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Success Factors


There is a difference between the way that results and impact are measured and the factors that contribute to effectiveness. The study tried to determine what characterised these projects and, in particular, whether there were features that distinguished them from other third sector projects.

As can be seen, some of the following success factors are specific to faith based organisations. More general ones would certainly be evident in other organisations and be seen as important by others including, for example, Christians working in secular bodies:

Faith

The significance of the underpinning of faith in these projects often remained implicit even though it was apparent as the motivating force for so many of the people involved. What was also evident but not necessarily articulated was the common acceptance that “Christians are called to see others and especially others in profound need from the perspective of unflinching, unalterable love.”[1] However, sometimes there was explicit mention of the importance of “the stress on the primacy of prayer, but also the inseparability of prayers and social action”. There could also be consciousness of reliance upon God’s guiding hand:

“Taking the initial steps of faith – not having the plan worked out as fully as one might expect, but being prepared to take risks for the benefit of the local community whatever the final outcome . . . . It is without question that the provision of personnel, willing and able to work a few hours a week, is God’s perfect provision and timing.”

Integration with the church

Many of the projects look to their local church for different sorts of support and encouragement. This can be for practical reasons:

“The integration with the church is also important: a number of members of the PCC are volunteers as well as members of the management committee.”

Church giving – directly or in kind – can be significant. Where church buildings are being used (or the incumbent’s attention seems to be diverted from the congregation), it requires a spirit of generosity and welcome to overcome qualms such as “Will it represent a takeover? Where will we (the congregation) be in all this?”

The links can also be important as embodying and reinforcing the ethos of the project:

“The strong link between Church and Centre exemplifies the extent to which the focus is on the whole person, physical, social and spiritual needs.”

“Ten years ago, there was very much a feel of separation between ‘church’ and ‘centre’. The desire of integration has been a firm and very conscious move led by the clergy . . . this has been realised in the past five years . . .”

“Raising awareness and getting churches on-side is important not least because churches have a real sense of the importance of family life and a vision of what ‘community’ can mean that is often lacking in wider society.”

Also important is the awareness of having prayerful support. One organisation recognised this as another form of volunteering: “A wider prayer network supports [our] work”.

The study brought out, too, the importance of being part of a diocese and a national organisation. Research done in the North West in 2009 looked at a sample of faith-based organisations and their contribution to social and economic wellbeing. It found that their ability to respond derived partly from their frequently longstanding presence in the area but also from their capacity to tap into wider networks and resources[2]. This dimension is covered in this report in section 4.

Commitment

“A professionally run project that is also a work of the heart.” Perhaps the theme that recurred most was commitment – the dedication of all those involved with projects: trustees, staff and volunteers “going the extra mile to make appropriate provision”.

“Passion, dogged determination and believing in people all characterise the organisation, which is reaching far further than the available staff resources would suggest is possible.”

“The main [success factor] is having the desire and the will to help when there seems to be no hope. This is expressed in the dedication and hard work of both staff and volunteers, including trustees.”

“The commitment of volunteers and staff is crucial and notably the continuity given by the Centre Manager. Her ‘speciality’ is friendship with everyone and this is fundamental to establishing the ethos of the centre.”

“[It relies entirely on the extraordinary enthusiasm and commitment of our first class volunteers.”

As a Chair of Trustees said in an Annual Report: “Over the past year I have seen our staff rejoice in and with young people, as well as weep with and for them. I have seen that . . . . we have staff who are dedicated enough to respond to crucial needs even if, on some occasions, that takes them way beyond the ‘inconvenient’ and into the wee small hours and time off.”

Such commitment can entail personal sacrifices:

“Brilliant staff, especially during the initial stages (but the personal costs for our first worker were not insignificant).”

These can extend to those only indirectly involved:

“The volunteers; the Bishop’s patronage; my core team, especially my senior administrator – most of them don’t stop simply because they go home; my wife who has had to undergo a radical lifestyle change to allow me to do this, but remains a constant encourager.”

It also requires stickability: in one case, “Three years of preparation and setting up the project prior to opening our doors to clients.”

Leadership

Leadership has clearly been vital to the projects reviewed in this study. Certainly there are charismatic people to be found in many of the projects, whether as initiators or workers, and some organisations owe their existence and continued existence to the determination and personality of particular individuals. But, as in other contexts, leadership is shown in a variety of guises: originating the project, winning support, managing it, sustaining it and, if appropriate, terminating it. Different forms of leadership require different aptitudes. Very often, projects originate with someone or a small group having an idea and they will become the initial driving force, but will usually need to win other support.

“When I heard about this inequality expressed in this difference [in life expectancy] I was shocked and convicted. I went away and thought if the churches . . . can’t do anything about this we should be shot. I knew about the inequality, but something about this bare fact expressed the wrongness of what I seemed to be taking for granted.”

“The Self-Supporting minister was important in driving the vision in the early days of the project and she has provided continuity through changes of incumbent. Similarly the continuity provided by the Senior Youth Worker has been important.”


Clergy frequently provide the main leadership though other calls on their time can make this difficult. Also, projects that are too dependent upon one person can suffer if s/he moves on and there is no-one to take over the reins or insufficient will to ensure the work survives.

Once a management group or trustees are in place, they collectively have a leadership role but when there is also a paid manager, s/he very often takes on much of the day-to-day decision making. Where a group of churches is involved there can be a move towards shared leadership.

“Although the leadership came from the Anglican Church at first, subsequently each denomination involved owns its work. As a group, all are equal and support and serve each other.”

