Global Action Plan moves to a partnership structure

The environmental charity tells Annette Rawstrone that its model is unique in the charity sector

Andy Deacon, managing partner at Global Action Plan
Andy Deacon, managing partner at Global Action Plan

Instead of being run by a traditional board of directors, the environmental charity Global Action Plan has moved to a partnership structure that gives it the flexibility to take on a wider variety of projects and increase its impact. It believes this is unique in the charity sector.

GAP, which had an income of £1.8m last year, helps the business, public, communities and education sectors to be more sustainable. It was founded in 1993 by Trewin Restorick and restructured two years ago. Restorick stayed on until last summer, when Andy Deacon became managing partner with responsibility for guiding GAP's development.

Originally there were four partners, but this increased to six when the organisation took on extra projects last year. The partnership structure was suggested by Jeremy Oppenheim of the management consultancy McKinsey & Company, who became chair of GAP in 2012 at a time when the environmental sector, like many others, was struggling. "The charity recognised that flexibility was important so that it could seize opportunities, when they arose, to get through the tough times and grow," says Deacon. "Oppenheim had experienced the model in the consulting sector and was keen to give it a go."

The charity could find no non-profit organisations using the partnership model, so it turned to the commercial world for advice, finding synergy with the workflow of management consultancies and law firms, which also handle various projects. There is shared accountability among GAP's six partners and they all attend board meetings and contribute to the agenda.

Chris Large (right), another partner, says: "It doesn't mean that we receive shared dividends and large pay cheques. We still have a board of trustees like any charity and the surplus that we generate continues to be reinvested in the charity. It is just the way we can work to get the most benefit for the charity. There are fewer competing priorities and more group problem-solving."

Now, instead of a rigid model in which clients are passed from business development to delivery and evaluation at different stages throughout a project, one partner oversees the whole process. This brings consistency and a stronger relationship between partner and client.

Each partner has an income target and is responsible for the delivery of a set of programmes over a range of sectors. They share the responsibility of promoting GAP's profile at conferences and meeting policy-makers. "We have clearer shared goals," says Deacon. "For example, if we need to generate income quickly, it's a shared challenge rather than solely the task of the fundraising director. We have six people with a broad range of skills, working across the organisation rather than being separated out."

Core posts, such as HR support, finance, marketing and office management remain, but they are not on the management team.

The change of structure affects the whole organisation, with the 30 programme staff now deployed across all the charity's areas according to their skills and capacities instead of operating in silos dedicated to different sectors. "We can move the appropriate resources to programmes easily and without the internal barrier of team budgets," says Large.

"We can respond faster to trends and scale up action more rapidly in specific areas. It means we can get more out of the resources that we have. There is a greater clarity about what people do and people are not being under-used."

Large acknowledges that the charity is now "very hot on time sheets" and it took both staff and partners time to adapt to the new ways of working. "Now they all appreciate the diversity and the opportunity to branch out into new fields," he says.

The model is still evolving, with the organisation moving from a focus on many small projects towards a long-term strategy of working on fewer, more high-profile ones. But Deacon says it is allowing GAP to scale up its work and explore new areas.

"This approach would not make sense across the whole charity sector, and is probably not for campaigning organisations," he says. "But I would recommend it to service delivery charities that are working across sectors and audiences. It is cost-effective and enables us to work together to react quickly and find new opportunities."

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