Peter Lewis: We need to work together for a stronger civil society

Our sector is strongest when we are together. As a membership organisation with over 6,000 individuals across the UK and over 600 charity members, I see every day the difference that is made when fundraisers share, support, and collaborate with each other. It is one of the things that always gives me pride and hope for the future – that whatever the individual cause is of the organisation we work for, we understand that we are unlikely to get there just on our own. As Helen Keller, author and campaigner, once said; “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

‘Collaboration’ is also the ubiquitous rallying call that is often heard from government, think tanks, and the sector itself. It was heard once again at the recent Conservative Party conference fringe event with Philip Dunne, the MP for Ludlow, urging charities to “speak with one voice” to have the most impact. With a cynical hat on you could say this makes it easier for parliamentarians, and with around 160,000 registered charities in the UK the idea we could ever ‘have one voice’ might leave a few people with raised eyebrows. But we cannot deny that there is value in having a common voice and purpose, especially when, given the current political climate, anything other than Brexit finds it hard to get cut through. It also is a reminder for us working at membership and infrastructure organisations that we also need to continue to work together too.

Yet working together isn’t always easy. Sometimes there can be fears about a potential loss of your individual’s charity identity, dilution of your independence and voice, or disagreement with others over precise policy calls and responses. But recently I’ve been reminded again about how much more we have to gain through collaboration. I’ve been lucky to have been involved with sector leaders in working groups and conversations to tackle the things that will benefit us all; diversity in the fundraising community, a strong and united call for the £2bn funding from dormant assets to be designated for strategic, long-term investment in civil society organisations, and substantive work on improving safeguarding across the sector.
And when I look at what’s happening more widely across our sector, there are some really excellent examples of collaboration– people and organisations coming together to amplify their voice.

For example, the Tesco partnership with Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK is a prime example of shared knowledge unlocking progress. It focuses on their shared charitable objectives and, over the next five years, their campaign will bring together their skills and expertise to lower health risks across the UK. Last year a coalition of eighteen London homelessness charities came together for a joint campaign with the Mayor of London to help rough sleepers in the capital. And the IoF’s own long term project to increase gifts in wills, Remember A Charity goes from strength to strength, with now over 200 charities working collectively to make legacy giving the social norm.

One of my favourite collaborative campaigns was a group of 26 hospices across the North West who came together in 2017 to launch a TV advertising campaign that busted myths and broke down barriers that prevented people from accessing hospice care across the region. The hospices worked together to share the cost of airing the ads during prime time Granada TV and enabled them to all reach a wider audience than ever before – in an affordable way that benefited them all.

We can rarely achieve transformational without the help and support those around us. Whether that’s working with the charities nearest to us geographically, on similar causes, or as membership bodies supporting a wider range of charities, we all gain through collaboration. At the IoF, we believe in excellent fundraising for a better world – and fundraising is at its best when we learn from others, support our peers and colleagues, and work together for the benefit of all.

Peter Lewis is the chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising

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