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"Complement, don’t duplicate": How to complement existing community services
"If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself" - Henry Ford
Complement, don’t duplicate
One of the phrases I’ve always liked to use when applying for grants is, ‘We complement rather than duplicate existing services in the area’.
Not to be confused with compliment:
an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration
formal and respectful recognition
something that fills up, completes, or makes better or perfect
the full quantity, number, or assortment needed or included
one of two mutually completing parts
Of course, it’s only right to use this phrase if it’s true, and if you believe in the premise behind it.
But it’s not just an empty phrase. I believe this is what all third sector organisations, from community and voluntary groups to larger charities, should aim to do. Much like doing market research, finding a gap in your local community, asking what people need that doesn’t already exist, is a good place to start when starting up a group or organisation to create social impact. Even better than that is to start something that adds to what already exists, that makes it better, that joins the allies in an existing fight and makes the side stronger.
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Befriend your competitors
I don’t believe in competition; at least not within the third sector.
In a space where everyone is genuinely working to add value, to make an impact, and more often than not, to deliver services that there is a real need for in the community. I believe that the more people who are finding their purpose in making a positive difference, in using their experience, and so often their own pain and struggles, to give back, and help others, the better.
Instead of seeing those people, groups or organisations that do a similar thing to you, deliver a similar service, or are reaching the people you want to reach, as competition, see if you can find a way to work with them.
One of the things I’ve learnt about working in partnership in this sector is that some of the most enjoyable, and successful, projects I’ve worked on, have been in partnership with people or organisations that do almost exactly the same type of work that I do, in the same area, with the same people. On paper we’d be competitors, but in practice, it’s feels more like we’re stronger, pushing each other to level up, providing an even better, more rounded service to our participants.
In other words, we’re stronger together.
What are community partnerships?
A community partnership could be anywhere between two and a large number of organisations that have agreed to work together. This might start as an informal agreement; most often the arrangement to refer or signpost enquiries, clients/customers, participants or service users to each other. This can simply be about knowing who else is offering which services in your area (either geographical or service area) and agreeing to refer on those people who would benefit more from or be able to access additional follow-on services from another organisation.
It could also be a more formal agreement, written up as a contract. This is recommended if any money is changing hands, for example if you are paying to refer service users, or the partner organisation is commissioned to accept those referrals. In these cases, the arrangement needs to be in writing.
A number of organisations working together – sometimes referred to as ‘joined-up working’ or a ‘multi-agency approach’ is often called a consortium. The consortium might even have a name, set of objectives, written constitution and bank account of its own. This can be useful if that group of organisations are applying for commissioned or public services, or are jointly leasing premises together.
A community partnership could also be more of a cross-sector partnership, bringing together members of the private, public and third sectors to work together on a mutually important issue. This type of partnership can be very effective when it comes to larger capital projects, like renovations and developments, or in taking over a service that had previously been delivered solely by the public sector – NHS community healthcare services are an example of this.
Effective partnership working
Here are a few tips for finding and working with the right partners in an effective way:
Take advantage of networking events in your area. This is where you’ll really get to know what’s going on locally, who’s who and what support they might need from partners.
Start conversations with the aim of supporting each other. A successful partnership has to be beneficial to both parties. Go in with an open mind, especially if talking to a much larger organisation, it can be tempting to think ‘what can they do for us?’ but don’t forget that large organisations often need smaller, grassroots groups to work with them in order to actually get to those hardest-to-reach people in the community.
Be professional. If a partnership works and grows, then at some point it may result in a more formal, written arrangement, such as a contract. Even before you get to that stage, if you treat it as a professional partnership from the beginning, it’s more likely to be successful for all. Even before any contracts are needed, make sure everything is agreed by email rather than verbally. Check that you’ve all understood what the arrangements are, and whose responsibility it is to monitor those arrangements. It could save some difficult conversations later down the line.
Applying for grants as a partnership
In my experience, conversations about partnership bids can happen almost immediately. I’ve had people ask me the first time we met if I could apply for some funding so that we could work together (no!) and because of my background in fundraising it is very often an assumption that I will do all of the research and bid-writing (for free) to secure grant funding on behalf of all the other organisations I may occasionally work in partnership with (also no!).
However, on the whole, a partnership bid is very often a stronger proposal than an application from a single organisation. There are two ways this can work:
If you are separate organisations, then the best (usually the only) way forward is for one organisation to lead on the bid and the other one to be a named partner. Most grant applications will require a lead applicant. It is that organisation that will provide their accounts, policies, bank details etc. and it is that organisation that will be given the grant plus the responsibility to manage it. One or more other organisations can be named in the bid as partners. They can have specific roles and responsibilities in the project, and they can be paid for their time, as set out in the budget.
If you are a consortium, and you have both a joint constitution and bank account, you can apply as such, meaning that the consortium members (group of organisations) are jointly and equally responsible for delivering on the project and managing the grant.
Both of these options can create a strong case for support when applying for grants. Either way, thinking about who your partner organisations could be early on, and taking the steps to develop those relationships, can be hugely beneficial, both for your own and other organisations, plus the beneficiaries and communities you support.
More than any other, the voluntary & community sector is stronger and more powerful when it works together.
Thanks for reading, Rachel x