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Garry Jones's blog

Thu 15 Nov 2018

Taking back control

In these uncertain times many in the voluntary sector will be feeling nervous. So I’m borrowing a soundbite and taking a moment to suggest how we might all reduce our anxieties by taking more of our future into our own hands.

On a national level Brexit now looms large and raises unanswered questions about the economy which will affect both government finances and the pounds in all our pockets . The recently published Civil Society Strategy remains aspiration without clear action and with the honourable resignation of Tracy Crouch, we now have at the helm yet another new Minister for Civil Society whose commitment to its contents is unclear. Locally the supposed end of austerity is hard to detect with necessary wide ranging public service cuts still to be implemented by local government in particular. Here in Staffordshire progress integrating Health and Social Care is painfully slow in most cases.

With this volatile and unpredictable environment around us, what might we do to navigate one of the most uncertain periods in recent history? Here I suggest three big steps that all voluntary organisations should take to bring their future within their own control to the greatest possible extent:

1. Trade with pride. Look at everything you do and wherever possible put a price on it, promote that service and it’s price and be proud to do so. Money isn’t inherently bad; it’s just a simple means of exchange and if you don’t use it to offer your services out to the whole community, you are tying one hand behind your back. The question should cease to be whether it’s right or wrong to charge for services. Instead it should simply be about whether your service has sufficiently demonstrable value for a customer to spend their money on it, ahead of their other priorities. Where it doesn’t you should still seek other ways of funding your work, but let’s make it the norm to test this first. A direct relationship between you and your customers which includes money is a stabilising influence on your business, so wherever possible, do it.

2. Stop being funded, start making joint investments Language matters and the terminology around funding and funders has become entrenched and is deeply unequal. They fund and we receive - it’s unhelpful and it’s wrong. They put money in and we put knowledge, skills, experience, trust, ideas, effort, and passion in. It’s a joint investment and in many cases it’s also a joint financial investment. The current social prescribing boom across the voluntary sector is at its best about a joint investment as any new money from the NHS is being made to maximise the existing investment of the sector in a huge number of services that we are bringing to the table. So change your mindset and your language, and do your best to change your current funders into investors, because that’s what they should be. It’s easy to cut funding. It’s much harder to withdraw from investments.

3. Seriously consider local mergers.  Now is not the time to batten down the hatches and ride it out. The return to the good old days may be a very long time away. Instead, you must seek allies and your best allies will be those local organisations with the same aims as you. Collaboration can take up a lot of time and this may offset some of the benefits. So where you really are close in your organisational objectives and values, take the next step and merge. I’m not advocating the creation of monolithic charities. But imagine you merge with three other organisations locally; you’ll probably still be quite small in the grand scheme of things; you need not lose your local USP. You will make savings, you will protect services and you will retain or build the strength of your voice. You owe your organisation the duty of putting your personal interests aside to consider if a bigger organisation, perhaps without you at the helm, offers a more stable future.

If you want to talk to someone about trading, your current funding or potential investments, or mergers, then call or email your local Support Staffordshire officer or drop me a line direct if it’s of particular sensitivity.