OPINION: Babysitting is good model of skill sharing

GERALDINE PEACOCK, chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

When I was a young mum, a group of us ran a local babysitting circle. We would babysit for each other and, in the process, earn points which we banked or in my case, spent.

The group had a social side too. We used to arrange lunches in each other's houses where we would enjoy good food, wine and spending "quality time" with our offspring.

There could be a benefit in applying the "babysitting approach" to the way in which voluntary organisations work.

Voluntary organisations' core missions centre on things such as the relief of poverty, the empowerment of people, improving health or education and protecting our environment. I have yet to come across a charity whose core purpose is running human resources departments, developing finance departments, and building in-house IT capacity or marketing teams.

But they are functions we all have to do ourselves or buy in. There seems to be a historical reluctance in charities to "shop around" for, or share, these functions. So rather like those times before we had a babysitting group, many charities either do their support functions badly, duplicate, or carry larger than necessary overheads. It's not much fun and it stops our precious resources reaching our clients.

So, let's look at why voluntary organisations should "do what they do best and outsource the rest", as one communications agency put it. And by that, I don't necessarily mean just to external agencies, but also within the sector through the development of an internal market, or reciprocity system, for infrastructure functions.

There are real opportunities for us to share the "back office" functions, identify best practice and form consortiums. This could mean effectively having one organisation providing the back office for five or six charities, or charities identifying their support strengths and building strategic alliances around them. Or it could involve developing increased purchasing power by forming consortia.

This already happens, but perhaps involving the public and private sectors as well would lead to new partnerships, while making money go further.

All sorts of things in life offer us the opportunity to draw parallels and create new ways of working, even gastronomically inclined babysitting groups.

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