OPINION: HOT ISSUE - Should grant-makers force charities to work together?

Last week, 16 organisations campaigning in the prostate cancer field were given £100,000 by a charitable trust in return for working together on a joint campaign. Despite all the worthy words about "partnership working", this type of intervention from a funder remains rare in the voluntary sector.

Dave Howell, manager, West Hampstead Community Association


While such a proposal may seem quite logical and in tune with the plethora of "partnership working

themes of good practice, I am concerned that there is too much outside interference killing the spirit and diversity particularly of community-sector organisations.

These are local "home-grown

organisations and groups, pioneered by local people, managed by local people, pursuing objects decided by local people.

Often their small size, antipathy towards bureaucracy, and commitment to action produces positive results.

Unfortunately, quantity and diversity seem a problem for many policy-makers in public life. They need to impose measurement, monitoring, restructuring, amalgamations, partnership working requirements, increased regulations and transparency among other things.

Let's have some investment in the pragmatic success of the community sector. Let's stem the tide of external control and interference. Let grant-making trusts manage their trusts and leave community-sector managers to manage theirs. I hear the storm of protest already.

Richard Gutch, director for England and UK, Community Fund


Our prime concern is to achieve high-quality outcomes from the grants that we give. Encour-aging voluntary organisations to work together is an important part of that.

In our new strategic grants programme launching in November, we encourage partnership working by recognising in our scoring system applications that demonstrate that organisations are working together to achieve a particular outcome.

This could be in all sorts of ways, for example, voluntary organisations could form a consortium to make an application, two organisations could work in partnership or a large, national organisation could work with smaller, local organisations. Each organisation will have a particular thing that they can bring to the table.

Although the golden rule has to be that the choice is left to the voluntary organisations, funders can play an important role in encouraging people to talk and work together.

Luke FitzHerbert, researcher, Directory of Social Change


If a particular funder wants to promote collaboration in a field where they understand the issues, fine, but it should not be the role of trusts and foundations generally to tell other charities how to behave.

Of course, there are some areas with too many charities and they should merge, or at least collaborate (such as cancer research). But there are even more where there are too few charities.

And even where there are two or more charities doing similar things, why need this be a problem? Each has its own supporters and its own style , and this ownership is their strength. Why is it so obviously better to have one big youth club rather than two smaller ones?

And what about the trusts and foundations themselves? Surely, this field contains the greatest collection of overlapping look-alikes in the whole charity sector? If they are not going to use of their independence to do things differently to each other, shouldn't they be the ones collaborating?

Andrew Watt, Institute of Fundraising, director of policy


I think that the example of the GUS Charitable Trust giving £100,000 for 16 charities to work together on a joint campaign is a demonstration of responsible grant giving. This grant will have a bigger impact than lots of smaller ones that would spread out the funding over a range of organisations.

Demonstrating joined-up thinking on the part of the bidder can only be attractive to funders. There is a real problem because smaller, community-based organisations often apply for funding in isolation from each other. Those organisations with little fundraising expertise will have a better chance if they work with other groups. If smaller organisations are encouraged to make joint applications to funders, they can bring more weight to their fundraising bids.

At the same time, funding will become far more effective if funders get more involved with the organisations and communities that they seek to support by helping them put together joint bids.

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