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Closing well: Ending the work of a ‘spend-out’ trust

From the outset, the Trust was designed as a spend-out organisation. From day one, we have been planning for closure. Working as a time-limited organisation creates opportunities, but can also present challenges. Closing an organisation, and ending partnerships with grantees, can be complex and time-consuming. Honest, open dialogue combined with a clear plan and willingness to be flexible can help ensure that grant partners, and the programmes they deliver, are left in a strong position.

Sustainability has always been at the core of the Trust’s programmes, ensuring that the work we deliver with our partners will continue long after we close – as a lasting legacy in honour of The Queen. As such, our approach has focused on integrating our programmes into government policies and supporting work that will be able to continue into the future. We worked with established partners to deliver a number of programmes. Concluding these partnerships, efficiently and effectively, was one of our priorities as we approached closure.

We found it important to state, clearly and unequivocally, that we intended to spend all of our funds and close. We wanted to avoid any level of uncertainty of behalf of our partners. It was most helpful to talk through all the details of our closure plans with partners from an early stage. The more fully partners were able to understand the logistical and legal intricacies of closure the more they were able to prepare. Each step was discussed several months in advance to allow each partners’ financial and legal teams to feed into the process. Although we had a standard process, each relationship was unique and required a bespoke approach.

We chose to close all the Trust’s programmes six months before the Trust’s public closure. This provided us sufficient time to address any challenges and complete the grant closure process. Our experience has shown that we needed the full six months in order to complete closure responsibly. The Trust had a comparatively small portfolio of 28 grants, although several of these involved a significant number of organisations working in consortia in multiple countries.

We maintained frequent contact with all our grant partners throughout the grant period to track spending and ensure that all funds would be responsibly spent by the time the Trust had closed. In the months running up to the planned closure date we needed to be flexible to allow partners to reallocate small amounts of funding. This ensured that all funds could be spent effectively on programme priorities within the Trust’s lifetime.

Our lawyers helped us to put together grant closure letters that summarised various legal, reporting, communications and data issues into one document. We then shared a draft with each grant partner to allow time for their own legal teams to suggest and edits. This process helped both sides to understand their rights and responsibilities. It also highlighted any outstanding issues, such as ownership of intellectual property, which were still to be resolved.

The overall process of closing all of our grants was intended to be comprehensive but straightforward to implement. Final reports from partners would be reviewed at the Trust, followed by a meeting or call to discuss the overall impact and if any issues remained. Once all parties were satisfied that the programme had been completed a letter would be signed by both parties, whereupon the grants would be considered officially closed.

Operating as a spend-out organisation has provided us with a clear focus on what we wanted to achieve. This approach has guided our strategic and operational decisions throughout our lifetime. We have remained focused on our mission and we have been forced to make sometimes difficult decisions about how we can create the greatest impact with the time and resources available to us. Having sufficient time and resource dedicated to closing our programmes, and concluding our relationships with our partners, has enabled us to leave the stage confident in the legacy of work and hopeful for the future of the Commonwealth.

“Surviving a merger was the biggest test of my career”

“Surviving the merger process is down to commitment, a sense of humour – and a decent supply of biscuits.”

In 2017 – Rural Action Yorkshire and North Yorkshire and York Forum – merged to become Community First Yorkshire. Leah Swain, CEO of Community First Yorkshire, talks in the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network about her experience of leading this merger.

Read the article here.

Three public sector leaders on why they work with the voluntary sector

Three public sector leaders taking part in our Building Health Partnerships: Self-care programme share why they work with voluntary and community organisations. 

 

 

Professor Mark Pietroni
Director of Public Health, South Gloucestershire

 

‘Working with the voluntary and community sector is a great way to deliver local solutions in the areas in which people live in the ways that they want.

More importantly perhaps, it is a great way to hear from local people and understand what the issues are and what a local solution looks like and how the capabilities of the local population can be supported to deliver local solutions. Doing this well requires a commitment to listening and change on both sides but the potential to do good things for our communities is great.’

 

 

 

Susan Harris
Director of Strategy and Partnerships (Worcestershire Health and Care Trust) and Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) Communications and Engagement Lead

 

‘As a community and mental health provider, Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust has always worked in partnership with the voluntary sector to improve outcomes for local people.

