Collaboration is vital to charity sector’s future: top five considerations for Trustees
Following encouragement from the Duke of Cambridge (23 January 2018) for charities to work together, Cara Miller discusses on how collaborative working can enable charities to achieve greater impact.
When charities are encouraged to work together this often generates a feeling of fear. Charities are forced to operate in a very business-like manner in order to survive in a very harsh fundraising climate and this has understandably led to more competitive behaviour. As a result, the thought of partnering up with what is considered ‘the competition’ can be frightening, with the loss of the charity’s identity and ultimately what makes them unique being a highly reported concern.
Often when discussing charities working together people think of merging them together into one ‘super charity’. However, this isn’t necessarily so and it isn’t always the best approach. Instead many choose to undertake ‘collaborative working’ where two or more entirely separate charities join forces to achieve some common goals; this could be as informally as running a joint annual event together or at the other end of the scale it could be the joint delivery of services and contacts.
Collaborative working can be a really cost effective way to achieve greater impact and reach a wider audience. As a matter of good governance trustees should challenge their executive teams asking them not why they should work with other charities, but rather why not? As opportunities arise the question should be raised as to whether there are other appropriate partners to collaborate with, for example considering joint events, research projects or fundraising appeals.
The ability to share costs is a huge opportunity for charities, but it doesn’t stop there; they can share resources and expertise too. Many charities may provide similar services but perhaps to different age groups or in different geographical areas – collaborating can enable charities to engage with new audiences or support more beneficiaries. The far reaching benefits were not only endorsed by the Duke of Cambridge in his recent speech, but are evidenced by the requirements of donors and charitable trusts who often favour joint applications from charities over standalone applications.
Taking steps towards collaborative working is key to the future of the charity sector; trustees and management thinking about strategic plans in a different way and challenging themselves to engender a culture that is open to collaborative working is vital.
Through my experience of guiding charities through this process and having held a trustee role during a charity merger, there are many factors to consider. My top five considerations for trustees are:
1. What does the charity and its beneficiaries stand to gain and lose?
2. Have all possible partners been considered and are the ones we are talking to compatible?
3. What are the key risks in terms of operations, financials and reputation
4. Do we have the expertise to enter into such arrangements or do we need specialist professional advice, and is due diligence work required? The Charity Commission can be a great source of support.
5. Treat collaborative working as a project which needs managing. It needs a communication plan, milestones, review and monitoring process, a budget and an exit plan. The most common barriers to successful collaborative working ahead of cultural and personality differences, is a lack of communication and a lack of project planning.