18 October 2021

IWA Chief Executive Officer, Phil Hornsey, joined IWA in February of this year. At September’s Annual General meeting he shared his views on how the ideas and experiences he has heard from IWA’s members, volunteers and staff will help create a successful charity for the next 75 years.

August marked my six-month anniversary of joining IWA as Chief Executive, so I was grateful for the opportunity at our recent AGM both to reflect on what I’ve learnt about the Association during this time, and to share how this information helps gives us the direction we need to shape our future.

I have especially valued the opportunity to meet some of our most passionate volunteers and members to hear more about what they do, and to learn about what’s working well for IWA and what we could do differently.

As I’ve got to know the organisation, it’s clear that although IWA has a strong, 75-year legacy of campaigning, action and delivery, we must also consider how best we should evolve to meet the needs of the waterways and its users over the next 75 years, and to add to the modernisation process that IWA has already begun.

Shaping IWA’s Future

For me, our immediate future must be driven by two things. Both of these were talked about during the AGM, and both have been brought up consistently in the many conversations I’ve had with our supporters, volunteers and staff since I joined IWA.

The first is the need for IWA to establish a more sustainable business model, with an increased focus on generating higher levels of unrestricted income. Our membership programme provides both our main source of income and the foundation of our volunteer base, so ensuring growth in this area must be an absolutely key focus for us, going forward.

The second thing that will drive IWA’s future is the impact of recent Covid-related lockdowns and restrictions on travel, which has had the unexpected but highly beneficial effect of driving previously unseen levels of activity on our waterways, introducing a whole new community to a local asset they perhaps hadn’t experienced – or seen the value of – in the past.

These two factors combine to create an obvious opportunity for the Association, but also an honest question we’ve been asking ourselves. If, over the last 18 months, our potential customer base has grown so significantly because of the increased interest in, and use of, the waterways, what additional steps must IWA put in place to ensure we capture this interest and translate it into a host of new members?

The answer I’ve been hearing from our supporters, volunteers and staff since I joined the Association is very clear. Your view is that right now, IWA is not quite the organisation it needs to be to attract new supporters and volunteers, and especially to attract the next generation of these key people, so this must be where we start.  

This has been a really positive thing to hear, because it’s meant that IWA staff and senior volunteers have been able to begin working together on plans that will address this challenge and opportunity.

Four key strategic activities

These plans will start by undertaking four key strategic activities, as individual projects, with the first (and perhaps the most important) being a project to conduct a formal review of IWA’s role and purpose.

For IWA’s members and donors to continue to support the charity, and for new supporters to be attracted to it, they must be motivated by what the Association does and stands for. Successful charities will often reassess and subtly reposition who they are, ensuring they remain relevant to new and existing audiences without moving a million miles from their original aims and objectives. A formal review of our role and purpose will allow IWA to do this.

While we’re reviewing IWA’s role and purpose, we will also formally review the best ways of promoting the organisation and telling our story to potential supporters, ensuring we’re effective across all channels, from our digital communications to our in-person presence at events. A review of our promotions and engagement strategy will be the second key activity of this project.

The third key activity will be a review of our campaigns strategy. At our heart, IWA is a campaigning charity. Our intention is not to move away from this, but currently it’s fair to say we have a very broad suite of campaigns. To be effective, these need to be compelling and inspiring, simple to communicate, designed to deliver real-world change, outcome-oriented and, above all, memorable – so we all know what we’re campaigning for. A review will help ensure our campaigns are all these things, and that they drive the change our existing members want to see, whilst also attracting and motivating new members to join.

The fourth key activity is an obvious one. IWA is a charity, and therefore we need to start thinking and acting more like a charity – and really focusing on raising funds. Quite simply, we need to develop an ‘always fundraising’ culture, like other charities do, on the basis that the more commercially successful we are, the more we can do to deliver on our aims and purpose.

To be clear, these four things are only the start of a process to ensure IWA is an effective charity for its next 75 years, and we cannot deliver them without your help, assistance and direct input. The latter will be absolutely key in our review of IWA’s role and purpose and our campaigns strategy, because your views as members will make sure we shape the organisation in a way that meets your expectations and ensures your continued support.

I hope you’re excited as I am by the potential of IWA’s future, and I’m really looking forward to working with you all to realise it.