We engage with our voluntary sector partners on a regular basis and in a variety of ways, both informal and formal. For example, we are a member of the Carers Partnership which brings together all local health and care partners to work together to advance the support offered to carers and a member of staff from our local Carers organisation is involved in our Equality Advisory Group which offers advice on the impact of proposed service changes on various groups so that additional engagement work can be undertaken if necessary.
We have a contract with another local voluntary sector partner to provide the local Well-being Hub which is integrated into the clinical triage function for secondary care mental health services and they also broker a range of local community groups to deliver a menu of services for the Well-being Hub to signpost into. When we undertake service re-designs, the local voluntary sector is key to the co-production process and always feed in their thoughts, ideas and concerns. They also help extend our engagement reach by communicating proposed changes to people on their database, and inviting them to offer their views and thoughts. As a Trust, we have learnt and benefited from these initiatives and we believe it is important to recognise all the value that the sector can bring. For example, in operational services, having volunteers at our Stroke unit as well-being strategic partners offering a broader view, often advocating on behalf of patient groups and communities. As part of our Sustainability and Transformation Plan we see these opportunities increasing and the benefits of cross sector working being better understood and core to the future delivery model of health and social care across our local area.’

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Hall
Director of Public Health for South Tyneside

 

‘The challenge for a modern health and care system is to be greater than the sum of its parts.

In South Tyneside we have recognised that to achieve the best we can for our population we can only do this by working together and making best use of the South Tyneside Pound. The South Tyneside Pound is the collective finite resources we have as a system and we have to use it wisely. It recognises that there is no new money and indeed that resources are reducing, and that there is no benefit from grappling within South Tyneside over that resource, bouncing it around for no real gain. The concept of the South Tyneside Pound is important to us and our local Alliance (a model we have pinched with pride from Canterbury New Zealand). We have a mantra that says “what is best for the person is best for the system”. We have recognised that this can only be achieved through strong system leadership and we have an Alliance Leadership Team which consists of the third sector, clinical commissioners, care commissioners, care providers, health providers (including acute, community, mental health and primary care). Our leadership team is focused on four areas: role modelling the behaviours we want to see in the system, coaching the system in these behaviours, challenging ourselves and the system to act in line with those behaviours, and learning from our successes and challenges.’

Will this completely overwhelm my time?

We asked the leaders of three organisations that we have supported with merger to share their thoughts: 

 

Gillian Santi
Former Chair of the Independent Adoption Service (IAS)

 

‘Making the decision on merger as a sustainable way forwards for our adoption service was very time-consuming.

However, the Board engaged a facilitator to ensure that time would be effectively managed through a staged process, which meant that I, as a relatively inexperienced Chair, would not have an overwhelming time commitment.’

 

 

 

 

Laurie Rackind and Neil Taylor
Chief Executive and Trustee of Jami UK

 

‘Yes. It will overwhelm you and you will almost certainly underestimate the time and energy required to make it happen.’ 

 

 

 

Joanna Holmes
Chief Executive of Barton Hill Settlement

 

‘There is a lot to do but some of it is very administrative, especially the due diligence work, and HR focussed if you are transferring staff.

So it depends if you have someone to delegate the bulk of this work to. It is also important to follow a good process and it’s possible to bring in someone to help manage this as there are experienced consultants who do this. I think as CEO it’s important to keep a clear overview and to be very alive to relevant developments and this is harder if you are also doing the bulk of the detailed work. So the short answer is that it need not be overwhelming but it is an important piece of work and takes months not weeks.’

 

 

 

 

How will I know if it’s the right thing to do?

We asked the leaders of three voluntary organisations that we have supported with merger to share their thoughts: 

 

Joanna Holmes
Chief Executive of Barton Hill Settlement

 

‘It depends a little bit on the circumstances. However, you need to trust your instincts. 

Does it make you feel excited and give you a strong feeling that bringing the organisations together creates something more for the people you serve than you can achieve separately? Can you imagine describing the new organisation to different people quite simply so that it feels like a natural fit and a positive move? If you still have doubts I would advise listing them carefully and going through them with senior staff or Board members until you are sure, as it will be hard if you are not completely convinced.’

 

 

 

 

Gillian Santi
Former Chair of the Independent Adoption Service (IAS)

 

‘The organisation was under increasing financial pressure and the Board agreed that merger was the best way forward.

Structured conversations with IVAR assured me that I was making the right decision and that there was a good match between the two charities.’

 

 

 

 

Laurie Rackind and Neil Taylor
Chief Executive and Trustee of Jami UK

 

‘If you don’t already know if it’s the right thing to do … then it’s probably not!

We had a very simple vision – to create a single service. Had our vision included anything that needed debate, then we would most likely have failed to complete the process. Whatever the challenges and disagreements (and there were plenty), we never doubted that we were striving for the right goal. Four years on, we still question how we should do things and what we should do … but we never question why we did it.’