Merge rather than collaborate to achieve real change, says Brain Tumour Charity chief

At NPC's annual conference, Sarah Lindsell says collaboration instead of merger is a waste of resources

Sarah Lindsell

Charities should "go big or go home" and merge rather than collaborate if they want to achieve real change, the chief executive of the Brain Tumour Charity has said.

Speaking at a session at the think tank New Philanthropy Capital's annual conference in London yesterday, Sarah Lindsell said she struggled to see why it was the best use of her charity’s resources to collaborate with the more than 70 other brain tumour charities.

She said many of these charities were set up to help give purpose to families that had seen a loved one die of the disease, rather than specifically tackling the illness. She said her charity focused on collaboration with other cancer and medical research charities instead.

Mergers would be a better way to help tackle brain tumours, Lindsell told the conference.

"We don’t collaborate," she said. "And I can’t. It is wasting time and resources that we ought to be spending on meeting that need – to find a cure, to double survival rates and to halve the harm, because that is our purpose as a charity.

"I am done with collaboration. We should go big or go home in our sector, and we should merge. I would stand down today if the other charities would join with us and appoint a new chief executive to take our sector forwards."

Speaking in the same session, Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said collaboration was very positive and needed to be increased, but only if it was effective.

"I think we are still in the foothills of where I think we ought to be in terms of the depth, the quality, the impact and the success of collaboration in the voluntary sector," he said.

"But there is a reason for that: it is a really difficult thing to do successfully. Doing it unsuccessfully is a worse idea than getting on in a really smart, efficient and focused way as an individual organisation.

"What we need is not more collaboration, but more successful and impactful collaboration."

Duncan Shrubsole, director of policy, partnerships and communication at the Lloyds Bank Foundation, told delegates that many smaller charities had been "sidelined or put out of business by large national charities looking to grow market share" and in many cases "size and connection to locality can really matter".

Shrubsole said: "The clear issue is horses for courses. There are some charities that should clearly merge, particularly if they work on a national scale on a similar issue. There are some charities that need to stay beautifully small. And there is a whole wealth of collaborations in the middle."

In a separate session at the conference, Danielle Walker Palmour, director of the Friends Provident Foundation, told delegates that charities could not achieve real change alone.

"If you come up with the solution to a big problem, and that solution involves only you, you need to go back to your question and go back to your answer, because that is impossible," she said.

"It is nonsense. Know who your allies are and who you need to work alongside."

She said funders needed to have real connection to the causes they provided money for.

"If you are a funder and you don’t feel you are part of the problem you are trying to solve in some way, then I think you need to go back to look at your purpose," Walker Palmour said.

"Why are you there? What right do you possibly have to put money into something to which you have no connection? Passion is a connection, caring is a connection and there might be some family connection – it doesn’t really matter. Know what that is and mine it."

Lisa Harker, chief executive of The Art Room, said at the same session that too many charity leaders spent too much time sustaining their own organisations.

"It seems to be at the expense of more time spent considering how to achieve our mission," she said.

Matt Hyde, chief executive of the Scout Association, warned that sometimes charities could become too focused on a merger rather than on the benefit of pursuing one.

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