Paul Streets: Grown-up relationships in connecting worlds

Making connections is one of the most powerful things a charity can do, writes our columnist

Paul Streets
Paul Streets

In my experience, there’s little more valuable developmentally than meeting and sharing with trusted peers: life, loves, hopes, fears. Problems shared really are problems halved.

And yet one consequence of declining financial support is that many charities, particularly small organisations, find it increasingly hard to find the time and money for their own knowledge and skill development. Investment in themselves is seen as an indulgence they cannot justify or afford.

There’s a need for cost-effective but relevant learning opportunities and peer-to-peer support. One of the most powerful things charities can do is make connections – as a sector we should be much better at recognising the value of these relationships.

One of the surprising connections we see is through our mentoring scheme. Here, senior Lloyds Banking Group staff work directly to strengthen a local charity leader whose organisation has received funding from our foundation. It’s a model that goes far beyond the traditional route of seeing a charity’s work or digging a garden and making a financial donation as a result.

Our approach to charity mentoring is emphatically and unapologetically founded on reciprocity. It’s not easy to get this match right and it certainly doesn’t happen by accident. It takes time and effort to get the right charity leader with the right bank colleague, and even then the chemistry isn't always right. But we’re beginning to see tangible examples of the benefits for both sides.

The charity chief executive gets a fresh and independent perspective on the issues they face, which usually ends up in a range of practical support: with business plan development or strategic guidance on how they can diversify their income, for example.

The banker gets an insight into the community that they serve and they issues that might end up in financial woe but start with life’s blows. This can have a profound effect on how they do their own day jobs. One of our senior mentors has transformed the way he manages mental health issues among the thousands of banking staff he leads. Another has improved the way vulnerable customers are handled on call lines.

Both sides gain from the relationship, and this is important. A relationship based on two consenting and equal, if different, adults fuels understanding and compassion in a society that too often condemns through ignorance. When these two worlds embrace as equals they do so at a very human level. Barriers and prejudices dissolve on both sides. It’s genuinely humbling and usually surprising.

For me, our mentoring programme is just one example of how we in the third sector can foster better and more grown-up relationships with the private sector, and they with us. Both sides can understand that although it’s fine to raise money from the private sector – or anyone – it’s just not enough.

And as public sector finance abandons us, salami slice by salami slice, we need to recognise the truth that we in the third sector have always had much in common with the private sector, especially at the coal face.

If we capture hearts and minds first, contributions will follow in surprising and often humbling ways.

Our sector is replete with go-getting entrepreneurs who are passionate about what they do and committed to serving "their" local community. Individuals who spot a problem and get on with developing a solution without waiting to be asked or "commissioned".  

By moving beyond our focus on public money – constrained by contracts and commissioners – to a more grown-up relationship with the private sector, we’re able to develop a mutual understanding of the strengths and skills both sides bring to the table.  

It’s only by working together that we can build the inclusive economy that Theresa May talks about, but in a very human form. The fact that getting it right might help both our bottom lines is the end point, not the start.

Paul Streets (@PaulStreets) is chief executive of the Lloyds Bank Foundation (@LBFEW)

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