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Is it just me, or do our workloads feel particularly stressful at the moment?

In the business sector, this time of year is commonly referred to as March Madness due to the end of the financial year.  The end of the financial year for a social sector organisation means that not only are we completing our end of year financial reporting, but we are also required to have the next annual budget signed off, alongside the annual work plan.  If you are lucky (note sarcasm here) you are also in the midst of reviewing your overall Strategic Plan, which also means developing the way in which you evaluate and measure your impact.

Now, for those of you that know me, you know that I am a bit of planning and evaluation nerd and actually love the strategic thinking side of our work, BUT, as a sector we often do not do this well, and all due to the age old complaint of ‘time-restrictions’.

BUT… time and capacity limitations for planning is very real for our sector, not to mention a presumption that we have access to expertise to lead the planning process, and then the expertise to write it all up so it can be easily understood.  In large organisations, this is not as much of an issue with greater staffing numbers to share the load, and usually access to expertise is readily available.

HOWEVER… for smaller organisations, it is somewhat different and this is the case for the majority of the social services sector.  Let me use SociaLink as an example.

SociaLink, has seven staff members… this seems pretty good as an overall number right?   The actual FTE is shared among the seven staff.  We have two staff members that are pretty much full time, our manager has part time hours, and the other four staff share an FTE together.  So, it works out that we have approximately 4 FTE.  One of those staff members is our manager; and one is responsible for the build of our beautiful new building.  That leaves 2 FTE for project work (shared across four people) for which we manage training programmes, organisational needs assessments, facilitating community collaborations, promotion and publications, research, advocacy, policy, and pop-up projects (which pop up all the time).  This is fairly typical for the social sector in the Western Bay of Plenty.

So how do we manage the March Madness and the planning cycles?

e tend to rely on the generous (voluntary) support of our Boards of Trustees, and generally we all cram everything in, work overtime, reduce our project meetings, start attending ‘after hours’ planning meetings, and pretty much spend a lot of time steering at a light filled square box typing like crazy.

How can we get better at this?

  1. Do we explore ways of supporting the planning cycle for the social sector where we can resource the expertise across the sector so that this does not become a burden for individual organisations?
  2. Do we explore creative strategic think tanks in December each year to help prepare the social sector for the planning cycle?
  3. Do we create an over-arching social sector strategic plan that we all align to whilst retaining the uniqueness of our own visions?
  4. Do we look at ways of sharing expertise between clusters of organisations?
  5. Do we just grin and bear it, and know that it will pass like it has done in previous years?

I can’t help but think that there has to be a happier way to work and if anyone has the answers then please share… for now I will return to developing our evaluation framework (it’s due at the end of March)!

Jodie Robertson