What I want funders to know about relationship building

For so many of us working in the voluntary youth sector, we know that we need to do something different – that the status quo is not working – when we work with individuals who struggle with impossible, heart breaking lives, often facing challenges of domestic abuse, poor mental health, poverty and more.

The status quo doesn’t serve these individuals well, and it doesn’t serve the professionals who work with them either. More often than not, professionals end up burnt out and discouraged, trying to hold onto their values and the passion that brought them into the profession, while spending too much time on bureaucracy (sometimes driven by a lack of trust and understanding).


Does this narrative resonate with you?

If so, I recommend that you take a look at the Better Way Network’s recent publication – Time for a Change. Despite being privileged to be involved in some of the discussions that led to the paper, I find it useful to re-read it often to remind myself of my focus.

What I really like about the paper is the number of practical suggestions that it makes. There’s one line – about the importance of taking time for relationship building – which stands out in particular: “Direct resources to relationship-building activities, and measure this, not outputs.”

Since starting my role six years ago, I have spent a lot of time building relationships. I get invited to a lot of meetings with the public sector in Surrey and even where I’m not quite sure why I have been invited or how or I can contribute, I will go to them if I see an opportunity to build relationships.


“Direct resources to relationship-building activities, and measure this, not outputs.”

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Similarly, my lovely colleagues at Surrey Youth Focus also spend a lot of time with the same focus, recognising the benefits that relationship building brings to our organisation, those we work with, and the sector as a whole.

Thanks to the strong relationships we have built as a team over the years, I’m proud to say that we have been able to significantly increase collaboration between public and third sector organisations in Surrey.

One of the enablers of this has been funding, so I thank  the funders at Surrey County Council who have understood the value of our work and allowed us the financial backing to build these important relationships.

With that in mind, I have a humble request to funders out there, and that is to please understand the value of relationships and invest in them.

How about a funding stream which is focused on building relationships and trust? If we want to change the status quo, charities cannot  focus on delivery. We need funders to enable charities to have time to build relationships, both with other charities and with the public sector.

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