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This checklist aims to help Chief Executives, managers and Trustees to decide whether to embark on collaborative working by compiling key issues for exploration. It is aimed at those considering arrangements at the more formal end of the collaborative working spectrum and involving a considerable investment of resources.
Every situation is different so this checklist identifies general issues to consider. It is not a substitute for legal advice. Many of the points below apply to both collaborative working and merger. See our mergers section for specific guidance on this process.
Your decision-making process should encourage you to think through all the implications before you start working collaboratively. With planning, you can manage the risks. What is best for your beneficiaries should be the primary consideration which underlies all your thinking. Allow yourself enough time to make an informed decision for your organisation. It is better to identify obstacles early and decide not to proceed than to call a halt once you have already invested resources, time and effort in a new partnership venture.
Your trustees (members of your board) have a remit to act in the best interests of your organisation and its beneficiaries. The final decision on any major change to your work rests with your trustees and they have ultimate responsibility for collaborative working arrangements. It is their role to see that the decision-making process covers all angles to make the most effective use of funds. Trustees must ensure their organisation acts legally and that professional advice is taken where relevant.
Does your governing document include a power allowing you to establish and support, co-operate with, join or amalgamate with other voluntary organisations?
Charities without this power usually have an implied power to work collaboratively if it is in the best interests of the organisation and its beneficiaries. If Trustees are considering full merger with another organisation, they should seek advice from the Charity Commission. The Commission encourages organisations to seek advice early, particularly regarding legal and regulatory issues.
The people who lead the implementation of a new project or merger vary with the type of collaboration and may be Trustees, Chief Executives or project managers. What are the skills and qualities needed for this role?
If you decide to go ahead, you will need to plan who to involve when and whether to sound out representatives of your beneficiaries. If you are merging, you may have an obligation to consult your members. Set a timescale for your consultation process and plan how you will keep different groups informed of significant decisions.
You may have in mind a potential partner that you already know and trust. It is still worth asking key questions to ensure that your assumptions about the organisation are correct. The same criteria for assessing a potential partner apply however compatible you think they are. Comparing organisational culture and working practice is as important as structure or management.
Out of those charities that have merged, the most common barrier was considered to be culture clash, experienced in the case of 52% of respondents.
The philosophy and culture of an organisation are complex areas which are difficult to quantify and therefore risk being ignored as you compare your organisation to your potential partner.
In order to properly exercise their duty of care, trustees should properly consider the possible risks involved in collaborative working.
Risk can be managed in a range of ways:
Trustees are not discharging their duty of care if they do not seek to uncover the liabilities of a potential merge partner so risk assessment is strongly advisable.
Risk assessments should also be carried out for collaborative working. Due diligence (sometimes called 'full disclosure') is an exercise which unearths the information that organisations need to be able to judge whether they should go ahead. Due diligence tailored to the voluntary sector should uncover potential legal, financial and operational liabilities.
Lower levels of investigation can be undertaken where risks will be 'quarantined'. This may be done in a range of ways including:
You will also need to consider how to manage areas including:
Planning and setting up a new initiative and managing change takes time.
Always bear in mind the impact of collaboration on the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of your organisation as a whole. A risk analysis for each area of activity will help you identify:
Regular reviews will ensure you keep the work on track.
Collaborating can have an effect on your public profile. You may lose control over your brand, perhaps putting your reputation in the firing line if things go wrong as a result of partners' actions.
Clarifying the roles and responsibilities of individuals will limit the likelihood of conflict.
Written agreements in formal partnerships aid clarity and help to manage conflict. It is important to set out exactly what will happen if the collaboration ends. In all but the simplest cases, a properly drafted legal agreement is recommended.
Collaborative working may not be right for you right now, but organisations should regularly review how collaborative working might help them. Each opportunity should be considered on its own merits.
Last reviewed: 15 March 2016Help us improve this content
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