OPINION: Not size but fit is what makes the difference

Geraldine Peacock, chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

Don't worry, I'm off my soapbox this week. Instead, relax and join me in my contemplations about size and does it matter?

Dwight Eisenhower once said: "What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight - it's the size of the fight in the dog". Combine this with the notion attributed to "unknown" that "success is more attitude than aptitude" and you'll see where I'm going.

Recently "size" seems to have been omnipresent in debates about voluntary-sector issues. Taking part in a class with MBA students from Harvard Business School, I was struck by discussions which were about "taking organisations to scale". In this instance they meant it's good to "grow" several large and dispersed organisations which are sustainable, rather than keep setting up new small ones which are not. Here, the Treasury is focusing on capacity building including how it can incentivise more collaboration between large and small voluntary organisations. The Active Community Unit and NCVO both have infrastructure as a central plank of their current work.

All these things are important but, in between the jargon and the "initiativitis", there is a real danger that we may get hung up on the belief that size is the critical issue. It's not. Being fit for purpose is.

Some believe fervently that only small community-based organisations really know their users and are therefore best placed to deliver local services. They feel they often don't have a chance to do so because they are under-resourced, overshadowed, or even preyed upon by the "big boys" who parachute in, seize contacts and swallow them up.

We are thankfully beginning to see some healthy lateral thinking and collaboration emerging from these debates. Both large and small organisations are experimenting with new forms of alliances around loan guarantees, negotiating muscle, marketing support, extending reach etc. We are realising we are in the same game and recognising who is best placed to deliver what and where.

To draw another parallel, juggernauts are good for large capacity transport while Smart cars are good for nifty parking in London. Each are valued forms of transport but are for different purposes. We need both, but in the right place and at the right time.

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