As the final report for the Rebalancing the Relationship project launches today, Kate Welch, CEO of Social Enterprise Acumen and former vice-chair of ACEVO reflects on the research findings and the value of collaboration. Kate served as co-chair of the project’s steering group, representing ACEVO.
A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page
“I’m scared of commissioning and procurement”, said a fellow CEO of a small charity to me earlier this week. This charity has invested a huge amount of time and energy in building relationships, to deliver high-quality services to people in need in their area. They have been supported by grant funders who recognise the value of their work, but they are also aware that this isn’t a sustainable way of operating. So what is there to fear?
This CEO’s fears are around what to do when a tender appears, often at short notice. It is common to find that larger or national organisations (some private sector and some charities) suddenly appear on the scene when a large tender appears. Some may start to court you as a local provider, or a potential provider for a niche area of the contract. As a small charity, it can be hard to find the time to respond to these requests, with all staff and volunteers working on service delivery. And for leaders, the question is: How do you know whether a provider is genuine in wanting to include your charity in a bid? Are you going to end up as “bid candy” as a bit of local colour and to indicate reach to some of the most vulnerable or excluded people, and then be ignored? There are a lot of stories of this kind circulating through the charitable sector, and they fuel a lack of trust between organisations, which makes finding solutions even more challenging.
As co-chair of the Rebalancing the Relationship project steering group, I have heard many stories about partnership and collaboration. Some have been negative, but many have demonstrated the incredibly positive impact good partnerships have on the communities we serve. The good experiences in the report demonstrate that we can do better. Recognising the distinct value of all charities, and ensuring they can play their part in the system, greatly improves the quality and delivery of public services that help the most vulnerable in our society. This is not about large vs small but about acknowledging our power in some situations, considering the situation of potential partner organisations, and ensuring we are open and honest about challenges so we can find solutions.
As leaders, we can drive this change by ensuring we are motivated by bringing the best services to the people we are there to support. We must be driven by impact, not income, and build the right relationships to help communities benefit from strong relationships between organisations of all sizes. We can share our learning with each other and acknowledge where we have fallen short. The CEO I spoke about has found being an ACEVO member so helpful, as it has given her the chance to find fellow CEOs through the online forum and virtual regional meetings. Sharing her fears about commissioning, and being able to learn from others who have been through the experience, has been invaluable.
I urge everyone to read the report, the case studies, and consider how we can ask ourselves and our boards the five leadership questions below. To help the country build back from this crisis, it is time to review the way we approach delivering public services, in particular how we partner with other organisations. We will definitely be stronger together.
- 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?
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