Rory O'Connor: The sector needs to work together better

Only charities that collaborate will continue to successfully serve and support their beneficiaries, argues the director of welfare and policy at the Royal Air Forces Association

Rory O'Connor
Rory O'Connor

The days when one charity would offer all-encompassing support and welfare are well and truly behind us. Collaboration is undoubtedly the future of the UK charity sector and only those charities that accept and adapt to this rapidly changing reality will continue to successfully serve and support their beneficiaries.

As Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, alluded to in recent comments, the charity sector needs to collectively future-proof its operating model and this means looking at how resources and expertise can be pooled to maximise the welfare offered to beneficiaries.

Currently, over 2,000 military charities operate in the UK, equating to 1.1 per cent of the total number of registered charities. Yet together they serve over six million beneficiaries. The RAF family alone consists of approximately 1.5 million RAF veterans and their dependants. With such a vast network and a widening variety of welfare issues, it is no wonder that charities are increasingly turning to their peers to help deliver tangible, long-term solutions in their communities.

What has inevitably become more apparent over recent years is the number of times an individual might intersect with multiple charities. A single RAF veteran, for example, may suffer from mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, require financial support, be looking for employment and may be suffering from loneliness and social isolation. All of these very serious issues require expertise and resources that a single charity is unable to provide.

When faced with the multi-faceted nature that defines most welfare cases in the UK, it is important therefore that we encourage and foster collaborative practices that present the best solution for the individual. As a sector already facing increasing scrutiny and diminishing funds and resources, management has a responsibility to ensure that we are not duplicating efforts and being unnecessarily territorial in our work.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in sparking this change in working practices is combating the perception that by collaborating you are undermining your charity’s brand and mission. At this stage we have to ask ourselves: "What is our purpose as an organisation?" As charities, it is fundamental that the beneficiary must always sit close to the heart of a charity and their needs must inform everything we do. In fact, in the case of the Royal Air Forces Association, collaboration with the likes of the RAF Benevolent Fund, Combat Stress and the Alzheimer’s Society has only helped to strengthen our mission and improve our work. The association is a member of Cobseo, the Confederation of Service Charities, which offers further opportunities for collaboration.

In 2015 alone, we dealt with over 100,000 enquiries, resulting in approximately 13,700 house visits. Of these, only 2,000 cases required financial aid. As part of our volunteer training scheme, we educate our case workers about the other charities operating in our space. This training ensures, when assessing individual cases, our officers and volunteers are well informed about the services that are provided by other organisations and are thus able to provide appropriate and life-changing advice and support.

Across the board, charities need to be championing a holistic approach to welfare, where a willingness and openness to both partnering with and referring to other, specialist charities is the norm. Why would we want to waste valuable funds and time duplicating the efforts that another charity already has expertise in?

The stark reality is that we can’t afford to be precious about our organisations – we need each other if we are to genuinely generate societal change and improve the lives of the people that inspired us to do this in the first place.

Rory O’Connor is director of welfare and policy at the Royal Air Forces Association

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