When charities collaborate to tackle complex problems, like mental health or homelessness, they are often far more likely to make an impact in transforming people’s lives. NPC and Impetus Trust believe that charities should be proactively seeking collaborations that can help them deepen impact and help more people, but we know it is not easy. So to help them do this more effectively, we have launched Collaborating for Impact, a new report looking at the preconditions for collaborative success.
Funders also have a role to play in helping to enable and encourage appropriate collaborations. Their position in the sector – for example, meeting lots of charities working on the same issue – makes it easier for them to see opportunities for collaboration. Funders should be encouraging charities to work together where it will avoid duplication and help ensure maximum impact, or the biggest bang for their buck.
This is most useful when the charities brought together are well matched and the process used is well thought out. During our research, charities told us some of their highlights of collaboration and also some of their not-so-great moments, one of which was instigated by a funder. In this case, the funder organised a day that ended up being a free-for-all. Charities scrambled to talk to everyone in the room to find the right partner before it was too late.
This is an extreme version of what can happen when charities are given little direction and little time to get a collaboration in order. With only a few weeks to find an organisation with which to partner, it is no surprise that often collaborations cannot get off on the right foot or break down further down the line. Where funders want to encourage applicants to collaborate, a lack of considered approach can lead to the opposite happening.
In our research, charities talked to us about some of the most common reasons for collaborations and what made them successful or not. Our joint report with Impetus outlines the strategic principles an organisation should consider. But by resisting the urge to rush, you have the time to ensure everyone agrees with things like the core objectives, the pricing, how to measure impact, and also understand how organisational cultures can help or hinder the entire collaboration. There are ways to overcome problems that may arise, but it’s almost impossible to do it at speed. Funders can help by making sure they give charities a clear start about what outcomes they are likely to want to fund before tenders are released or application rounds open. And charities can begin the process without a tender in sight by getting to know potential partners.
Of course, funders are in a very powerful position when it comes to charities and should guard against their encouragement to collaborate turning into undue pressure to do so. Much of the foundation for a successful collaboration is built on intangible things like culture. The ability to trust the other party (or parties), really understanding what they will bring that will benefit your beneficiaries and how your day-to-day working practices mesh will underpin a good collaboration. Without those in place, a collaboration will not work. It can be very difficult for someone on the outside to make an assessment of whether the necessary intangibles are in place. Charities are therefore the best placed to decide whether they feel a particular collaboration will work, and funders should position themselves as helpful rather than too forceful in this case.
Collaboration between charities – and other organisations – is no panacea and is not always the right solution. But where funders see that it can help achieve real impact, and they play their role intelligently, it can help them reach more beneficiaries through their support. That is a prize worth shooting for.
Dan Corry is CEO of New Philanthropy Capital