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Navigating unchartered waters in the charity sector

Services For Education

Whether you are a large multinational, an SME or like Services For Education, a registered charity – we share one thing in common. None of us could have foreseen a global pandemic such as Covid-19, and the devastating impact that it would have on our society – and the associated economic pressures faced by all.

Services For Education is a unique organisation, with two key dimensions to our work. As the lead partner in the Birmingham Music Education Partnership, we teach 38,000 children per week in music and vocal lessons and deliver over 50 ensembles across the City. Our colleagues in Schools Support work closely with schools in Birmingham and further afield with an extensive training and consultancy offer. Several sources fund our services including school budgets, parental contributions and Arts Council England, along with other grant awarding bodies and foundations.

Pre Covid-19, I would have said that the schools being open was essential for our work – but into week four of lock-down, over 250 colleagues are showing that they can continue to make an impact and deliver for our customers in these uncertain times.

As lock-down continues, 5 pillars have emerged which are underpinning our crisis management approach:

  1. Consistent and regular communication

From day one of schools' closures, we were acutely aware that all colleagues were working from home, many for whom this was not the norm. Some personalities will thrive in this environment – but many won’t … colleague wellbeing was and still is a key consideration. Regular virtual meetings within departments have been embraced ensuring colleagues feel connected. Organisation wide communications are consistent – a Monday morning video from myself, a weekly Wednesday update, adoption of ‘Yammer’ for informal chat and using the virtual team meetings to present organisation wide messages.

  1. Strengthening our governance and financial control

As a charity our trustees hold the legal responsibility for ensuring the long-term sustainability of SFE. Trustees normally meet bi-monthly, but we are currently meeting with them weekly, reviewing weekly cash-flow and financial forecasts through to our August year end and beyond. As I write there are several unknowns in our revenue streams over the next 3 months – so modelling various scenarios, and how we would respond is key. As with all organisations, any non-essential expenditure is now stopped.

  1. Embracing digital delivery and being agile

I could be biased, but all our teams have excelled themselves in this respect, and I am incredibly proud of what they have achieved, and the creativity demonstrated. The more we can deliver digitally, the more we can protect our income which is key to our sustainability. On week 1 of lockdown, a safeguarding course with over 30 delegates was delivered virtually, and excellent feedback was received from all. Plans are in place to deliver much of our portfolio in this way. Music colleagues have gone digital having developed content for a virtual learning platform for our schools and are ready to deliver one to one lessons online. You might like look at our Youtube video for a glimpse of many of the team and some of our students at work.

  1. Detailed short and medium term planning

Despite our detailed planning for Covid-19, there was inevitably still an element of ‘thinking on our feet’ as we reacted to the events that unfurled in a short space of time. However, now we have regrouped, a detailed Implementation and Action Plan is in place and we are constantly reviewing our resource needs. This is so important as inevitably priorities shift when managing through a crisis.

  1. Maintaining our vision

Pre Covid-19 we were in the midst of defining our 5-year Strategy to take us through to 2025. It is essential to me that we keep our focus on the world beyond this crisis, albeit I don’t think that world will ever be quite the same again. Our passion to foster a love of learning and the arts is unchanged – and if you come across any of the SFE team in the virtual world, you will see that. We aim to provide inspirational and innovative learning experiences which are open to all. Our priority in the short term is on navigating the storm – but we can’t wait to be back in schools and our communities, and working alongside other education professionals, doing what we do best.

Sharon Bell
Chief Executive
Services For Education
@sharonbellSFE