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A more nimble, networked approach can help solve the sector’s problems

By Patrick Murray 3 February 2017

Everyone knows charities are facing challenging times. Some are of the sector’s own making—fundraising and governance. Many more relate to the way the wider world is changing—such as the digital revolution, big demographic changes, or the changing role and shape of the state.

So it’s no surprise people are looking for ideas on how to achieve greater impact in a changing world, as we are doing at NPC through our State of the Sector programme.

Joe Saxton’s recent call for a Cobra committee to solve the sector’s problems may be attractive to some, but it simply doesn’t fit with the times. The days of centralised command and control structures are fading—disrupted by technology, changing attitudes, and new models.

Does that mean everyone running around like headless chickens? Of course not. Clearly there is a need for co-ordination, but I’d argue it’s wrong to suggest that isn’t happening at all. For example, at NPC we’ve met with people working on the Inquiry for Civil Society, the Charity Futures programme, and the Lottery’s Future Good in recent weeks and months. Through our stakeholders involved in the work and our series of roundtables over the autumn we’ve engaged with numerous sector leaders.

We’re being careful to map out the other initiatives going on in the sector and understand where we can add value. In particular we are keen that the programme of primary research with leaders in charities we are currently undertaking will uncover new insights that can feed into other initiatives.

But it’s also true that not everyone is coming from the same angle. So for NPC  what we care most about is what charities are achieving for the beneficiaries and causes they are there to support—the impact agenda. Others may have different objectives, constraints, and incentives.

And it just might be that in such a diverse sector we need initiatives that use a different lens. What’s important is that that these initiatives are aware of what each one is doing and how they come together as a whole to achieve a greater collective impact.

So no, we don’t need some sort a politburo of the great and good issuing instructions. In fitting with the times what we really need is to take a much more agile and networked approach. That way we can support the many different organisations up and down the country to think through how they best deliver the greatest impact possible for the causes and beneficiaries they care about.