Collaboration is at the heart of everything we do at Pilotlight. It’s central to our vision of a world in which charities and business work together to achieve positive social change, and it’s key to the way we work: in all our Programmes we bring pools of talent from different sectors together, and our impact reporting demonstrates benefits all round.
In 2017, however, we started to focus on collaboration as an important topic within the third sector itself. This was driven by conversations we were having at the time with our Charity Partners and within the wider environment around mergers. As a concept, mergers had, and I believe continues to have, negative connotations – or at least, its mention provokes mixed reactions. The apparently simple idea that charities in pursuit of their mission, and to the benefit of their service-users, should join forces and become stronger together – more efficient, impactful, and reaching more people, is both powerful and obvious. So why the negativity?
Creating Value Together
To explore the topic, we titled our 2017 conference: ‘Creating Value Together: from partnerships to mergers’. We wanted to look at a spectrum of collaboration – from light-touch ways of engaging between organisations, to full blown mergers. We also wanted to move the conversation in a more positive direction, looking at the opportunities offered by collaborating, aware that it’s often a forced choice – driven by a funding gap.
To give an example of the complexity of views we provoked, in our pre-conference survey 57% of respondents agreed that there are too many charities in the UK, while 75% agreed that competition is good for charities! On the day itself we showcased some positive examples of a range of collaborations (including a merger) and underlined the updated guidance from the Charity Commission around the recommendation for Boards to have mergers on the agenda at least once a year, regardless of circumstances.
The conference was an eye-opener for all who attended, and we continued discussions sparked by it throughout 2018. So, you may ask, having started the conversation, what steps has Pilotlight actually taken to pursue collaboration within the sector?
Committing to collaboration
There are two strands to this. One is making our position clear: we want to invest time and thinking in mission-led collaboration. We are actively engaging with anyone we can work with in any shape or form, be that in partnership, strategic alliance, or even merger, which enables us to do more better. The other strand is that we are taking concrete steps to explore what collaboration can mean for us, so looking for proof of concept, in a sense.
We’ve been excited about two initiatives in particular that we’ve already announced this year. One is a programme funded by the Oak Foundation where Pilotlight will support their grantees (around 10 housing and homelessness charities in its portfolio) in collaboration with The Cranfield Trust and Pro Bono Economics. This is an opportunity for the three organisations to work more closely together and test the proposition that we can be more effective and impactful by collaborating.
The second is our partnership with London Plus, a new organisation set up to support the voluntary and community sector in London, where we are piloting the use of our Pilotlight Programme with 15 organisations to support consortia working.
I’m aware that working collaboratively (wherever on the spectrum it sits) can be complex and difficult, and even emotionally demanding. And it’s time-consuming, when time is a scarce resource. That said, it’s certainly, in my experience, becoming more and more driven by external funding factors – whether that’s pressure from funders for partnership working or by local authority commissioning processes.
I believe that every mission-driven organisation needs to adopt a mindset that puts collaborative working firmly on the agenda, as a force for good. And crucially, to explore this while the going is good, rather than waiting for the proverbial to hit the fan.
I’m looking forward to seeing where collaboration takes Pilotlight as an organisation, and the learning we’ll gain from it. The time to collaborate is now.
A version of this blog was published by ACEVO.