Project snapshot

Organisational development for catchment partnerships
To strengthen catchment partnerships’ resilience and long-term sustainability

The objectives

The Catchment Based Approach has led to the creation of over 100 catchment partnerships to improve the management of river catchments across England and cross-border with Wales.

This locally-focused, inclusive approach centres on the idea of collaboration between organisations working within the river catchments. These may include local authorities, policy makers, NGOs, farmers, landowners, water companies, businesses, academia and local communities all working together to maximise the health and natural value of our rivers.

For every pound the Environment Agency provided, the catchment partnerships were sourcing another two pounds of funding from elsewhere. To improve the partnerships’ financial sustainability and resilience, the Environment Agency was keen to improve income diversification, with a particular focus on engaging with the private sector. The Environment Agency wanted to support them in better understanding the value of investment from the private sector and in creating a strong case for support for attracting such investment.

Our support

The Environment Agency appointed Charities Aid Foundation to run a pilot programme, working with four catchment partnerships, to lay the groundwork for building a better business case for investing in the catchment activities.

This included strengthening the partnerships’ governance, fundraising potential, and increased sense of ownership and collaboration within the partnership by:

  • Identifying a theory of change to define a shared purpose, vision and goals for each partnership
  • Establishing the role of the board and other stakeholder relationships
  • Identifying internal and external fundraising opportunities
  • Developing fundraising strategies including corporate, major donor and individual fundraising
  • Reviewing and recommending systems, processes, people and governance to diversify income sources
  • Sharing and consolidating the learnings with other catchment partnerships
  • A bespoke report for each participating catchment partnership with recommendations on the above

CAF’s support for the Environment Agency

We kept the Environment Agency regularly informed at each stage of the pilot programme, with routine updates, face-to-face meetings, and co-facilitating learning and fundraising workshops for the participating catchment partnerships.

Two reports were developed:

  • A learning report from the findings of the pilot for the Environment Agency
  • A fundraising report with recommendations for both the catchment partnerships and the Environment Agency

River stour

The impact

The four catchment partnerships varied in size and sophistication of partnership model, each serving a community with differing opportunities, assets and potential. While the process of support offered to the partnerships during the pilot was broadly the same, the outcomes in terms of strategic decisions to be made, income streams to be pursued and resulting governance and practice varied.

Through our work, each of the four catchment partnerships now have:

  • Increased partner buy-in and commitment
  • A clearer and more inspiring vision and aim
  • A theory of change that can be used as evidence to secure funding and as a self-evaluation tool to revisit
  • A list of interventions linked to achieving the goals of the catchment partnerships
  • A case for support with which to approach potential funders

Although there is still work to do and, crucially funding to secure, the catchment partnerships feel the programme has helped them develop and lay the foundations for a more resilient future.

“CAF has helped us articulate our aims and impact into a case for support to take to potential funders to build a more resilient funding profile. Through the funding workshop and individual support, CAF has helped us understand the different sources of funding available, which ones may be best suited to our requirements, and which may see us as an attractive prospect to fund.”

Dales to Vale River Network

Woman and dog walking across footbridge over river

The learnings from the pilot programme have gone on to help other catchment partnerships develop their resilience. The reports are published on the Catchment Based Approach website and are often referenced by partnerships as resources for engaging the private sector. Newer catchment partnerships are being signposted to the CAF reports to gain a deeper understanding of the need to engage with less obvious stakeholders than angling groups or environmental NGOs, and how to do so to enable a more cohesive dialogue.

Many catchment partnerships are now engaging with the private sector where water plays a key role in the supply chain, for example with food and drink retailers where water is used in the growing or production process. This connection is also being used to address water quality issues; catchment partnerships are working with businesses to highlight poor land management that is leading to soil erosion and run-off into rivers.

“The CAF pilot programme provides a great support resource for catchment partnerships to help them better engage with the private sector. At a crucial time for the environment, a collaborative catchment partnership with a shared vision can play a leading role in delivering good environmental, social and economic health for the rivers, their catchments and communities.”

Damian Crilly, Manager, Strategic Catchment Partnerships, Environment Agency

Project takeaways

Provide core costs 
When providing funding to strengthen an organisation’s resilience, it’s vital to provide core costs, as the Environment Agency did, to enable the leadership to step back from the day-to-day and focus their time on strategy. 

Invest in capacity building for fundraising 
A key way to strengthen an organisation’s sustainability is to improve its fundraising capacity. Having a strong, diverse fundraising strategy reduces reliance on one type of income, protecting operations and services in the event of a loss or drop in one source.  

Get commitment from the leadership group
When investing in a capacity building programme it is important as funders to get commitment from the organisation’s leadership early on. The leadership team must be willing to invest time with the advisor to discuss strategic change and engage with them to progress the programme. 


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