What does resilience mean in the context of organisational growth and development? How can funders help to build the conditions for a thriving voluntary sector?
The crises of the past few years have shown just how much we all need a resilient voluntary sector. Through meaningful collaboration and long-term partnerships over the last 10+ years, the Berkeley Foundation has supported organisations to build sustainability, allowing them to step up and respond to the needs of their communities. They have demonstrated unmatched resourcefulness and creativity whilst facing extreme external pressures that have threatened their own survival.
The rising cost of living is not only increasing demand for services but is also placing an unprecedented burden on charity operations, finances, and staff. We are learning that the external face of an organisation is only as strong as its infrastructure. This could be a diverse governance structure, a thriving workplace culture, or a strong strategic plan underpinning service delivery. Like bamboo scaffolding, these structures need to be strong but flexible in times of crisis. They provide the foundations for organisational growth and resilience.
Through the Berkeley Foundation’s £900,000 Resilience Fund, launched in 2021, we are beginning to see the impact of offering organisational development grants alongside a wraparound learning programme, which brings together a group of partners working in similar and complimentary ways.
In partnership with Social Innovation Exchange as expert facilitators and process designers, we have developed a community of learning among a group of 10 small-to-medium-sized organisations working in the youth employment sector, including Women into Construction, Berkshire Youth, and Salaam Peace. A full list of Berkeley Foundation’s Resilience Fund partners can be found here.
Through the delivery of a series of learning events, we explored what resilience means to organisations working with young people, and what it means to the voluntary sector more widely. We then moved on to an in-depth discussion on the topic of charity governance, which was identified as a common challenge among the organisations.
The four-year learning programme is only in its second year but we are seeing results that will inform our future funding programmes. Here’s what we’ve learnt so far:
- Grant-making is more than money – We have seen attitudinal and behavioural changes in participants from the start of the learning programme. To begin with, there was a sense of stress, pressure, competition and fatigue among our charity partners but over the course of the programme, we’ve seen participants show support, encouragement and empathy towards each other. One participant reflected ‘It was refreshing to hear we all face the same challenges… it was also a great validation for myself and the work I do.’ By bringing organisations together for meaningful discussion, funders can directly challenge the stress and pressure facing the sector
- Organisational resilience is a journey that can often be complex – Partners began the learning programme at different stages in their organisational resilience journeys but a common thread among them all was the complex intersection between personal, organisational and systemic resilience. Among the group, there were some personal similarities, as well as organisational and leadership challenges, and aspirations for improved recognition of youth work as a foundation for a stronger society.
- Resilience is more than a metric – our partners have shared real and evolving organisational challenges, which have sometimes been sensitive. As funders, our communications and evaluation of partnerships needs to be flexible, offering a variety of ways for partners to communicate their resilience journeys. We have achieved this through a combination of self-assessment tools, 1:1 meetings, surveys, case studies and space for peer-to-peer reflection.
- Creating an open and trusting space for our partners to come together is invaluable – Through the learning programme, we have formed a community of support among organisations working in similar and complimentary ways. We’ve witnessed partners sharing learning, resources, solutions and identifying areas for collaboration. We are learning that resilience requires a form of patience, peer support and a strong sense of community, as well as a stronger supporting ecosystem for voluntary sector organisations. One participant said: ‘The facilitated sessions allowed for reflection, shared experience and honesty in a safe, non-judgemental space.’
- The learning programme helps to create a legacy beyond our funding – By building a community of learning among a cohort of partners who work in similar ways, we hope the impact of our Resilience Fund can long outlast its initial investment.
When we set out on this journey to support charities to become more resilient, defining success was a mystery – what makes an organisation more resilient? We now know that resilience can look very different for everyone but each and every one of our Resilience Fund partners have been able to demonstrate tangible success – from a 43 per cent growth in sales income to new and improved governance models.
Voluntary sector organisations are operating in a challenging environment so it’s important that we as funders, do what we can to help create the conditions for a thriving sector. We believe that supporting charities to build resilience and offering a more dynamic learning and evaluation process is one way to achieve this.
As our Resilience Fund and learning programme develop, we are seeing the true value of collaborative learning in supporting small-to-medium sized organisations to thrive and prosper. We want to connect with other funders working in this way and share our learning. If you would like to find out more, take part in a learning exchange, or explore developing your own work in this area, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Clare Maddison is the Head of Partnerships at Berkeley Foundation, the charitable foundation established by Berkeley Group, an urban regeneration and homebuilding company. Learning and content supported by the Social Innovation Exchange.