You've got a (Critical) friend

Author: Amanda Tincknell
Posted: 24th July 2014
Sector Viewpoints

The new £40m Sustainability Fund ought to allocate some money to expert intermediaries so they can help frontline charities to secure their future, says Amanda Tincknell.

James Taylor was nearly right.

From our 25-year experience in helping charities become sustainable, we know that when you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand, it’s good to know you’ve got a friend. But not any old friend. A critical friend.

What’s the difference? 

A friend will sympathise, while a critical friend will do that and tell you what you need to do to brighten up even your darkest nights.

That’s how we operate. We work with voluntary organisations that know they need to change, think they know how, but are prepared to allow us to conduct a rigorous needs analysis and devise a programme of support with them. 

That way we ensure frontline organisations receive the support they need. It can be hard otherwise for a charity to step back and assess what’s really important for their future sustainability, rather than what’s urgent. As identified in the Dame Mary Marsh Review, these are not necessarily the same. 

Sustainability Fund Consultation

It is this independent needs analysis and support planning that must be built into the government’s design of its proposed £40m Sustainability Fund for the voluntary sector. 

Other schemes have allocated funds to frontline organisations to buy services without providing the support of a full needs analysis, and service providers had only to register rather than be approved. Consequently, funds might not always have been best applied for the long-term benefit of sector organisations.

Learning this lesson, the government should pre-approve intermediaries that understand the third sector and have experience in management. Each qualifying sector organisation should be required to work with one of them to design its support plan: far better and more sustainable solutions will emerge. 

You can also be a more effective critical friend if you are not acting as a direct ‘supplier’ to your charity ‘client’. Government should therefore directly fund support providers rather than leaving frontline organisation to hire them.

The Sustainability Fund initiative is a potential ray of sunshine for voluntary organisations that find the sky above them dark and full of clouds. But government shouldn’t forget the value of an independent critical friend if that old north wind should begin to blow.