Peer Support isn’t just about service delivery

After another hard few months of trying to juggle priorities – competing work issues and a busy family life, I’ve been thinking again about how important it is for charity leaders to get the right support.

This week I was lucky enough to be given a charity place at the Bird Board Summer lunch. It was really refreshing to see over 100 women who run their own businesses come together to show their support for each other. In smaller groups they work together, pooling their knowledge to problem solve in a safe but structured environment.

I think its something we need more of in our sector. If you are lucky like me you’ll have a supportive board and staff team and there is some excellent capacity building, networking and training out there from membership organisations such as ACEVO, and charitable foundations like the Cranfield Trust.

But we also need the ability to be able to speak to others with similar experiences about specific issues which are often time critical. And, we need to be able to do that without feeling we are showing weakness to potential competitors.

I’ve been really lucky over the last few years. A long standing partnership with two other organisations has brought the added bonus of two experienced and supportive colleagues who have been generous in sharing their knowledge and advice. Over the last year, the development of the Women’s Lives Leeds partnership has expanded that support. Twelve brilliant women prepared to share and advise, sympathise and empathise, and just as importantly, celebrate each others’ successes.

I think that sometimes the smaller the charity, the harder it can be to access this kind of peer support. Leaders of smaller charities are often tied up in internal issues, Jacquies of all trades, sometimes delivering direct support to service users. It’s difficult for them to find the time to network and make links with their local counterparts.

I don’t have the answer to this but I do think that acknowledging that its lonely at the top is a start. It doesn’t matter if your turnover is £50k or £50 million the responsibility lies with you and sometimes that responsibility weighs very heavily. As charities we have a duty to spend public money wisely and with accountability, we must always put our service users or beneficiaries at the heart of what we do and we must never lose the value base from which we operate.