CEO’s Blog: Power In Partnership

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Fiona Spellman, Chief Executive of SHINE, states that only by working together in partnership can we achieve our mission to make sure that all disadvantaged children in the North of England are supported to thrive at school.

Of all the jargon used by the charity sector, I sometimes feel that the word ‘partnership’ is the most problematic. There are hundreds of thousands of charities based all across the UK who make a vital contribution to civic life. Collectively, they help to serve the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. However, as the Young Foundation’s report, Patchwork Philanthropy, makes clear, charitable resources are not always equitably spent across the country. Many of us talk a lot about working in partnership with others in our sector, however the reality is that partnerships are hard to do well.

In the case of SHINE, we bring our own expertise and perspective to supporting education programmes, and we like to exercise our own judgement in relation to where is best to spend our time, money and expertise to achieve the best outcomes for disadvantaged children. So does every other investor working in this same related space. We each publish priorities, criteria and our own decision-making processes, and we then support grantees – many of whom will be applying to each of us separately – through these processes in parallel. When we do end up co-funding programmes, too often this is by coincidence rather than by design.

Faced with ever more demands on our time and resources, it’s incumbent on those of us who lead charities to think afresh about how we can best work together with our peers in the sector. If we are united by wanting a brighter future for disadvantaged children, should we be doing more together?

One partnership I’m especially proud of is that between SHINE, the KPMG Foundation, Man Group plc Charitable Trust, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Indigo Trust, the JJ Charitable Trust and the Mercers’ Company. The partnership is today publishing the results of the Reading Recovery programme,  which shows strong longitudinal evidence of impact on disadvantaged children’s reading and literacy skills. Through this collaborative working, we were able to pool our resources and co-invest in an intervention which we all believed would achieve lasting impact for children. By working together, we were able to achieve impact far beyond our own means.

For me, the power of partnership is not just about pooling money, important though this is. It’s also about pooling expertise and learning, ensuring that funders can share knowledge and insights. Our partnership with the KPMG Foundation came from a position of trust and mutual respect. We both valued each other and not just the money.

In the words of the late Jo Cox MP, there is much more than unites than divides us. In a sector where none of us are able to solve the complex challenges we face alone, it’s time we funders took this more seriously.