Reflections by Tessa Hibbert, regional partnerships manager, Blagrave
Alongside Blagrave’s national programme of grant making, we support a network of over 50 regional youth charities in the SE of England with long term, unrestricted funding for their service delivery work.
We regularly ask these partners for feedback about our support. One of the things they ask for most often is to share and connect their work with others working in a similar space. Coming out of the pandemic, opportunities to foster relationships and collaborate seem increasingly rare.
For our part, we want to do everything we can to bring about a collaborative sector that prioritises learning. We strongly believe that the best organisations are those that collaborate, reflect, and are driven by an accountability to who they serve and their mission.
But how to do this well? We want to think carefully about how to make sure whatever support we offer our partners to encourage collaboration is truly valuable. We want to be led by, and in service of, the needs of their organisations and the young people they serve.
I went to visit our partner and fellow funder, the fantastic Plymouth POP, to find out more about their approach. POP provides infrastructure support and funding for charities, social enterprises and movements in Plymouth.
POP actively works to support collaboration in the Plymouth voluntary sector by prioritising funding for collaboration and encouraging transparency through open submission of bids and member rating. This has led to a shift in the sector in Plymouth, with 21 collaborations of three or more partners accessing funding and support from POP including capacity building, learning support and networking.
POP and their partners generously shared their learning with us.
Here’s 5 things I learned about collaboration that day
- Support for collaboration doesn’t need to be complicated. It’s enough to bring together a group of people who have values alignment and offer them a shared space to grow.
- Collaboration needs to be valued. This means funders need to resource the thinking and talking time that goes into collaboration as well as the outputs.
- Extending collaboration beyond existing networks is challenging. If this is an explicit goal, then partners need help to achieve this – and that sometimes means challenge.
- Working on a shared vision is important. A project offers something for a collective to ‘get their teeth into’. But they need to retain the flexibility to abandon or amend this if it doesn’t work out.
- Collaboration isn’t always the right option. Some initiatives need time to refine and develop an existing model before extending the work to others.
All useful learning and groundwork for Blagrave’s future work on collaboration and shared learning. But the most important learning for us was around power. We are not an impartial player in all this. The key point made by POP’s partners was this one:
- Partners don’t just want to collaborate amongst themselves. They want and value true collaboration with funders. Funders themselves need to be prepared to genuinely collaborate by offering relationship based funding, unrestricted long term gifts and being open about their weak points.
A community is strongest if it grows together.
Watch this space as we continue to explore how we can best foster further collaboration among our partners and the wider sector and please do get in touch if you want to learn more or collaborate.