The collaboration prize

Easier than you think, more important than ever…

Exactly one year and one week ago, I hosted the twelfth of what I’d planned to be a series of just eight weekly “Covid calls”, for charity CEOs to come together as a collaborative peer-group, sharing their challenges and solutions and supporting each other through that first lockdown.

I’d assumed that after a couple of months, people would have gotten what they needed, and heard more than enough from me, and they would start to drop out.

But instead, the number of CEOs showing up each week stayed resolutely buoyant, and the list of topics they wanted me to cover kept on building. The topic they requested for that particular session was no less than the Future of Volunteering.

Such was the interest it held, especially in light of the increasing need created by the pandemic, and the surge in public volunteering in response, that the call spawned a multitude of follow-up conversations, and eventually I asked one of the CEOs from my community, Catherine Johnstone of Royal Voluntary Service, if she would co-host a breakfast seminar with me to properly open up the conversation to my wider charity CEO network.

I was delighted when she agreed. Even more delighted when at the end, the whole group asked for another session. And most delighted of all when Matt Hyde from Scouts volunteered to help plan and co-chair it with us.

But my delight reached new heights last week, when the “coalition of the willing” that the initial group had since evolved itself into, energetically led by Catherine and Matt, formally launched itself, its aims, and priorities to the world, as the Shaping the Future with Volunteering group.

A couple of months before the launch, Catherine agreed to come back as a guest on one of my evening seminars, to take questions from me and forty or fifty leaders from across the third sector on her thoughts about the future of volunteering.

I’m not going to repeat what was said (you can watch the full session here), because this is not an article about the future of volunteering. This is an article about the future of charities working together.

Collaboration within the voluntary sector has long been a vast, but rarely tapped opportunity. The simple reason for this is our propensity to do things is in direct proportion to how important they are to us, and how easy they are to do.

Collaboration isn’t easy. It takes time, energy and trust, and there’s invariably a whole bunch of hassles we’d have to work through and trade-offs we’d have to make. But take a look at the organisations in the volunteering group. They’ve done it, as have many other groups.

It isn’t as hard as you might think, but it is more important than you might realise.

And that’s not just because of the pressures we need to withstand through this recovery, or the time-limited opportunities that we can’t afford to miss, like capitalising on the volunteering surge. It’s because without collaboration, most charities can’t actually realise their visions.

If you’re not convinced, I wrote a whole article on it here. Give it a read. And if you want more, there’s a whole suite of resources on collaboration here, pulled together in collaboration by a group of non-profit consultants from around the world.

Collaborations across the sector have never been so important, nor has the opportunity they create, the prize they could offer, ever been as big. And in this new, virtual age, they have never been as easy as they are right now, to organise and get off the ground.

So, what will it take for you to make collaboration with other charities your big, strategic priority?

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