Sue Thorn Consulting
Client X is a small society with no staff of its own, whose main income source is their journal. The approached me for advice about whether they should go to tender or renegotiate with their current publisher, with whom they were quite happy. I carried out a brief review of the journal and concluded that all was not completely well. It was drifting somewhat and I felt it was at risk of slipping academically. I identified a gap between the service the publisher was providing and what the academic editorial team were doing. We went to tender, making clear we would be looking equally at academic and financial aspects of the bids. We interviewed three publishers and concluded a contract that included additional support from the publisher for editorial development of the journal - and delivered a greater than 50% increase in the society's financial return from the journal, which has put them on a completely different footing in terms of delivering their charitable objective.
"The best thing we ever did was appoint you."
Client Y's Council appointed me to carry out a governance review of the society as a matter of good practice as none had been carried out for many years. They didn't feel they had any specific problems although the new CEO had identified that their decision process seemed cumbersome and also seemed to make it too easy for strong characters to bypass the correct process. The review looked at many aspects of the society, but a major one was the complexity of their structure for a relatively small society. We were able to simplify this and, as a result, to simplify the decision process and remove the loophole, as well as dramatically improving the level of engagement by the trustees. A key aspect of the process was providing a range of real-life examples from other societies to illustrate the various options presented.
"It's so obvious. I don't know how we couldn't see it before."
Reducing congress costs
Client Z held a major congress annually, which they subsidised significantly. Their Council tasked their CEO with making it run at breakeven, including the grants paid to members to attend the meeting. I was asked to facilitate a strategic session to look at how this could be done. I decided to approach it as a strategic review aimed at identifying first how the meeting could be improved. It was the case that all sections of the society were entitled to hold a specified number of sessions at the congress. This had several effects: the congress content was disjointed, there were 10 parallel sessions (at a 900 delegate congress), and some sessions had few attendees. We therefore concluded that reducing the number of parallel sessions by half and making sections submit competitive bids for them would improve the academic quality of the congress - and at the same time greatly reduce venue costs. Improved academic quality would enable them to attract more delegates and so increase the income. This would not reduce the congress subsidy to zero, but I recommended that they run this for 2-3 years and then re-evaluate. Taking the very drastic action that would be needed to remove the subsidy in one step would risk damaging the meeting fatally. I also recommended that grants be considered as part of their charitable grant making, rather than a cost to the congress.
The tone of the meeting went from resigned depression to enthused excitement!