Saying thank you is the simplest thing in the world but it makes all the difference

Helen Walker

At the Board away day a couple of months ago I mentioned that I was coming up to my 10th anniversary at TimeBank – it was during a regular and responsible governance conversation about succession planning both for the Board and CEO role. It was in my diary and I’m rather conscious of it because devoting a decade of your life to an organisation is a big commitment.  

But TimeBank has sucked me in and because of the rollercoaster that is the funding climate, Government decisions and the need for charities to adapt and change, it has never quite seemed the right time to go – plus of course with change comes interest and enthusiasm to survive, to thrive, to grow in a new way to try new things – in essence it’s not been a dull 10 years!

The TimeBank I inherited 10 years ago was a very different organisation to the one I now run – the political and economic climate was very, very different in the balmy days of New Labour, Government grants, being able to try new things and change lives without really worrying. But it was also an organisation that had evolved from its inception in 2000 and the time was right to hone down our eclectic portfolio of activity and diversify our fundraising.  

And then came the announcement of the Big Society and all the volunteering charities rubbed their hands in glee – surely in order to deliver that, we would be safe from cuts.  How wrong we were, how ironic it was and how angry I remain today – not that cuts happened, because everyone suffered, but that Government doesn’t see the impact of its decision making. Telling a charity that is 95% Government-funded that its funding will end is devastating. Doing it three weeks before the new financial year is crippling and it ripped the heart out of our organisation.

That is when you truly strategise of course – are we doing something differently to others, are we doing it better, should we close, should we merge? We decided we were doing two things better and differently – volunteer mentoring tackling a variety of complex social issues and employee volunteering.

2013 saw our next big change as we bid for and won a £1.12m contract from Government to deliver volunteer led English language classes. It enabled us to regrow and plan – until in 2015 delays in decision making by funders and Government wavering left TimeBank once again on the brink. But we powered through and that is a reflection on the incredibly dedicated and passionate staff we have and our Board’s willingness to take significant but calculated risks – all of which I believe was possible because of open, honest dialogue and trust.

And so to today – we are in a real position of strength and if I look around me there are few volunteering charities that can say that what a difference a decade makes! We have rebuilt our reserves; invested in new posts to aid our fundraising and business development; we are looking at innovative and creative new projects and we are still delivering our now highly regarded English language classes – what next I wonder every day as I walk to the tube?!

So back to the Board – our meeting was a week before ‘the day’ and if I’m honest I was trying to power through it because it had inconveniently fallen on the day of an England match in the World Cup and anyone who has read my blogs over the last decade will know I’m a massive football fan! So when my Chair announced he had something to bring up under AOB my heart sank! And then he started talking about me – my dedication, my drive, my decade and produced gifts that the Board had bought me –incredibly thoughtful and beautiful gifts. A brooch with the famous quote from Millicent Fawcett, who tirelessly campaigned for women’s right to vote: ‘Courage calls to courage everywhere’ and a stunning Paul Smith scarf as well as a bespoke card made up of TimeBank photos and signed by everyone. I momentarily forgot all about football and was absolutely overwhelmed by their thoughtfulness, kindness and generosity.

This is the kind of thing that happens when you leave an organisation when you realise how much people thought of you and it makes you sad to be leaving, but this, this came whilst I was here. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a fellow CEO a few weeks ago who’s moving on to a different role. She said: ‘Everyone is saying such amazing things about me – I just wish they’d said it three years ago!’

And I guess that’s my point. Saying thank you, making people feel good, driving the organisation in good times and bad is the CEO’s role but very rarely does anyone recognise that or make you feel valued and special at the time. I am extraordinarily lucky to have a Board that did just that – so it doesn’t matter whether I stay for another 10 years or another 10 days, I will be walking just a little bit taller and if it is possible feeling even more passionate about TimeBank and the work that we do. Saying thank you is the simplest thing in the world but it makes an immeasurable difference. 

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