Barriers between charities are holding the sector back, says RSA chief

Matthew Taylor tells the Association of Charitable Foundations' annual conference that charities must be more willing to collaborate in radical and creative ways

Matthew Taylor
Matthew Taylor

Charities are failing to address the barriers between organisations that are holding the sector back, the chief executive of the ideas and research charity the RSA has said.

Speaking at the Association of Charitable Foundations’ annual conference in London yesterday, Matthew Taylor told delegates they needed to be more willing to collaborate in radical and creative ways if they wanted to have a long-term impact.

In response to a question about how trusts could have the biggest impact on resolving inequality in the long term, he said there was a lack of evidence that grant-making charities were willing to embrace the kind of change needed.

"You don’t really think it’s that bad, because if you did, you’d be being much more radical in the way you collaborate in your work," he said.

Taylor pointed to the Disasters Emergency Committee, a group of aid charities that join forces after major disasters to raise funds, as "an example of a group of charities that recognise that, in extremis, you have to put down your differences and come together to get genuine momentum with the public to try and make a difference".

But Taylor, who earlier this year presented a documentary series for BBC Radio 4 about the charity sector, said that was unique among charitable organisations.

"The reality is that organisational boundaries, organisational legacies, language and furniture hold us all back," he said.

"That’s the reality. We have to work incredibly hard to genuinely be willing to challenge the way organisations work, traditions, governance and all of that."

He said there was "not enough evidence" of radical innovation in the types of relationships between charities and wondered if the challenge posed by inequality "had to get a little bit worse" before trusts were willing to be as radical, offensive and creative as they ought to be.

He said organisations such as the RSA, which was founded in 1754, needed to adapt in order to survive.

Part of achieving that, he said, was "an absolutely unwavering focus on change, an understanding of the barriers to change and developing interventions that reflect the analysis of barriers to change".

He said that if organisations were to go beyond trying to make everyday life a bit better for people and to start trying to change government policy, there needed to be a "step change" in which trusts linked their giving to place, working with local people.

And he said there needed to be "deep, creative, and generous long-term collaboration between the civil society organisations working in that place in service of that shared vision to allow people in the place to achieve a sense of ownership".

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