Work together beyond 'suspending mutual loathing for financial gain', BRC chief warns charities

In the keynote speech at NPC's 2019 annual conference, Mike Adamson of the British Red Cross says collaboration is the only way charities will meet ambitious missions

Mike Adamson
Mike Adamson

Charities must be ready to work together beyond "suspending mutual loathing for financial gain" if they hope to achieve their core missions, the chief executive of the British Red Cross has said. 

Delivering the keynote speech at the charitable think thank NPC’s 2019 annual conference, Mike Adamson applauded the "extraordinarily ambitious" missions of charities, but warned that organisations would struggle to deliver them unless they were prepared to work together. 

"Charities operate in spaces where markets are failing, where commissioning is failing and often where public policy is failing," he told delegates. "The whole reason we exist is these failures.

"If you had an unmet customer need described by charitable vision statements in any other sector – ‘a world without poverty’, ‘every refugee is able to live with dignity’ – the organisations meeting those challenges would be enormous and growing, because the market would demand it.

"But there are no income streams for charities in these spaces, which is a real challenge." 

Adamson argued that charities should be prepared to change their organisational structures and approaches, particularly with regards to collective working, for the best chance of thriving in the future.

"There are wonderful collaborations already in this sector, but we are better at collaborating on new efforts and those that are additional to our day-to-day jobs when it’s a campaign, a fundraising effort or if our donors require it," he said. 

The next step, he added, was for charities to move beyond "the suppression of mutual loathing for financial gain" in their partnerships.

"How hard are we prepared to collaborate on the grittiness of working alongside each other to make things happen?" he asked.

The complexity of the sector naturally threw up barriers to this approach, Adamson said, highlighting as examples the sheer number of charitable organisations, the range of differing personal philosophies held by people across the sector and the deeply held loyalties that organisations had to their own boards and staff. 

But he added: "If we are serious about our vision statements, we have to lean into working differently and into the business of collaboration for the long haul." 

In an effort to foster this mindset at the British Red Cross, Adamson said, the charity was preparing to set 10-year goals for meeting central cause aims, which could be achieved only by collaboration, both inside the sector with other charities, and outside it with corporate partnerships. 

He called on other charities to champion "relentless curiosity and insights" into the different ways in which they could work together to make a difference.

"We need to be the change we want to see, but this is not going to happen unless we start to operate in a collective way," he concluded.

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