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The training and development needs of the health charity sector: what 20 years' experience tells us

As the 2017 GSK IMPACT Awards open for applications, programme manager Lisa Weaks considers what we've learnt about the training and development needs of the health charity sector.


Today we launch the 2017 GSK IMPACT Awards, which provide funding and free leadership training to small to medium-sized health and wellbeing charities.

Since the awards started 20 years ago they have grown in size and recognition, and are now widely seen as a quality mark for charities working in the health sector. So far there have been 190 GSK IMPACT Award winners (plus 190 runners-up), with a huge breadth of knowledge about – and skills and expertise in – supporting people’s health and wellbeing.

As part of the award process, The King’s Fund carries out an in-depth assessment of shortlisted organisations, and this provides us with a unique insight into the health charity sector and its needs.

Those organisations that are chosen as winners receive £30,000 worth of funding from GSK, a promotional film, help with press and publicity and a free three-day training and development programme that is informed by our assessments and designed specifically for the needs of each group of award winners. This programme also aims to develop the winning organisations’ leaders and encourage the sharing of knowledge and good practice.

The development programme began in 2008 and those taking part have testified to its uniqueness and quality, and the value of working with other excellent organisations. Some organisations say they applied for an award specifically to access the programme. However, three days is not very long to address key organisational training needs and develop leadership. So in 2012 an alumni programme – the GSK IMPACT Awards Network – was established. The Network runs free training and development events throughout the UK to bring all previous winners together. It currently has more than 120 members from over 70 charities.

The GSK IMPACT winners are all organisations that can demonstrate excellence, but the charity sector is often the target of criticism, for example, for the quality of its leadership or because it needs to better articulate its value or collaborate more. The Network aims to support the health charity sector to develop these skills, by hosting organisations that are committed to developing their services, sharing their knowledge and supporting the wider sector.

Developing the health charity sector and its leaders is also becoming more important for the broader health and care system. There are more than 36,000 voluntary and community organisations providing health and care services in the UK, and the NHS is increasingly looking to them for partnerships: to support people to live well, to prevent ill health, and to reach the most vulnerable people in society. The NHS five year forward view seeks ‘a new relationship with patients and communities’ – a vision that has recently been given practical expression in the six principles for engaging people and communities published by NHS England’s People and Communities Board.

A collaborative and forward-thinking charity sector is needed to help realise this vision, but our work shows that it needs more support. The fact that some organisations’ primary motivation to apply for a GSK IMPACT Award is the development support and not the £30,000 prize money says something about how much this is needed.

Like the NHS and the wider health and care system, the charity sector is under immense pressure. Funding is extremely tight, demand on services is increasing, and some organisations lack confidence and are pessimistic about the future. Yet despite this, there is much to celebrate in 20 years of supporting the health charity sector through the GSK IMPACT Awards. Not least an extremely longstanding partnership between GSK and The King’s Fund. And more importantly the sector leaders and their organisations who work consistently with determination, creativity and compassion – forging mutually beneficial partnerships with the public sector too.

Charities have a key role to play in supporting the vision set out in the Forward View and in embedding the principles for engaging people and communities. This requires a new relationship between the NHS and the charity sector, and a wider acknowledgement of the sector’s funding and development needs to build its strengths and foster its creativity.

  • The GSK IMPACT Awards are funded by GSK and run in partnership with The King’s Fund. The 2017 awards launched on 1 July 2016, with an application deadline of 21 September 2016. Find out more about the awards.