Supporting innovation, tackling digital exclusion and improving their response and resilience in the face of crisis are some of the many benefits for charities that swap competition for collaboration
Charities are becoming more innovative in their digital service delivery amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is seen most explicitly in the number of charities working closely together through partnerships, even though they are competitors for income, donations and in delivering services.
But such coopetition, where co-operation and competition intertwine, is vital to helping charities ward off a future unprecedented crisis, such as COVID-19.
Coopetition is also helping build digital resilience in the sector, which has rapidly had to ramp up its online marketing, social media skills, remote service delivery and home working amid the pandemic.
This month we showcased examples of the innovative charity partnerships that have been set up already amid the pandemic. Last year we also took a look at some of the best charity partnerships taking place prior to the outbreak.
Here we will look at the reasons why coopetition is vital to helping charities respond to crisis and build resilience.
Among those backing such coopetition is Charity Comms chief executive Adeela Warley. At the Chartered Institute of Fundraising online convention this month she put forward a passionate argument for greater cooperation among charities, even though they are used to competing.
During a session on opportunities in fundraising in the 2020s and beyond she was among panellists asked to put forward a ‘provocation’ to stimulate debate.
Warley told delegates that “collaboration, not competition” is needed for the long-term survival of charities. Those charities that have already embraced partnership working have been the most successful in service delivery and fundraising amid the pandemic, she said. They will continue to thrive in years to come as a result.
“Those organisations who have fostered cultures which value collaboration over internal competition, who have united around shared ambitions and objectives, who have been given the creative license to try new things, to innovate, to test and learn – these are the charities that have done well in the face of crisis”,
Warley added that a collaborative approach indicated that charities had also taken time to reflect on their purpose. “They’ve taken a long hard look at who they are what they are there for and who they are there for,” she said.
She urged all charities to follow their lead, work together and stop operating in isolation.
Such cooperation also helps give charities a stronger voice. This is in their social media messaging, marketing and improving service delivery.
Coopetition also gives charities a greater response to digital exclusion, to work together to improve digital skills in the voluntary sector and across society.
It is a vital response indeed. According to the charity Good Things Foundation, there are 11.3M people in the UK who lack the basic digital skills needed to thrive. This leaves them at risk of increased loneliness, financial exclusion and poor access to jobs and training.
Coopetition can help to deliver these digital skills to the nation. Partnerships are already being created in the voluntary to ensure charities are working together under this shared goal – improve digital skills.
The goal of digital inclusion partnerships in the sector should be to “unlock solutions to the challenge of digital exclusion” to ensure people “can have adequate access in the home so they can build the skills, confidence and enjoy opportunities for their future in a digital society”, according to Paul Finnis, Chief Executive of the Learning Foundation, which is part of the Digital Access for All inclusion partnership.
A report released in April by New Philanthropy Capital, called Collaborating for a Cause looked in detail at the advantages of setting up cause-related networks. These philanthropic partnerships bring together funding for good causes to improve the effectiveness of charities’ work.
Among the benefits is sharing learning and the ability to drive innovation.
“A network can contribute to an aggregate impact that is more than the sum of its parts,” states the report.
“Not only can members benefit from the knowledge and learning shared, but networks with high density may be more able to drive innovation and action by reducing duplication, directing philanthropists to funding gaps, and supporting funders to engage with complex issues that may feel too large to tackle individually. They can also facilitate coordinated action and collaboration.”
It adds that networks can be highly interconnected and “enable knowledge and ideas to spread quickly”.
Coopetition in the charity sector can be particularly beneficial in a crisis when broadened out across society – to also include private and public sector organisations.
An emerging way for charities to support each other in this way to be more resilient is through ‘mutual aid groups’. These are where charities, businesses, community groups and public sector organisations come together in local areas to deliver support and services.
A report by think tank New Local Government Network called Communities versus Coronavirus: The Rise of Mutual Aid this month praised the involvement of charities within these aid groups for providing essential services to communities affected by COVID-19.
“Mutual Aid groups’ ability to pick up the slack as charities and traditional services reorganised themselves during those crucial early weeks of lockdown has been another major success”, states the report.
“In terms of longer-term successes, groups have excelled at creating networks. Many have created partnerships of various forms, and with various degrees of formality, with both local government, and with charities and businesses in their areas.”
These wider link-ups between charities and with other sectors have been particularly pronounced in terms of digital. The report says: “Digital infrastructure and wide usage of web-based social media have been a central component of many groups’ ability to function during the lockdown.”
It adds that social media has been key, not just in communication, but also in delivering local services. This has included organising volunteers as well as identifying community groups to target for support. Facebook has been key in this, supplemented by private messaging platforms, such as WhatsApp, for “interaction for core members and organisers”.
In this way, hierarchies of involvement and decision-making can shape “the options available” to charities working in partnership.
There is clearly a strong appetite in the charity sector to cooperate as they meet the difficult challenges ahead.