For those of us who’ve worked in the charitable sector over the past three years, it has undoubtedly been one of the most challenging periods for both organisations and the people we work so hard to support. However, I’m sure we can all agree that positively, it has prompted learning opportunities and a far more detailed awareness of how our services have never been more important. What is now perhaps more apparent than ever though, is the huge disconnect between customer demand and the resources available to provide the vital support needed for our most vulnerable in society.
Operating as a Donor Advised Fund for the past four years, the Cadent Foundation has been fortunate to support both national and regional charities and due to having our own mission to fight fuel poverty, we have been privileged to be involved in a huge amount of work by good causes across the UK. These projects have all aimed to alleviate what has, at times, been an incredibly difficult landscape for thousands of families to navigate.
But, while there has been a dedicated focus on tackling this issue, from a distance, it has been clear to see how change is needed across the entire sector to really move the dial in the support we are able to offer. No one organisation can fix the fuel poverty issue alone – the need is just too great, as are the knock-on effects that poverty in general creates. This is why, charities must be open to taking learnings from other industries in trying to find solutions.
Acting holistically – the power of pathways
One potential barrier that should be considered ahead of exploring new ways of working, is the strategic need charities have in demonstrating impact. Although on the face of it, there is not the same level of ‘competition’ as in other sectors, charities are encouraged to retain the customers they work with to demonstrate funding impact, which may be preventing a deeper level of success. One solution that could unlock new opportunities for our stretched sector, is better collaboration. While cross-working is of course happening in pockets and several successful referral schemes are in operation, more is needed. Whereas the utility sector, for example, is starting to realise the power of industry-wide collaboration – to drive both time and funding efficiency – the same is not yet true of charities, partly caused by the need to demonstrate results.
Sadly, we have seen many good causes that would have historically been able to offer support for fuel poverty, heavily impacted by not only the huge increase in customer need, but this, added to not having enough funding, increasing supply chain costs and a skills shortage in delivering services and repairs, has led to a capacity crisis for many. More same-sector alliances and cross-theme initiatives could result in customers having a better level of service, creating opportunities for charities to refer people via different pathways, leading to faster, more targeted and more effective interventions. However, we know charities have retained high levels of societal trust and so any cross-working must be carefully managed. We would not want to jeopardise this strong position, confusing customers by passing them through multiple partners. Brand trust is a huge positive for our sector and one that we must keep a tight grip on.
Work together – not just signpost
There is a real difference between signposting people to other charity websites and having a dedicated partnership in place, which ensures we can link people to the right experts. While signposting to services might be useful for some, it’s no longer good enough to simply hand out a leaflet, relying on customers to act and seek help.
In the same way that the Priority Services Register has received strong industry-wide engagement across the utilities sector, a central mechanism that allows all charities to share data would open up important new insight. Work has already started in some areas. For example, at a recent cost-of-living crisis in the North West that I attended, Liverpool Hope University shared its work on the development of a new data-sharing platform. This kind of innovation would encourage smarter working, optimising both customer experience and budgets to deliver maximum impact. For a sector that is facing such a challenge in finding skilled workers, a tool like this could prove invaluable. However, for this to work, there must be structured back-end investment and the right industry-wide partnerships in place to allow for rapid interventions and the support required.
Without a doubt, the winter of 2022 created the perfect storm for the UK. As we all look to learn from this, stronger collaboration may provide some of the answers – more efficient customer pathways, solutions to skills shortages and a more focused cross-working themes approach that encourages innovation. Collectively, it feels as though we have made a great start, but we are now at a point in time when working together to help deliver even better outcomes for those who rely on our services, is the only way that we can truly future-proof our sector and the services provided for customers.
About the Cadent Foundation
The Cadent Foundation was established in July 2019 with Cadent committing 1% of annual post-tax profits each year to the Foundation. Our aim is to help households find sustainable solutions to fuel poverty and ensure people are safe and warm in their homes. We work with charitable organisations to help households improve their financial well-being and become more energy efficient through advice, support and practical measures.
The funds of the Cadent Foundation are administered by Charities Trust (Charity Registration No: 327489) which manages the grant-giving and ensures all grants donated by the Cadent Foundation are only used to further charitable purposes for the public benefit.