tug of war

Cooperation, not competition

By Eleanor Bentley 25 January 2013

Collaboration is a hot topic at the moment. Just this week, NPC and Impetus Trust launched their report, Collaborating for Impact, which explores some of the preconditions for collaborative success.

It also stood out at last week’s Impact Leadership Conference. Many attendees said that collaboration was becoming increasingly important, in response to changes to commissioning and the need to partner up with other organisations to win large government contracts.  Rob Owen from St Giles Trust discussed how collaborating, often with partners from different sectors, has helped their work; while Jenny North from Impetus Trust gave a funder’s perspective on when it is and isn’t a good idea.

But what really struck me during the day’s discussions was that collaboration in the charity sector is not restricted to formal agreements and government contracts. It is an essential, everyday part of the sector. Or, at least, it should be.

During his inspiring opener, David Robinson from Community Links emphasised that achieving your charity’s mission should not be seen as a zero sum game. It is so often the case that we can only achieve our broader aims because of the work of other organisations, not at the expense of it.

The nature of relationships between charities surfaced again when Rob Owen talked about how combative he found the sector, following his shift from investment banking (!).  After the debate was opened up to the floor, one attendee shared how self-interest was stymying cooperation between charities in his area of work, preventing a collaboration that would bring real benefits to their beneficiaries.

It had me thinking how much more we could achieve if we were better at letting our mutual dependence on one another shape how we work. Not just through formal partnerships, but by embedding a shared approach in our day-to-day operations. For example, by harmonising our programmes and focusing on our USPs (to use Rob Owen’s term), we could really maximise our collective impact. And by sharing our findings using common tools, we could measure and demonstrate this impact more clearly.

We’re already making progress through Inspiring Impact and other initiatives, sector-wide and local. But we can all do more to ensure that we complement each other’s work, rather than competing with it. It would be easy for the atmosphere to turn cutthroat given the difficult funding environment, but this is exactly why it’s all the more important to work together, to ensure that the resources we do have make the greatest possible difference.