Prince William: Charities need to be collaborative, not territorial

The ‘ever-growing’ number of charities should work to be more collaborative, rather than territorial, Prince William has said.

Speaking at the Charity Commission’s annual public meeting today in London, the Duke of Cambridge told an audience of charity decision makers that the sector needs to work on working better together to "embrace change".

"I do wonder at times if the compassion which leads people to set up or maintain charities could not be equally well directed at first finding opportunities to work with existing charities," he said.

Prince William drew reference to the forthcoming merger of Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer, two charities he claims are “working together towards similar ends, and which are merging from a position of strength”.

“Together I have no doubt they will achieve more to fight bowel cancer than they could have done alone. This leads me to think this approach could go further.

"Instead of charities working in separate fields, I wonder if we could do more to find ways to combine forces, working and innovating together.

“Competition between the funds of an ever-growing number of charities and the confusion it can cause among donors, can lead to the siloing of expertise and at worst, territorial behavior.

“I know this message isn’t’ always easy to hear […] but as the challenges of the future continue to bare down on us, I believe this big shift must begin to happen.

“The sector must be open to collaborate, share expertise and resources, to focus less on individual interests and more on the benefits working together could bring.

“That I believe is where the future lies.”

Support from the Monarchy

The Duke also paid tribute to the work of the charity sector, noting the strong relationship between civil society and the Monarchy, which has existed for "generations" already.

"[Harry and I] want to support the charitable sector just as much as generations of our family. But the model of how we do this will continue to evolve as much in the future as it has in the past.

“One of the most fun and enjoyable aspects of my work as I travel around the country is seeing your work – a great antidote to cynicism. If you lived your life on Twitter, or on news pages, you could be forgiven for assuming that society is falling apart: natural and man-made disasters, terrorism, economic uncertainty; our national institutions perhaps not appearing to be the bulwark they once were.

"These challenges are all real, but they are not the whole story - in fact, they are not even half the story: kindness, compassion, neighborliness, big and small acts of generosity form the glue of our society, and our links to other parts of the world.

"Charity facilitates and channels that generosity [...] I cannot thank all of you in this room enough for it. We all in this country owe you a great deal for your service.”

The rarity of mergers

Prince William’s comments come amid a heightened focus on mergers among the sector as recent survey results revealed new mergers are still relatively rare. Those that have taken place, have not been ‘strategic or timely’ the research found.

The Good Merger Index, the fourth annual review of not-for-profit sector mergers, produced by Eastside Primetimers, revealed 70 mergers involving 142 organisations took place in 2016/17. Among the sector’s 167,000 charities, this represents just 0.09 per cent.

Despite common discussion about duplication, 2016/17 also saw a net increase of about 1,700 entities registering with the Charity Commission.

Among the mergers that did take place over year, quality was highlighted as an issue; 44 per cent of the smaller organisations involved in mergers were in deficit in the year before the merger.

The average operating margin of these charities as a percentage of their turnover was -14 per cent, according to the data, which it claims shows mergers “are still very often sought as a form of ‘rescue’ from a position of financial and strategic weakness”.

“On the whole, we are left with an impression of a charity sector not yet able to grasp the nettle and explore the need for greater consolidation, or do so in a timely and strategic manner,” Eastside Primetimers CEO Richard Litchfield said.

“This is despite continuing competition for constrained resources, a degree of duplication in services and the duty of charity managers and trustees to consider the best means to meet their charitable objectives in this environment.”

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