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We need to protect smaller charities

Lisa Weaks

Lisa Weaks, Senior Associate at The King’s Fund, discusses the winners of the GSK IMPACT Awards and shares reflections on the current pressures facing smaller charities and what may need to change.

  • Health inequalities
  • Person-centred care

About the GSK IMPACT Awards

For the past 27 years The King’s Fund has led the GSK IMPACT Awards in partnership with GSK. This partnership pulls together resources, knowledge and reach across the private and third sector to support health and wellbeing UK charities with income under £3million. Competition for a GSK IMPACT Award is steep, with the ten winning charities’ support package including core funding of up to £50k, ongoing training and development from The King’s Fund for the charity’s leaders valued at over £9.5k, plus valuable recognition for the charity’s work. This year’s winners were announced on the 5th March – you can read more about their work here.

The award winners as exemplars

The award winners provide valuable examples of the third sector’s vital role in health and care. They cover a broad range of work and geographical areas, meet key gaps in health and care provision and demonstrate how they complement (and often help to save significant money for) stretched statutory services.  Helping to combat the huge strain on mental health services was one area where the winning charities also demonstrated innovative approaches and a determination to create person-centred and joined up care. The award winners demonstrated their reach, trust and ability to support some of the least heard communities and those people who experience the greatest marginalisation and health inequalities.

As part of the award, the charities are invited to join the GSK IMPACT Award Network, which provides ongoing support, training and development. With over 120 member organisations across the UK, this network provides valuable insights into sector pressures and areas for development.

Risk of burnout

The pressure on charities and their leaders is well known, but the growing risk of burnout, was an area recently highlighted by the network members. This is particularly true for smaller charities, where lower financial rewards still come with high pressure and workload, making recruitment and retention of charity leaders and other staff more challenging. The current pressures on NHS staff and the need for more support in statutory services is, rightly, widely highlighted and discussed; but the pressure on third sector leaders receives far less recognition despite them being an essential part of the wider health and care workforce.  

Creating the environment for more cross-sector collaboration and support

Increased competition for funding, deep and sharp public sector cuts, rising costs and increased demand for services have been hitting the sector hard. The way forward? There is no one or simple solution, but the leaders we spoke to talked about working together in a range of different and supportive ways and included pooling resources. Many were looking to the future and saw their role as leading beyond their organisation to support greater cross sector collaboration. For some, this included how they could use their more developed infrastructures to support very small community organisations who were working at the front line of significant (and often hidden) health inequalities. The design of funding streams were sometimes seen as a deterrent to collaboration, with the need for different conversations with funders and commissioners to encourage new approaches where possible.

Business as usual?

As austerity continues to bite and demand for services increases, can resources be better deployed across the third sector, including supporting greater collaboration between large, medium and small charities? Could this help maximise reach, impact and value to support the most marginalised communities? Or, given the many pressures on charities, is a ‘business as usual’ approach the better option for a sustainable sector? With such a vibrant and diverse sector there is no one size fits all, but leaders may need to examine a range of options to best help their organisation, and the wider sector, navigate this complexity and turbulence. The positive impact it has on the health and wellbeing of communities makes it too important to ignore.


Lisa has more than 25 years’ experience in the voluntary and community sector (VCS), working with UK charitable grant-makers, designing training, leading evaluation and research projects, and developing strategic and funding partnerships. She has authored research reports and articles on the VCS, commissioning and volunteering.

From 2016 Lisa was an Assistant Director in the Leadership and Organisational Development team at The King’s Fund and now works with the team as a Senior Associate. She is responsible for the GSK IMPACT Awards, a grant and leadership programme that hosts a network of more than 80 health and wellbeing charities. She leads and co-designed the Cascading Leadership programme which supports VCS leaders; and co-leads the Healthy Communities Together programme in partnership with The National Lottery Community Fund, supporting local partnership working between the NHS, local authorities and the VCS to address health inequalities.

Lisa’s volunteer roles include chair and vice-chair of two grant-making trusts, and volunteering at a local foodbank.