Collaboration, partnership working and mergers may be the way forward for the voluntary sector in these lean times. This is especially true in Lewisham, as cuts to council funding and competition for grants continue to threaten the sustainability of local charities and community groups.
While some may see collaboration as code for merger, collaboration doesn't need to be a huge, all or nothing undertaking. It can start on a small scale, where charities with common interests start to build trusting and effective working relationships that can progress to being the foundation for closer working arrangements in future. The Charity Commission defines collaboration as: 'joint working by two or more organisations in order to better fulfil their purposes, while remaining as separate organisations'.
The range of options for collaboration can begin with the familiar territory of sharing information or resources, move towards joint working on a time-limited project or sharing buildings, and only when it is right for all parties should collaboration progress to more formal arrangements such as establishing a consortium that opens up new possibilities for funding for the partners.
When the drive to collaborate comes from within the organisation there are many potential benefits. It can:
allow small organisations to gain access to funding not available to them on their own
enable organisations to achieve greater impact for their beneficiaries, perhaps through reaching a more diverse community, covering a wider geographic area or providing complementary services for clients
achieve efficiencies on management, administration, premises, fundraising, training, marketing and IT systems
develop a stronger, more united voice with greater influence
provide a platform for more formal collaboration through consortia or mergers
Resources on collaboration
- Big Lottery's guidance on collaborative working includes a Working in partnership sourcebook that you can download from this page
- The Charity Commission publishes Choosing to collaborate: helping you to succeed and Work with other charities
- NCVO has a range of guides on collaborative working on its KnowHow Nonprofit website
Although not a precise legal term, merger is where two or more organisations come together to form one. This can involve the creation of a new organisation with a new identity or, more typically, one organisation becomes part of the other's brand.
Key questions to consider
- Will our ability to fulfil our mission be greater than it is now?
- Do we and our potential partner have similar values?
- What will be the key strategic objectives of the new organisation and do these reflect and strengthen our existing ones?
- Will this enable us to better meet our members/beneficiaries needs and aspirations?
- Together will we have a louder and more coherent voice to government, local authorities and others?
- Will the new organisation be financially sustainable – both short and long term?
- Can we agree effective governance arrangements that will offer protection and opportunity for current and future members/beneficiaries?
Resources on mergers
- Eastside Primetimers' The Good Merger Guide can be downloaded here
- IVAR's website has resources and videos on the merger process
- NCVO has a range of guides - from deciding to merge, due diligence, to post-merger actions - on its KnowHow Nonprofit website
- The Charity Commission publishes: Collaborative Working and Mergers, How to merge charities, and Making mergers work