Kia ora everyone.

Today I met Tris Lumley, Director of Development at New Philanthropy Capital (NPC). Tris leads this charity think tank and consultancy’s development of new strategies, partnerships and initiatives aimed at helping transform the social sector.

NPC has come a long way since two innovative Goldman Sachs economists decided to create ‘Project Utopia’ in 2001 to help transform the philanthropic sector. For me this was a wonderful opportunity to see how, 15 years on, the model has grown in its role and practice. It is the most similar concept to what we are creating with the Centre for Social Impact. 

I was particularly interested in the development of their model of a think tank for the charity sector to "provide thought leadership, pioneer solutions and bring people together… identify issues that are preventing the sector from achieving its potential, explore ways to overcome them, and work with partners to catalyse change. Our focus is wherever the big issues are: from commissioning to collaboration, shared measurement to social investment.”

Key areas of discussion

What are they learning?

• It’s important to ensure the heart and values of philanthropy are retained even as new models emerge or are replicated to improve impact. Understanding theories of philanthropy and change and the DNA of funders is essential for successful development
• Know your sectors, research and engage to inform policy and resource development.
• Harness the power of influence and leadership through innovative partnerships such as Inspiring Impact (see earlier blog post)
• Invest in thought leadership - NPC has developed its Think Tank model with multiple investors to lead this work
• It’s helpful to move from strategy design to capacity building as an overall approach to work and to use policy development to inform and influence thinking
• There is a need to keep evolving models to stay current and agile and reflect the changing environment 
• Create levels of support that work for the range of levels and stages of philanthropy and philanthropists

What are their emergent practice observations?

• Future focus needs to be on data and technology and their emerging place in the philanthropic and charity sectors. There is a need to invest in understanding the landscapes and opportunities here to identify ways to support development and understanding.
• Be careful to stay realistic about capacity of the sector to respond and the level of support they will need for new initiatives and developments. Ask “how ready are they? What are their real needs and how best can they be met?”
• There are opportunities to shape shared solutions if we understand needs well. Their Data Labs provide an insight into this;
• The advantage of independence as an agency is to spot the opportunities and generate ideas especially in collaboration - such is the work of the Think Tank
• Organisations in the philanthropic and charity sectors can struggle to respond to change. Knowing how to adapt is important, and it can be challenging. Approaches like the Impact Champions - supporting leaders to focus on challenges and opportunities together. 
• A significant initiative from NPC is their State of the Sector programme of research and publications  This is “aimed at injecting new thinking and ideas about how sector leaders in the UK can respond to the changing environment. It brings together our practice and thinking to identify what are, in our view, the critical issues, challenges and opportunities facing charities and the sector in 2016 and beyond".

What’s on the five to ten year horizon?

• Sector boundaries are changing and blurring. Organisations will need to think differently about their own model of practice and structure to be able to adapt and respond to change. This means reviewing what resources and relationships they need to become organisations ready to respond to the potential opportunities and challenges of a changing world.
• There is increased interest across all sectors on social value, opening up the possibility of enhanced cross sector engagement for collective social impact
• Grantmaking ‘plus’ models will continue to grow and support innovation and change.
• There are implications for governance models of the future . There will be an opportunity for new models to emerge that best support the new operational organisational models.

What are the wild cards?

Constantly changing environment and the uncertainty that comes with it are the biggest challenge.

Insights and learnings

So much has been learnt by NPC since 2001 - too many to write about so if you’re interested dig deep on their great website – but here are three that particularly resonated with me:
• The power of convening conversations and enabling collective action through partnerships that inspire and generate greater impact; I see lots of potential here for us to reflect on how could be work more together in real partnership 
• The potential for collective investment models that allow freedom for the creation of ideas and knowledge to have greater impact.
• The important role independent agencies can play at the crossroads of funders, providers, business (corporate) and government.
The conversations I’ve had over the last week have been really useful in informing my thinking about the Centre. We’re still at a very early stage of our early development, testing and evolving our thinking and approach for greater social impact so it’s been fantastic getting a sense of the possibilities for growing our contribution. As I head off to the EVPA conference tomorrow I am looking forward to more reflection and insights.