This report demonstrates that there are bright sparks of collaboration between charities delivering public services, with generous leaders marking a new and different path. These charities have demonstrated that, while not easy, collaboration is possible and worthwhile even within a competitive environment. Collaboration can help charities to deliver better services in the current system and, working together, can also push for better ways of organising public services.
Where commissioners are already changing their approach to collaborate more effectively with the voluntary sector, charities need to be ready to respond in the same spirit. While not universal, this project has demonstrated that forward-thinking charities are making the connection between delivering their mission and supporting other organisations. Often these charities, and the people who work for them, recognise where they might have or lack power and advantage compared to others. In addition to improving the frequency and quality of partnerships, these charities ensure their internal culture and leadership support collaborative working.
It is clear that negative experiences of competition and partnership have damaged trust between charities, influencing how individuals view different types and sizes of organisations. This means that all organisations need to put time in to repair the bridges burnt by other organisations. This aligns with one of the core recommendations of the Civil Society Futures report, which urges charities to invest time and resources to build trust and stay true to their values. Drawing on the findings of this report, we have developed some behaviours to support organisations to start reflecting on how they work with others. We suggest five key questions every leader and individual should consider in order to support a more collaborative approach across the sector.
- Power. What advantages does my organisation have compared to others, and how can we level the playing field? How can we support organisations led by marginalised groups and communities?
- Empathy. What are the challenges other organisations of different types and sizes face? What do other organisations do better than us? What are the challenges and values we have in common?
- Honesty. How do other organisations, and people who work for them, experience working with us? How can we make them feel comfortable to have an honest conversation with us?
- Communication. Do others know we want to work in partnership and how we approach partnership working?
- Impact. How are the people we serve supported by other organisations? How can we work with other organisations to centre the people we serve and coproduce services? How can we prioritise impact above organisational interest?
The pandemic has forced more collaboration between charities, as well as with communities and authorities, to achieve a shared goal. The collective impact of charities in response to covid-19, despite such difficult circumstances, demonstrates the power and necessity of collaboration. Together we are stronger than the sum of our parts. We all have a responsibility to ensure the people charities serve and represent continue to benefit from this collaboration.
Civil Society Futures: The independent inquiry (2018) Civil Society in England: Its current state and future opportunity