A few years ago, YHLCOSA, a charity working to prevent sexual harm, made radical changes to the way it operates.
It was a change which saw the charity develop much stronger relationships with its local business community, in order to support its work across Yorkshire, the Humber and Lincolnshire.
YHLCOSA’s work is vitally important, but it isn’t the obvious choice for businesses seeking out a local charity to support. As Tammy Banks, CEO at YHLCOSA knows, private sector firms tend to support other charities or animal sanctuaries – not those that work to prevent sexual harm.
But the way that they work, which revolves around raising awareness, increasing recognition, rehabilitation and zero tolerance, is fundamentally about community mobilisation. This means that they have long recognised the need to build relationships with people and organisations from across different sectors.
The organisation relies on volunteers to deliver its services and has a handful of local businesses as important partners providing in-kind support for marketing and HR as private sector experts. Tammy Banks told me that having a private sector perspective on organisational issues can be vital to their success as a charity. In particular, although money is always needed, expertise and support are invaluable to smaller charities like YHLCOSA.
But this example is not an isolated one. Today we at IPPR North published new analysis from the Third Sector Trends survey of over 3,600 northern charities, which finds that 70% of charities and other voluntary organisations in the North receive some form of financial support from the private sector – which together adds up to almost £2bn. What is more, just under half say they benefit from the provision of free facilities by business and a similar proportion receive free expert advice.
These headline figures are proof of the strong links between business and civil society across the North of England – something that may be a surprise to those who continue to think of civil society as existing in a completely different world to the private sector.
Having said that, when we scratch beneath the surface a more nuanced picture emerges. In fact, our research suggests that businesses need to get much smarter and more strategic about how they engage with the third sector – too much of their engagement seems sporadic and haphazard.
I recently heard a story from the North East of teams of expert lawyers using their corporate volunteering days to paint a school in deprived areas. This may be well intentioned – but given their legal acumen and eye-watering day rates, this is almost certainly a poor use of their time. And our survey backs this up – just 6% of organisations said they consider corporate volunteers to be of ‘great’ value to them.
I find myself wondering how we might encourage these lawyers to develop more useful and supporting relationships with local charities and community groups, instead of doing a slap-dash job with a paintbrush. It should be in their best interests – after all investment in civil society is one way of ensuring the wider health of the local community upon which any firm’s continued profitability depends.
Likewise, there are clear benefits to charities from a more engaged relationship with business. Unfortunately our report finds that three quarters of third sector organisations have no plans to work more closely with business: they’re missing a trick.
So how can those voluntary organisations that are currently missing out catch up? Well, if I were in charge of my own third sector organisation, I’d be thinking about how to make the most of relationships with local businesses. In particular, I’d think about the following:
Culture change – Some people, although certainly not everyone, continue to view the ‘private sector’ as occupying an entirely different culture and set of values to ‘civil society’. But this is demonstrably untrue. Instead, I would rid my organisation of the idea that the ‘private sector’ is a monolithic and amoral space – and instead I’d map out where the common ground is and work towards it.
Investing time into building relationships – As the example of YHLCOSA shows, the real benefits come from nurturing strong relationships with business. I might ask local infrastructure bodies – including private sector bodies such as Chambers of Commerce as well as my local CVS to help my organisation to establish and support these relationships (and if they can’t help, I’d be demanding why not).
Being demanding of business – Civil society organisations can often be best placed to speak truth to businesses about how best to direct their time and resources so that they see the most impact- I’d be asking for financial support, and for the professional services that they specialise in, which my organisation needs
To read our new report head to ippr.org/north
To find out more about how you can support YHLCOSA please visit yhlcosa.org.uk