OPINION: Thinkpiece - Sector must be strong to meet new demands

Ben Hughes, chief executive of Bassac

Strong partnerships within and between community and voluntary organisations will prove crucial for the Treasury's recommendations in the cross-cutting review to work.

Given the emphasis that has been put on creating sustainable benefit, partnerships between sectors will also be an essential component of the forthcoming Futurebuilders' proposals.

In fact, there has been so much emphasis from local and central government and the sector on voluntary and community sector collaboration that you would have thought we would be seeing increasing synergy between the two. But this is not the case.

Instead a distinct paradox has emerged. Funders, or investors as many now see themselves, say they want to stimulate greater collaboration at local, regional and national levels. They are increasingly concerned about the impact their funding has.

But the process of bidding for funding from a restricted pot encourages a closed and introverted approach to development. It's driven by a desire to secure the future of an organisation rather than looking at the impact the work will actually have. There is strong evidence among local, service-providing voluntary and community organisations that bidding processes are becoming highly competitive and divisive, with organisations being pitched directly against each other.

Encouraging stronger sector collaboration in ways that can deliver and sustain lasting community benefit has to be seen as a vital objective in itself.

It requires investment in the infrastructure of the sector from sources including central and local government, trusts and emerging investors looking for a social return.

Venture philanthropy and capital can offer key new opportunities for inward investment in the sector and can build links with the corporate sector - very much alienated to date.

There is nothing new about wanting to diversify funding. What is new is developing a range of investors, from all sectors, that are less interested in bankrolling the future of specific organisations than investing to create a strong infrastructure. Bassac sees this culture shift towards bigger picture focus as the key to establishing collaboration within the sector - an important aim in itself and a valuable investment opportunity.

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