Why collaboration needs to be on the radar for the charity sector

By Ron Moody

According to the latest Charity Commission figures, there are currently more than 183,000 charities operating in England and Wales, collectively spending almost £60 billion a year on good causes.

A growing number of people, including senior figures within the third sector, are starting to feel the market is becoming crowded.

Wherever you stand on the matter, the fact is many of these charities will be operating in the same sector and often working towards the same goal, whether that’s finding a cure for cancer, helping former members of the armed forces or caring for abused animals.

Some will even be duplicating the services offered by others, putting them in direct competition for donors.

With belts still tight after years of austerity and the reputation of charities still recovering after years of high-profile scandals, perhaps it’s time more charities started looking seriously at collaboration and outsourcing.

It’s probably unrealistic to expect many charities to merge, given that such moves are initially resource intensive, but options like sharing back office functions and even chief executives should at least be considered.

For service users in some sectors this would be a welcome move. Former military personnel, for example, might need a package of help, requiring assistance from a number of different organisations such as veterans’ charities, financial advice organisations or mental health support services.

One charity might not be able to provide such a varied range of services alone, but often vulnerable service users find it difficult to access support from multiple sources.

If these charities foster closer working relationships they can signpost service users to their partners if they can’t offer the required provision themselves.

Outsourcing offers another opportunity to share services and save money. Some charities feel reluctant to explore this option fearing they will be giving away an integral part of their offering to a third party.

But this doesn’t have to be the case; a well-designed partnership should be mutually beneficial.

At Connect Assist we work closely with charities to become an extension of the team rather than an outsourced service.

Our contact centre staff are hired for their expert skills in dealing with vulnerable service users, and they are fully trained to meet the needs of every charity we work with.

Each of these approaches would help charities save valuable resources and ensure they are not duplicating their efforts unnecessarily in the face of diminishing funding.

However, to achieve this will require a major attitude shift; charities will have to be less territorial, less competitive and more open about their own offerings.

They will need to become more transparent and above all more willing to collaborate and to pool resources.

Ultimately this will be to the benefit of everyone involved in the third sector, from board level to volunteers and, most importantly, to society as a whole.

Connect Assist is currently running a survey to find out how charities are using and measuring their helplines.

We think that, in order to improve efficiency and service delivery across the sector as a whole, we all need to better understand the challenges charities are facing.

We are running a seminar in London on 21 March to share the results of this survey and the insights gained from it.

The free 90-minute breakfast meeting is suitable for anyone working in a charity, in particular those working in service delivery, supporter care, programmes and leadership.

It will take place at 8am on 21 March at One Alfred Place in London.

For more details and to register your attendance, visit: https://support.connectassist.co.uk/ci/documents/detail/2/BBregMarch2017

 

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