How Do They Do It?

Simon Jebreel

The Shaftesbury Partnership regularly hosts a ‘Learning Lunch’, where a leader from one of our wider family of organisations gives a presentation on interesting work that they have been doing. This has been a really valuable way of cross-fertilising knowledge between organisations.

The most recent presentation was courtesy of Doug Fraley from The Challenge Network (TCN), the leading provider of National Citizen Service. TCN was founded in 2008 and has since become one of the fastest growing charities in recent history - growing over 300% per year and working with over 3,000 young people this year. The learning lunch was a great opportunity to discuss some of the secrets of their success.

The presentation reminded me of a common discussion point with my classmates when I was at business school: that in the social sector, passion, vision and drive are simply not enough. While the staff and management at TCN clearly have these qualities in abundance, their impressive success has been built on an absolutely relentless obsession with detail. Their processes for recruiting pupils – a key success factor – are meticulously crafted and communicated, and progress through these processes is carefully tracked. This creates a virtuous cycle of process innovation: good practice is quickly identified and shared, while support can be targeted where it’s needed. Thus they have very quickly learnt what works and what doesn’t and have created a carefully honed machine. The result is that, while other providers have to fight to fill their programmes,  TCN on average fill 97% of their places.

It is one of our core principles at The Shaftesbury Partnership that excellent execution is vital for scale. The Challenge Network is a shining example to the social sector of why this is so important for maximising impact, and their finely tuned processes and systems will hold them in good stead as they continue their impressive trajectory in the coming years.

If you would like to comment on this blog, please email:

view all blog entries