Collaborative working

Collaborative working is increasingly seen as good practice by the government and the VCS itself. This trend is driven both by increased pressure to achieve value for money and efficiency and by the belief that shared working can achieve more effective or joined up services. Collaborative working may take many forms, including mutual support of campaigns and events, jointly bidding for contracts or sharing of back office functions. There is also increasing interest in mergers, which may be appropriate where organisations are sufficiently compatible in their aims and ethos. Although much of the literature focuses on collaborations between VCOs, they may also be developed with public or private sector organisations (see blurring boundaries between sectors).

What are the implications?

  • Organisations that work well in collaboration may have access to new sources of funding.
  • There may be a reduction in the overall number of charities (see number of general charities).
  • Risk of a decline in specialist services if organisations with a one-size-fits-all approach become dominant.
  • Risk to smaller organisations which may lack the specific expertise required for effective collaboration.
  • Effective collaborations take time to set up so they may only be feasible for organisations with an early understanding of new contracts.
  • Newly merged organisations may fail to develop economies of scale unless different parts of the new larger organisation collaborate effectively.
  • Smaller organisations without experience in collaboration may lose contracts if their renewals require a wider geographic coverage.

Moving forward

Working in collaboration may be essential to secure funding in the future.

  • Do you need to reconsider your strategic position in relation to other players in your area?
  • What does your organisation need to consider before entering into collaboration with another organisation? Are there significant differences in organisational life cycles, cultures and aims?
  • Do you understand which local contracts require collaborative working and how to access these?
  • Are you engaging with commissioning bodies to ensure you understand the requirements early in the process?
  • Are you taking full advantage of economies of scale, e.g. by sharing back office functions?

Working in collaboration can strengthen campaigns of all levels and allow organisations to share knowledge and expertise.

  • Are there organisations operating in similar environments or campaigns that you could learn from or collaborate with to strengthen your campaign?
  • Is your local authority looking to work in collaboration with the VCS? Would this be an appropriate and useful link for your organisation?

Collaborative working can be highly beneficial for your stakeholders.

  • Are there other organisations with different areas of expertise that your organisation could work with to complement your services?

Want to know more?

Collaborative working: Partnership between voluntary organisations

Published by: NCVO

Date: 2007

Format: PDF

What is it? A summary of collaborative working in the VCS

How useful is this?  A useful introduction to what collaboration means within the context of the VCS, and how it can benefit organisations.  It outlines the context, types of collaborative working, examines costs and benefits and provides contacts for organisations who want to know more.

Other comments: The collaborative working team in NCVO provide a range of information to support VCOs on collaboration.

Collaborative working and mergers: an introduction

Published by: Charity Commission, the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales

Date: November 2009

Format: PDF

What is it? A guidance document giving an overview of collaborative working by charities, including case studies and discussions of key issues.

How useful is this? Although aimed primarily at trustees considering collaborative working, this also provides an effective overview for a wider readership. There is a clear description of the different structures that can be used in collaborations, along with illustrative case studies. The document also considers the practicalities of mergers.

Getting ready for collaboration

Published by: Institute of Voluntary Action Research (IVAR), on behalf of BASSAC, a membership organization for community groups

Date: 2010

Format: PDF

What is it? A guide to collaborative working with an emphasis on how to prepare for a possible collaboration. It is based on a series of IVAR studies based on action research principles, conducted between 2001 and 2008.

How useful is this? This guide emphasises the issues that should be consider prior to entering a collaboration. As such, it will also be useful to those taking a broader view of the influence and potential of collaborative. It does not consider collaborations with organisations across different sectors and as such.

Last updated at 17:47 Tue 22/Feb/11.

Recent comments

Kathryn's picture


Third Sector Foresight

Working Wikily – do you do it?

This article from Stanford Social Innovation review is well worth a read if you’re interested in ways of working more effectively, or the impact of web 2.0 or social media on how we work.

It defines working wikily as:

‘an approach that is characterized by greater openness, transparency, decentralized decision making and collective action’

Quite a list! Have you heard of Ashoka’s Changemaker initiative? SSIR present it as an example of a more networked mindset. There’s a host of other examples which makes this article very readable. It talks about 5 key reasons why people use a network approach to achieve social change:

  1. weaving community,

  2. accessing diverse perspectives,

  3. building and sharing knowledge,

  4. mobilizing people,

  5. and coordinating resources and action.

If your work relates to any of that, you might get interesting ideas from this article!

Kathryn's picture


Third Sector Foresight

And I have another little gem from Stanford Social Innovation review! It's short so I've reproduced it here in full:

I Gain and You Gain: The Emergence of “Smart Power” Strategies in the Nonprofit Sector by Jean Butzen

I am often asked: Why is it important to learn how to collaborate with other nonprofits? My responses often have to do with the microeconomic changes that influence our sector, such as the pressure to raise unrestricted funding to pay for back office services. But recently I saw a very interesting podcast on given by Joseph Nye, a historian and diplomat who made me see the answer to this question in a new way.

Nye explained that power—the ability to accomplish your goals—is changing in the 21st century. Most nonprofits develop power unilaterally, what Nye might call, “hard power.” But there is another type of power, “soft power,” which is getting others to do what you want through persuasion. Nye says that it’s soft power which is the emerging power in the 21st century. There are many problems that are outside the control of individual countries: climate change, pandemics, etc., and that the only way to deal with these issues is through cooperation among nations. The same is true in the nonprofit sector where we often are struggling with failing state governments, recessions, and complex social problems. Nye advised that we have to stop thinking of power as a “zero sum game,” where I win and you lose, or vice versa. Today, power could be also be a positive sum game: I gain and therefore you gain as well. Increasingly this is the way we want to think about power in the 21st century in the nonprofit sector.

How can we work together in the nonprofit sector to produce results that we can all benefit from? One way is through exercising soft power by creating alliances, partnerships, and mergers between organizations as a strategy to address those chaotic issues that are beyond any single organization’s control. Nye explains that by exercising both soft and hard power, one creates “smart power,” the ability to move back and forth between these two strategies. In the 21st century, let’s vow to exercise smart power in the nonprofit sector in order to deliver on our nonprofit missions.

You can read it for yourself here.

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