Local roots

As was noted above, other research has found that the ability of faith groups to respond to local need is underpinned by their rootedness in the area and their particular local knowledge.[3] Similar conclusions can be drawn from this study.

“Longevity – having been there for 16 years. It took 10 years to be accepted and exert influence.”

Even where projects themselves are relatively new they can benefit from the fact that the church is long rooted in the neighbourhood. It is well known that clergy can be the only professionals actually resident in their parish, which gives them more personal experience of local life. Similarly, one of the youth workers interviewed in this study referred to the advantage of “Living in the area in a council flat – able to identify with and understand the frustrations of local residents”. It was an important factor in generating acceptance and trust from local people.

Stress on the personal

A key feature that distinguishes church (and other voluntary sector) care projects is that their starting point is the individual in front of them, whereas the interventions of statutory agencies can only focus on certain facets of that person’s life because they are inevitably limited by their specific remit.

“The strapline is ‘Success with compassion.’ Everyone is treated as an individual and given support throughout their contact. No-one is ever turned away even though there is a great temptation to at times. We adopt a holistic approach to problems recognising that everyone has multiple problems that all need to be taken into account and addressed.”

“[We] can cross barriers that other agencies with more limited remits cannot and it can deliver help that is more personal to the specific family.”

“There is a lot of emphasis on individual users and their progression, recognising that many people using the Centre have not had many positive choices, so that there is a need to build up their self-esteem and open up new horizons for them.”

“Often when they are referred, it is with the message ‘this is what they need’. However, [we] start from what the families themselves say: what is their immediate felt need. Once the relationship is established, a wider range of problems or their underlying causes may emerge.”

“The key factor is probably the caring atmosphere: ‘listening to people’ and being responsive to their needs.”

“The project represents ‘the church doing what it is good at’ – slowing down the process to have time to develop relationships.”


“. . . the key characteristic . . . is that it offers practical and emotional support that is individually tailored to fit the diverse needs of the families concerned.”

“Recognising each of our clients as a valued individual with his or her particular needs.”


This approach requires continuity and long term links with project users such as the socially isolated, the homeless and those with addictive personalities or problems but it is more likely to be effective.

“The more the projects have built up relationships and trust with the client groups, the more we have seen the need to develop services to meet their needs [whereas] often the approach is to deal with the presenting problem and not the cause.”

Working with allies

A factor that recurred in a number of projects was “building good links with other organisations.” In some cases, these were with other churches and faith groups.

“It is vital that the approach is ecumenical (and often inter-faith). It enables far greater impact and makes it easier to work with secular partners.”

Again in this sort of collaboration, there was an emphasis on “the importance of personal relationships [recognising] the way that new initiatives can grow organically out of them.”

“Mixing socially and sharing meals as well as having ‘business’ meetings.”

In other instances, the need was underlined for wider partnerships towards the goals of greater effectiveness, recognition and influence.

“Critical to the way of working is the collaborative approach with other organisations including local authorities, voluntary organisations and businesses. This entails reading the context in which we are working and ensuring we fit into it. Sometimes working in this way can be seen to slow things down, but it is more effective in the long run.”

“The main key to effectiveness . . the emphasis on relationships. This has enabled it to secure a high level of collaboration – lots of informal interrelationships and exchanges of favours with other groups that share its concerns and the chance of opportunistic developments.”

“Close engagement and working relationships with statutory agencies.”

“Engaging with local councillors and council so that they accept that we can work as a team and that the work we do is of value.”

“Working alongside public sector leaders in the town and gaining credibility and therefore influence amongst them.”


One of the unfortunate side effects of public sector cuts apart from the diminution of funding has been that very often previous contacts and partners are no longer on the scene, having taken voluntary severance or been made redundant or moved. Thus the task of forging constructive working relationships has had to start again.

Professionalism

Many projects stressed the need for standards of professionalism that can enable them to stand comparison with other service providers. Specific aspects were cited:

“Much of the effectiveness of the project depends upon the care and skill required to match befrienders appropriately with families.”

“Dealing with issues promptly.”

“Attention to detail”

“The Centre is successful because we adapt to the changing circumstances of the local community and try to provide what is wanted and needed.”

“Having skilled facilitators and good resource materials was . . critical to success.”

There was variation in the ways and extent to which projects monitored and evaluated their activities but there were indications that this is becoming a more prominent issue. For some, the driving force is to collect the evidence required by funders, but others see wider value in having the means to assess their effectiveness and steer their future policy and practices.

“Being a small organisation we can be innovative and test new services underpinned by the organisation’s quality and accountability within an evaluative framework.”

Another dimension of the professional approach is in team management. This might be as a guard against a ‘one man band’. It might be to foster greater integration between the project and the church: “Encouraging church members and community leaders and members to work together.”

Many projects indicated their rigour in training and managing volunteers, but they also seek to make the experience worthwhile and enjoyable for volunteers and showing that their contribution is valued.

“There is an annual service recognising, valuing and showing appreciation for all that they do.”

“We also take care to demonstrate how much we value the time, energy and commitment given by volunteers through getting them together for various events and we are planning a service in [the] Cathedral, followed by a cream tea and the giving of certificates.”



[1] Rowan Williams, “Christianity: Public Religion and the Common Good”, a lecture given in Singapore, 12th May 2007.
[2] Faith in England’s Northwest: How Faith Communities Contribute to Social and Economic Wellbeing, NWDA, 2009
[3] Faith in England’s Northwest: How Faith Communities Contribute to Social and Economic Wellbeing, NWDA, 2009