Peter Lewis, CEO Institute of Fundraising, knows the charity sector from the inside, and the outside. He has seen how his changing working environment, from working for City financial law firm Allen and Overy to being Director of the London Cycling Campaign, has has allowed him to work within a more collaborative ecology. Civil society and the charity sector faces ever more challenges, from shrinking funding to growing demands on services. Leaders, organisations and individuals need to do more to work together and build on each other’s strengths. Generous Leadership is a model that can encourage this kind of collaboration
Over 20 years ago I escaped life as a City lawyer, where every day is driven largely by timesheets and billable hours, partly because I knew life, and the world, is far more complex than the importance of a single deal or transaction.
Since then my overriding experience, both working in the charity sector and London government, is of people and leaders, who understand that collaboration, and the generosity of spirit that is vital to enable collaboration to work, is essential to maximise our respective impacts on making the world a better place. At the same time systems, structures, funding regimes, and I am afraid to say sometimes even Trustees, can act as a brake or lever exerting pressure in the opposite direction.
My personal experiences are rooted both in practical delivery and in taking time to reflect. While working at Crisis I was responsible for initiating new projects to tackle homelessness around the UK, but with only a third of the funding to make those projects happen. The structural restrictions this created drove collaboration – opening up conversations with local authorities and potential partners about the key issues in their areas and working out how best to approach solving them. It meant a longer lead in time to project development and while a minority drove their personal agendas most, motivated by their values, sought to find the most appropriate solution.
It was an approach based on identifying the strengths of each of the parties at the time. Crisis was strong in raising funds and the local partners had a better understanding of local needs. This is an approach that the sector needs to look at seriously again, and not just on a funding basis. One of the biggest challenges of today is whether some of the bigger UK-wide charities, with strong balance sheets and back offices can learn how to better work with more localised charities with better understanding grass root community needs.
And it is here that I think generous leadership needs to be encouraged and developed. I was lucky early in my days at the London Cycling Campaign to go on a London Councils funded leadership programme for London charity leaders, delivered in partnership with the Work Foundation. During this week long residential, we had time to reflect, share ideas and problems with other London leaders, as well as learn about leadership theory and hear from established and successful leaders from all walks of London life. It created a network of committed people and a sense of belonging to a common project.
This sense of belonging to a common cause is essential to inspiring generous leadership. This clearly failed in much of the UK public’s relationship with the European Union. For me, this was epitomised in the discussion during the recent referendum campaign where debate focussed on benefits the UK could take out, rather than what we could achieve better together, as part of a greater project.
And this sense of common cause is present, although not omnipresent, in the charity sector. I’ve been lucky enough to come across generous sector leaders at both national and London-wide. And for me it can exhibit itself both at a personal level – taking time out of a busy diary to have a coffee; sharing knowledge and experiences at peer learning meet-ups; making that call when they can sense you need support; as well as at an organisational level – exploring a slightly tangential partnership; putting the interests of the charity you are working for to one side to explore the best outcomes for shared beneficiaries.
And of course generous leadership happens at all levels within our society. At the Institute of Fundraising we have over 300 regular volunteers around the UK facilitating sharing learning from successes and failures through conferences, First Thursday meet-ups and breakfast roundtables; formal volunteer-led and delivered mentoring programmes across the UK, and hundreds of members contributing to the content of our policy and standards work, conference and Fundraising Convention programmes. And collaboration for greater impact runs throughout the third sector – from the Disasters Emergency Committee bringing emergency relief fundraising together; Remember a Charity to promote legacy giving or to the unwritten rules as to when certain charities should and shouldn’t fundraise so the public can have a clear understanding of Poppy Week, Red Nose day or Children in Need.
Generosity in leadership is not always easy, can be difficult to measure in terms of success or otherwise, but is surely something we should all embrace for the sake of our respective causes and beneficiaries. It is also something we should specifically encourage and support through appropriate training or leadership programmes. And at the Institute we stand ready to play whatever role would be useful.
What is your experience of working collaboratively? How can we get better at collaborating? What are your thoughts on Generous Leadership?