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Interview with Susie Willis, CEO of Care Network

We talk to the CEO of a charity about strategy and their projects... ❤️

  • Lucidity
  • 4 min read

For those who don’t know, what is Care Network Cambridgeshire?

We are a charity covering Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, who have been operating for 34 years now, supporting local people an communities to maintain their independence, build connections to lead happy and healthy lives.

Could you tell us bit of your background prior to Care Network Cambridgshire?

At 30, I went to university to study an undergraduate Psychology degree, that was certainly a challenge with 2 children, but I absolutely loved it. From my volunteering experiences at uni, I was then offered employment as Head of Operations for a start-up charity providing community based sport for young people facing social disadvantage.

I helped to grow the charity and when I left it was successfully operating in both Peterborough and London. During this time I was also a carer for my grandmother who had Vascular Dementia and it was my experiences of this that led me to apply for the CEO role at CNC – I didn’t want other people to go through the loneliness and hopelessness that I experienced trying to navigate my way through health and social care systems.

I’m a great believer in social equality and when I see something isn’t right and that I can make a difference to address the imbalance then I am driven to take action and that is what I did in joining CNC.

Can you tell us a little of the history of Care Network Cambridgshire and why it was formed?

CNC was formed after an experience a local Cambridgeshire lady, Sheila Stephenson had in hospital. On Sheila’s ward, there was another lady who had no family, but friends would come and visit her. When Sheila asked her who would help with her recovery after hospital discharge, this lady said she was part of a community group with whom she had made many friends and they would be there to help her. This showed Sheila the power of community and what they could do to help one another and so with a small group of volunteers, they came together to form CNC.

What is your role at the charity?
CEO

How did you approach strategic planning in the early days?

I firstly went on a 2-day course with NCVO, came away with loads of ideas but no framework to guide me so I had to build and design lots of spreadsheets and documents to gain all the information I needed to take out to our stakeholders for feedback. It was quite a long winded process.

What challenges did you encounter early on?

Time – just too many documents, not linked together, it made the work feel a bit fragmented

Looking back, have you made any key strategic mistakes?

At times we have set too many strategic priorities for one year in order to achieve the overall 3 year strategic plan, it felt extremely pressurised, especially with the additional time to update all the various documents.

How do you develop your strategy now?

With Lucidity and we absolutely love it. Everything is concise and in one place, with supporting visuals that help make strategy come to life and for those who prefer visuals to text this also makes it more accessible. I think another invaluable aid that Lucidity has brought to us is the ability to track strategic delivery / progress. Individuals are more accountable for tasks set to achieve the strategy.

How often do you review your strategy?

We set a 3 year strategic plan and each year set strategic priorities for that year that keep us working towards achieving the 3 year plan.

What are your top 3 strategic objectives and why?

The current 3 year strategic plan is to:

  1. Become a diversely funded organisation
  2. Develop a unified front of house delivery for the Care Network client
  3. Develop and provide innovative services responding to local need

We chose these because we want to diversify our income in order to have freedom and flexibility to more rapidly respond to emerging local need (1 & 3) whilst simultaneously reduce silos in our organisation to improve access and the journey a client may take through our organisation (2). Historically clients were very much held by the initial service they were referred to whereas now, our across team working has improved so they receive much more input across all teams and therefore better outcomes.

What KPIs do you monitor as a charity?

We have varying KPIs for different areas of the charity. A synopsis of these would be broken down broadly into:

  • Financial - such as performance of actual spend and income vs budgeted, progress against fundraising targets and fundraising ROI.
  • Operationally - for each service we have quarterly data performance stats that we review, although during lockdown we started to monitor these weekly. We also gain regular feedback from any clients we have supported to ensure we our achieving our charitable aims.
  • Social Media – we look to be increasing our reach and presence so will track post reach and other relating data
  • Strategic priorities – we monitor our progress to deliver against strategy, which are either set as goals or initiatives

How do you think Care Network Cambridgeshire will continue to succeed and make a difference to the community?

We will continue to succeed and make a difference because we adhere to our value of ‘people at the heart of everything’ which means we adopt a person centred approach to the way we support individuals and communities. With this value and behaviour it means that we will always be working with, not doing to and meeting local need and not what we perceive this to be.

How would you advice charities go about communicating their strategic plans internally?

Be clear on your comms and involve as many stakeholders as possible – research and share findings with stakeholder to develop strategy, clearly communicate what the strategic goals aiming to achieve, why they have been set, what impact this will have for all stakeholders and how for those involved in delivering strategy what the deliverable expectations are.

What one tip would you provide to charities regarding their strategy?

Make it relevant to improve the lives of your beneficiaries or ability to achieve your charitable aims and enjoy the journey it will take you on.

Thanks Susie! Learn more about Care Network or you can support them by making a donation.

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