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Forgive me for asking, but how big is your shoehorn?

If you work for a voluntary organisation, do you recognise these?

  • At a monthly management meeting you walk out with three more essential projects to do that weren’t in your original plans.

  • At budgeting time you have a reduced budget but still have all the objectives in the plan to deliver (plus those new ones from point 1). You end up cutting 3% off each.

  • A senior manager / Trustee / Major donor has a “pet project” or reporting requirement that you must deliver NOW, come what may.

If any of these sound familiar, then you will no doubt have shoehorned the impossible into your plans and will be losing sleep over the choice between running you and your team into the ground or not achieving your plans and dealing with the fall out. Or possibly both.

Have you heard of our shoehorn reduction kit?

If the effort you have to put in, compared to the resources you have, feels like this:

  • Your shoes are your strategies and resources.

  • Your shoehorn is the effort you need to implement them.

Then you need the shoehorn reduction kit. Read on.

Start by working out the size of the problem

The more activities you have and the less you prioritise, the bigger your shoehorn will be. Reduce your activity by prioritising what will deliver the results you want to see and your shoehorn will shrink to fit your size of the shoe.

Sometimes we struggle to see what size the shoe is, the style and purpose. In fact, in many organisations it hasn’t been agreed. Next time I will be talking about prioritising for a whole organisation (identifying the right shoe) but today I want to talk about how data can help you use a shoehorn of the right proportions – your goal being that bottom right-hand corner. More prioritisation, less activity but delivering the right results.


The wonderful thing about data is that it is objective. It tells you stuff without any agenda. It’s your job to look at it dispassionately and make it work for what you want to achieve. (Warning: data can be seriously exciting stuff!)

Do the internal Insight
  • Make a list of all the data you need. It might not all be in the same place.

If you’re looking at your fundraising you’d probably have a supporter database, some spreadsheets with events, some budget spreadsheets, a fundraising plan, management accounts with income,

  • Analyse where the money is being spent and what is being generated in return.

If you’re looking at service delivery you could compare, for instance, value for money between services against outcomes.

  • Make the results visual.

Armed with the data you can create a Boston Matrix to look at the life cycle of your “products” or a spreadsheet with compared results that can be turned into charts and graphs.

  • Analyse your audiences – who they are, what they do for you or what you do for them, where they are, how close they are to your organisation and what makes them tick.

You can probably find out what your different audiences do from your data analysis but finding out what makes them tick means finding ways to listen to them. Make pen portraits, maps, concepts of what they believe.

  • List the data you don’t have and find out if/where/how you can get it

Do the external insight
  • Competitor environment

You need to establish why you are unique (i.e. why you need to exist at all). Who else is operating in your space? How successful are they and why? If you are an advice service, for example, you will want to know the types of advice other organisations are offering and to whom, what geographical location they cover, what their expected outcomes are, how they are funded, what innovations they’ve brought in etc.

It’s useful to draw a “market map” to picture your similarities and differences. Below is an example for supermarkets. The axes here are quality and price. But you can choose your own. You can overlay your own audience research to look at where your audience thinks you are and your own views.

  • Your operating environment

Look at your opportunities and constraints. Available funding, general market growth or retraction in your operating environment, new operators, technology development. Here you will be helped by external statistics and studies. The source will depend on what data you need – in fact there’s so much out there, it’s good to have made a shortlist of the most useful type of data before you start looking.

  • Potential markets

Talk to people who are not involved with your organisation but could be. Research the areas of potential growth. Look at opportunities and barriers (regulations and compliance for example). Look at trends in your area of activity. What are you good at?

Now prioritise!

This is where the dispassionate bit comes in (except the aforementioned excitement of knowing stuff, rather than speculating!). Looking at the data you will see activity that you have been doing that may not be delivering what you need, or that has been performing particularly well (that’s the backward-looking data), or there are opportunities you need to tap into and things you do better than others that could be expanded (that’s the forward-looking data).

It’s OK to stop doing what is not working. I will repeat that because I know first-hand the pressure you can be under to carry on, because anything else is a risk.

It’s OK to decide not to do things the way they’ve always been done, especially if you can see that doing something else would bring better results.

You’ve got the data to back up your decisions. It’s not only about stopping what isn’t working, it can be about planning now to replace something that is coming to the end of its lifecycle; scaling up or down; giving additional resources to something that could work well; changing the focus/audience for/outcomes of an activity.

Think what you could achieve if you knew all this!

You might need some support to gather and analyse the data (Insight-ful can help with that) but when you ditch that bulky shoehorn and get one the right size for your shoes, the data will be your friend.

Now to get hold of that senior manager /Trustee/Major Donor with the pet project and put the facts to them…

Jonathan Cook | | +44 (0)7921 250 211

Jonathan @Linkedin | Twitter @jonathan_m_cook

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