Umbrella builder

Curriculum Vitae
Des Kelly. Current Job:  Director, National Care
Qualifications: BSc and MA in Applied Social
Studies, CQSW.
Last job: Partnerships director, BUPA.
First job: Care assistant.  

The Forum’s aims

  • To speak as one “not for profit” voice for members at a
    national level.
  • To inform the Department of Health and other bodies of the
    facts, potential solutions and to have a seat at the relevant
    policy forums.
  • To develop improved standards for service users and staff.
  • To be acknowledged as a source of expertise in the care
  • To work in partnership with councils and health services.
  • To improve the effectiveness of members through information,
    policy analysis, knowledge exchange and representation.

Establishing a new membership organisation takes more than just
advertising and sitting back and waiting for people to come along.
Des Kelly, director of the National Care Forum (NCF) believes that
keeping your focus on the organisation’s core purpose is the key to
building both membership and profile. “It’s easy to get
side-tracked into things which may be interesting but are not
central to what you are doing,” he says. “There’s a danger of being
very busy but not very effective.”

In the debate about the future of care and support services, the
NCF is increasingly being seen as the representative voice of the
not-for-profit sector. Kelly says that its aim is to promote
quality in care services. “We were concerned that the only message
being heard was that councils don’t pay enough. We want to move the
debate on and focus on quality and modernising services.”

Part of that modernisation process means residential care services
being adapted for respite or rehabilitation. “Our members are
increasingly doing this kind of work. We want commissioners to
recognise that quality and innovation matter.”

Although residential care for older people looms large, Kelly
emphasises that NCF covers a range of clients and care services,
including adults with disabilities or drug and alcohol problems.
For example, home and day care services and assisted living are the
fastest growing part of the membership, reflecting changes in the

Since Kelly joined NCF at its launch in 2003, membership has almost
doubled from 17 to 32 and now includes large organisations such as
Anchor, Abbeyfield and Community Integrated Care (CIC). He finds
that personal approaches work best in attracting new members. “We
are still at the early stages of developing the organisation so we
appeal to people who are interested in contributing to its future
shape. We involve members as fully as possible in forming the

Tailoring approaches to individuals and emphasising the benefits of
membership is important. “We identified those organisations we
wanted to talk to. It’s a bit like a courtship. You get your first
opportunity to talk about the Forum and then you invite them to a
meeting or give them some information that will be useful for them.
I try to respond in a way which demonstrates we’ve been listening
to what they say.”

With a staff of only two, most of the work of NCF is done by eight
committees, including marketing and communications, social care
policy and training and development. Committee members are all
directors in their organisations. “The hardest part is remembering
people have full-time jobs so it takes a long time to get things
done,” says Kelly. “I get as involved as I can in committee work to
help complete work so timescales don’t drift.”

Keeping on message can also be a challenge. “You’re judged on
everything you do and it’s important to be consistent. Someone’s
perspective from their individual organisation may not always line
up with what is right for NCF as a whole,” he says.

Probably the biggest benefit for directors of being part of a
member organisation is the opportunity for learning and peer
support in what can be isolated jobs. “Directors usually find they
are all dealing with similar issues so they can learn from one
another. They value that. It’s easier to pick up the phone when
you’ve got to know someone sitting on a committee together.”

As a representative voice of its sector NCF is involved in
discussions with the Department of Health and the Commission for
Social Care Inspection on policy developments, but it may be some
time before the Today programme rings Kelly for a comment.
“Because the sector is so fragmented there’s a lot of competition
for air time. You reach a tipping point when your profile and
membership mean that people start to knock on your door. We’re
making progress but we haven’t got there yet.” 


  • Focus on your core purpose and make sure that everything you do
    is consistent with it.
  • Be aware of what your competitors have to offer and emphasise
    the benefits of membership.
  • Tailor your approaches to the individual needs of potential


  • Rely on mail-outs and advertising to promote the benefits of
  • Spread yourself thin and get involved in everything that’s
    going on.
  • Treat committee members like staff and expect work to be done

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