Nick Temple, our Chief Executive Officer, looks at why good customer-focused work and relationships are essential in a time of much change within the charity and social enterprise sector.
One of our overarching strategic priorities at Social Investment Business is to put our customers at the heart of everything we do. This is a priority not just because we exist to support charities and social enterprises to become more resilient, but also because we want to design and deliver as effectively as we can. That means not only taking regular feedback, analysing data and insights, and listening through the relationships we hold, but also using the information we gather - to change the way we work, and to make different decisions, large and small.
One of the ways in which we're exploring how best to do that is through our customer panel who meet quarterly: they are drawn from a wide range of different organisations, geographies, sectors and backgrounds; some have had investment from our funds, others have benefited from support programmes we've run, while some are newer to us (and vice versa). That diversity is key: it’s the mix of insights and experience that helps us most. Our panel now ranges from housing to health, from Cornwall to North East Lincolnshire, and from a newly elected councillor to a soon-to-be-ordained priest!
Recently, the panel has helped us in a variety of ways:
- getting early views on a new fund and support idea
- feeding into our civil society strategy response
- giving feedback on a customer journey design for a recent tender
At this last meeting, which was held at the excellent Manchester Deaf Centre and hosted by their inspiring CEO Richard Jones, we heard an update from each panel member about their organisational highlights and challenges - which is always hugely helpful. Then we got their input to two areas: the first being a standardised application form we are working on (that we could use across different funds and programmes), and the second being about collecting impact information - and how we can do so proportionately and sensibly.
At the heart of both of those areas is something which the sector more widely is wrestling with: how to acknowledge the messy and complex reality we're all operating in, but still find effective, accessible and clear ways in which to support organisations. It's been fascinating recently, for example, to read the different approaches and strategies of three foundations: Lankelly Chase, who have redesigned their whole approach to reflect what they believe is needed to create ‘systems change’ in this complex world; Lloyds Bank Foundation, who share some of the same analysis (for example of the failings of the commissioning environment) but instead are moving to an uncomplicated, clear funding approach backed by advocacy & non-financial support; Esmee Fairbairn, meanwhile, have recently shared insights from a decade of working in social investment (many of which we agree with from our own experience) and how this relates to and sits alongside their grant-making. All are well worth reading.
Three of the insights from the Esmee report return me to why this customer-focused work is so important to us: trust and relationships are key; keeping it simple is important; and it’s the impact that matters, not the vehicle to achieving it. These are exactly the messages that we were getting from our customer panel, and exactly the sort of principles we need to be putting into practice in what we design in future.