Big Lessons from Small Charities

Large organisations have a lot to learn from small charities when it comes to making an impact, says Claire Taaffe, Communications Director of GSK Ireland.

Claire Taffee
Claire Taaffe

In every part of Ireland, there are thousands of charities doing amazing work, most of which you will never have heard of, yet which are making a real difference to Irish healthcare. These small organisations are knitted right in at the heart of Irish communities and by proximity alone, are uniquely placed to understand the needs and service gaps people are facing.

Creating flexible collaborations with colleagues and other companies unlocks great ideas and can be a real force for change.

GSK recently held our first ever GSK Ireland IMPACT awards, a new awards programme designed to recognise and support small community-based healthcare charities all over Ireland. There were four winning charities spanning the spectrum of health areas from dementia to mental health selected from very stiff competition using the ‘IMPACT’ criteria: Innovation, Management, Partnership, Achievement, Community Focus and Targeting Need. As well being both humbled and inspired by the work these charities are doing, what was most impressive was the huge impact the winners are making on the ground, from which there are many lessons we can all take.

Mix and match to fill the gap

Play to your strengths is common enough advice but there is equally great value created to leverage others’ strengths as well. Creating flexible collaborations with colleagues and other companies unlocks great ideas and can be a real force for change. Many of this year’s winning charities have set up innovative partnerships and projects with both State health services and other health charities. Helium Arts for example teamed up with Canteen, the teenage cancer charity on a film making project, a partnership that married the best of both charities, creativity and a strong history in providing support to teenage cancer patients. Similarly another winner Sonas apc are filling a gap in knowledge about dementia by providing accredited training to caregivers and health professionals.

If you are trying to engage others in what you are doing, start with your employees. They are your most powerful persuaders and advocates.

Pace is possible

Very often working in a large organisation, the wheels of change move slowly and even the best ideas can be delayed by bureaucracy, processes and hierarchies making it difficult and frustrating to get things done. Another IMPACT winner, MyMind, was set up to provide fast and easy access to mental health services to everyone who needs them. They offer online affordable access to those that need it and an alternative to challenging long public health waiting lists. They are a terrific example of how what seem like insurmountable barriers can be overcome and how it’s not impossible to create patient services quickly and effectively.

Measure your dreams

Anyone can have a great idea, but taking one and making it happen takes true innovation. Even the most creative ideas need to be grounded in solid business fundamentals such as governance, financial management and planning. Turning an idea into reality starts with inspiration but to execute your dream and see it come to life is as much about hard work and balance sheets as any other job. One of the reasons the Migraine Association was chosen as a winner in the IMPACT awards was due to the impressive reach of their services based on the resources they have. Taking the time to stop and measure how things are going and what you are actually achieving is very important and crucial when it comes to advocating about the work you are already doing.

Passion is contagious. Pass it on.

Spend five minutes with any of the GSK IMPACT award winning charities and they will have you converted to their cause. There is no substitute for passion. If you love and believe in what you do, that shines through. And it’s infectious. Both GSK and everyone working in the health services are helping people and making a real difference to Ireland’s health every single day yet I wonder do we always remember this. The biggest lesson we learnt from all of the winning charities is how keeping your mission close to the surface is an incredible driving force and very often gives you the drive and edge to succeed. If you are trying to engage others in what you are doing, start with your employees. They are your most powerful persuaders and advocates.

For more information on the GSK Ireland IMPACT awards and the winning charities, see www.gsk.ie