This case study, written for us by outgoing CEO Sarah Van Putten, shares valuable lessons in how a membership organisation can develop the capacity of its members.
Befriending Networks are the national intermediary supporting almost 400 befriending organisations/projects across the UK. In the last 3 years we have nearly doubled our membership – so hopefully that means we are doing something right and our members are finding value in what we offer!
Our offer is a range of different things, since March 2020 mostly delivered online/digitally. A key theme is networking and learning from each other. From our large-scale events such as our annual conference hosting over 200 participants, to our fortnightly question and answer hours, the many and varied training courses we offer. On top of these events the membership officers and other staff are also available to members at any time to answer a query or act as sounding board, ‘that friendly ear you can chat a problem through with or share an idea’.
The last few years the role of the intermediary in supporting other organisations capacity has never felt more needed.
Navigating Covid guidance to now dealing with rising needs and demands for the services against a cost of living crisis, challenging all our already stretched budgets.
We try in what we offer to see the challenges coming for our members and to be prepared with resources, support and answers if not before they ask, as quickly as possible after.
Services and project staff need someone to help steer through what is sometimes a swamp of paperwork, risk assessments and challenges that they face in order that they can concentrate on delivery. If we can help do that by providing templates, simplifying guidance, and raising their challenges to policy makers and funders to help improve their situation then that must be beneficial.
Our key learnings are:
- Offer lots of choice and little and often.
- Busy people can find an hour, but whole day out the diary can sometimes be too much.
- Be flexible: allow for things happening and accept that some people may have to pull out at short notice.
- Keep resources short, clear and as easily available as possible to find on your website (something we know we could get better at).
- Lastly, as you would expect from an organisation with our name, people talking to people making connections, sharing learning and supporting each other benefits both parties and improves services.
It was Befriending Networks members that encouraged me to write the Lasting Difference guide to managing capacity. Having presented the core principles of sustainability at one of their very vibrant annual conferences, I could see a real appetite for practical guidance. I also learned a lot about what capacity means for these mostly small, local and always passionate charities.
It turns out this wasn’t unusual.
Befriending Networks really excel at listening to their membership.
They learn and adapt all the time in response to this,
reflecting on what works and always looking for improvements.
If this sounds a lot like the five capabilities of a sustainable charity in action, it’s no surprise! Befriending Networks are a Lasting Difference symbol holder, fully committed to making a lasting difference in everything they do.