Cascading leadership skills – a new model for the voluntary and community sector?

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Yesterday The King’s Fund and GSK hosted a parliamentary reception to celebrate the work of health and wellbeing charities. We also launched Cascading Leadership, a new programme with Comic Relief to extend leadership development opportunities to the wider voluntary and community sector.

As the NHS five year forward view recognises, the voluntary and community sector plays a key role in meeting our health and social care challenges. More than 36,000 charities provide vital health and social care services across the United Kingdom and are central to the health and wellbeing of communities – often providing highly effective early intervention and prevention services, engaging with people that mainstream services struggle to reach, reducing health inequalities and increasing choice for patients.

We know from our work at The King's Fund how much can be gained when you develop an organisation’s leaders: it can result in transformational change. The NHS acknowledges this and invests in developing its leaders, but we have found that this type of support is rarely available to charities. Charities might undertake some capacity building – such developing a specific area of work – but this is not the same as developing highly skilled leaders who can adapt, collaborate and thrive in an increasingly competitive and complex environment. The people we work with tell us they rarely, if ever, get time away from their organisation to reflect, be challenged, to learn about new ways of working, and ultimately to make themselves more effective leaders.

Up to 400 health and wellbeing charities apply to the GSK IMPACT Awards each year. In addition to receiving funding, the winning charities are offered training and development opportunities. We support 10 new award winners each year in this way, and also provide free ongoing training and development to previous award winners, working with as many as 66 health and wellbeing charities at any one time. But the number of organisations we are able to support is still only the tip of the iceberg.

We realised that if we had already invested in developing the leaders of some charities, then it was not a large jump to supporting these leaders to then make the transition from leading their own organisation to, in addition, facilitating the leadership of others.

We tried out this idea with a group of GSK IMPACT Award winners based in Scotland, who were keen to find ways of extending their own skills while also supporting the wider sector. To do this they received coaching, training and peer review sessions with The King’s Fund. They were then matched with another voluntary organisation and provided a range of support and advice.

The results of this pilot were impressive. What stood out was that this process not only benefited the organisations receiving the support, but it clearly also helped those providing it – so building the capacity of the voluntary and community sector to lead from within. Organisations reported the benefits of having another charity that was firmly part of their community and really understood the sector’s strengths and challenges working with them. Feedback from organisations receiving support from other charities included:

'I hope to see more of this. Sharing knowledge and experience in a giving way has been invaluable to me and the organisation.'

'There has been a marked effect on my personal development and confidence since taking part in this project… I have been helped to appreciate my achievements.'

'I think this type of skill-sharing project is important for young organisations. Learning from more established projects can help steer us in the right direction.'

The King’s Fund is now working in partnership with GSK and Comic Relief to extend the Cascading Leadership programme, and there are compelling reasons to do so. The voluntary and community sector has a key role to play in our health and care system but it needs more support – to develop its leaders, maintain its independence, forge a new relationship with the statutory sector and to be more sustainable. This programme could help us find a financially viable way of supporting the wider voluntary sector, while building the sector itself. We are keen to learn more about it, and excited about its potential.


Mark Pierce

Comment date
27 January 2017
It is essential to develop the leadership skills among people. Therefore, in different organizations professionals are getting suitable opportunity to develop their leadership skills. Apart from these; they are also need the support of leadership programs, I hope through leadership programs we are able to improve our leadership quality. Thanks for such fair topic.

Jayashree Iyer

Skill Development Trainer,
Marg Online
Comment date
05 April 2016
Leadership was once meant to be an impossible pinnacle to be reached by common men and had the myth that made people to believe that it belonged only to certain men. But these days one can equip oneself in these skillset by taking up training sessions and developing his/her inter personal skills.

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