There’s nothing new about charities getting together. For years, voluntary organisations have looked for like-minded charities to share back office support or speak with one voice to policy-makers. And charities without commitment issues have even pulled off mergers with one another.

But new types of charity pairings are emerging as the commissioning landscape evolves and charities look to position themselves to win contracts to deliver government services. These collaborations among charities seem to fall under two broad headings:

  • supply chains of organisations. These chains can be complex and a charity might find itself in the position of prime provider (ie, commissioned directly by government) or subcontractor (either subcontracted to the prime provider or to a secondary, subcontracted organisation).
  • consortia between several organisations. In these arrangements, two or more organisations get together to form larger partnerships to bid for and deliver services. The legal structures for consortia vary — they might entail forming a new corporate structure or lead contractor model.

NPC is hoping to find out more about the extent of these new couplings and about their impact on charities in a survey on commissioning that we launched last week. For example, does a charity’s position in the supply chain impact positively or negatively on a charity’s financial security? Does involvement in consortia impact on a charity’s ability to deliver good services to beneficiaries? And do charities feel they have the skills and capacity needed to manage the subcontracting process effectively?

We’re also interested in understanding whether or not the voluntary sector infrastructure is adapting to support these new types of partnerships.

New initiatives
Two initiatives, mentioned in Civil Society yesterday, focused on developing consortia between private, public and civil society sectors might help. And last November the website Partner-up was launched, offering “a confidential matching service” for charities and social enterprises looking to find different forms of collaboration such as joint ventures, co-bidding and mergers.

Advice and other support is clearly vital too. See for example this report by the Charity Commission for small and medium-sized charities or this article on when and why consortia and subcontracting models are used. And charities can also seek financial support through vehicles like the Futurebuilders Consortia fund.

It’s good to see that some of this infrastructure is in place, or being built, as there’s never been a more important time for charities to find that special partner.

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