by Nikki Wilson
On 20th September I joined representatives of charities, social enterprises and support organisations across the East of England at “Quid Pro Quo”, an annual conference run by Third Sector Futures hosted at Anglia Ruskin University. I had enjoyed the equivalent event last year and knew it would be a good day even before seeing the list of speakers and workshops.
The conference focus this year was financing the third sector and was closely aligned to some of my key interests, but in addition, I’m a proud Essex dweller and always enjoying learning about projects in my local area so this was a great opportunity to do so. It was great to meet people from a wide range of organisations operating in the region, although I’d admit that the attendees seemed to hail more from Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire than Essex itself. My ears particularly pricked up when I heard someone mention that he is looking forward to developing one of his ideas as a student on the Lloyds Banking Group and Bank of Scotland Social Entrepreneurs Programme.
The day was packed with interesting content and a blow by blow account could make for a long and perhaps not very engaging read, so I thought I’d just highlight a few key “takeaways” that particularly struck me from the sessions that I attended:
- Michael O’Toole, Crown Representative of the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE)Sector, speaking about some of the work he is doing with government to represent the sector and developments that have taken place including placing all procurement opportunities over £10,000 on “Contracts Finder” and a “Mystery Shopper” scheme to gather feedback on poor procurement practice
- NCVO’s Karl Wilding encouraging peer to peer learning in the sector and where appropriate, a shift from competition to collaboration amongst VCSE bodies
- Theresa Burton, co founder of Buzzbnk’s encouragement to try crowdfunding but to do so as part of a considered fundraising strategy, and not to get carried away with the press hype of a few outstanding successes when in reality returns and success rates are usually quite modest. She also stressed that this is no easy option – she recommends some kind of “call to action” every day of a campaign.
- Simon Borkin’s introduction to another great way of gaining funds from a “community of interest” via “Community Shares” and the interesting observation that evidence of a successful community share sale can help to leverage funds from other sources due to its clear demonstration of a need and role in the given market.
- Zoe Amar, Communications Consultant’s recommendation to encourage all employees and users of a service to act as Ambassadors through Social Media, but to do this on the basis of an active and well recognised Social Media Policy. Also her thoughts on public expectations that many will anticipate the involvement of Senior Management, valuing the opportunity to be in direct “conversation” with them.
- Nick O’Donoghue and Helen Heap’s plenary on the topic “Can Social Finance meet Social Need?” emphasising a number of the key challenges and opportunities in this market, and outlining some of the different models that are available depending on the level of maturity of the investee organisation
- Craig Dearden-Phillips ‘(Stepping Out) upbeat conclusion to the day sharing his experiences of being an entrepreneur in receipt of finance (twice!) and the lessons learned. His words about focus and scalability were particularly striking – to grow most effectively, an organisation should identify what it’s best at and concentrate on delivery as much of that as possible, replicating geographically where that is feasible, but recognising that timing and location are sometimes so key to a particular service offer’s success that there may be limits to scalability.
The above is just a taste of the many things I learned on what was a really enjoyable and interesting day which was complemented with an opportunity to talk to a range of people with an overall shared interest in Charity and Social Enterprise.