be difficult to maintain relationships with the smaller charities.