31 Days and 5 Winning Ways

Throughout December on Twitter we are celebrating 31 leaders with social mission; organisations, collectives and individuals who have created outstanding social benefit in 2016. Many are clients or people we have worked with – reflecting our choice to work with organisations who are achieving great impact with moral purpose.

Follow us on twitter to find out who they are @notdeadfish

2016 has been quite a year. Leaving aside that the 2016 obituaries include much too much talent taken from us too soon, the context in which charities and other social mission organisations work became even more challenging. Charity Chief Executives are held in reduced trust by the public according to Ipsos Mori, although nfpSynergy this week reported more uplifting news for the sector. Funding remains challenging and new rules on fundraising and lobbying need to be navigated. NotDeadFish's speciality is in work with children and young people, particularly with and through schools, and the pace of education reform - combined with significant reductions in school budgets - has meant additional challenge.

And yet the need for social mission organisations has never been stronger.  The world order is changing. Racism, sexism and discrimination are not just tolerated but increasingly celebrated. The gap between the haves and have nots continues to grow – both within the UK and across the world. Migration has become an issue that affects the whole world and yet Nations seem woefully unprepared to create a global solution.

But these 31 organisations and individuals haven’t taken these challenges sitting down. They are affecting positive change that is ultimately improving outcomes for children and young people. So, what are they doing that is working? These are the common themes that we have noticed from working with them.


1.       Keeping their eyes on the prize

A strong theory of change combined with good impact assessment helps the best organisations remain focused on their end goal. In a time when funding can be hard ‘mission drift’ is a real risk. Organisations need to be nimble enough to take advantage of new opportunities and funding streams. When NotDeadFish works with charities, schools and social enterprises, we help them focus on their long-term goals and vision which, if they can survive lean times, will ultimately lead to greater achievement of the organisations desired outcomes.

2.       Collaboration above ego

Much is made of the importance of mergers. And they have their place but in charity terms they are relatively limited and are rarely true mergers – more often they are takeovers by the stronger body. Another growing option is collaboration – not the on-paper kind which is all too often peddled to funders when a grant application relies on, say school involvement. But the lasting kind that is built on shared aims, trust and cooperation. Collaboration may be sharing back room functions, the co-production of resources and programmes or joint campaigning. Building coalitions and consortiums is a core part of NotDeadFish's work and – in a time when there is less resource but greater need – it should be a key consideration of any responsible organisation to look beyond themselves and to see what they can learn from, and achieve with, others. See: Whole Education, WomenEd; Learning Away; Whole School SEND

3.       Make the difficult decisions

Great organisations don’t avoid the tough calls. Over 2016 NotDeadFish has supported two organisations to close and to use their remaining funds to leave an impactful legacy. It would have been easy for both to carry on and wind down their reserves while ignoring their lack of income and reach. Bold trustees make tough calls for greater public benefit. See Ocean Maths, Inclusion Trust

Similarly, other organisations have made the call to invest in growth with whole hearted investment on the back of a well thought through plan. Yes, this can be frightening but, with good management and risk mitigation, this approach can extend the reach of a winning programme to more people who need it. Again, bold trustees make tough calls for greater public benefit.

4.       Great people

The biggest and most successful charities were each started by few people. Dunant, Varah, Hilary.  We have worked with the biggest and with the start-ups and what they all have in common is great leadership, an investment in their staff and the ability to engage volunteers and users.  Supporting social mission leaders is a core part of our work over 2017. Our paper on “Where have the Innovators and Disruptors Gone” is the first in a series of think pieces on models of leadership and over the year NotDeadFish will be running more pro bono events for emerging leaders. Keep an eye on Eventbrite for new events.

5.       Young people as beneficiaries – and as the solution

Most of our work is with organisations that have young people as their key beneficiaries. But increasingly we are working with organisations that recognise that young people often hold the solutions both to their own challenges and to society’s wider issues. Over 2017 will we see more young people as trustees? On school governing bodies? Setting up their own charities and social mission businesses? Campaigning and lobbying? We hope so and NotDeadFish's #youthled work will support young people as leaders. See: Smarts Schools Councils, University of the First Age, Learn to Lead.


It has been a difficult year for many and there are challenges ahead. We have no doubt that these 31 organisations – indeed 100s of organisations given that many are consortiums – will be at the forefront of the social mission sector in 2017.