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The collaboration spectrum

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This page explains the different ways that voluntary organisations may collaborate in order to bid for and deliver a commissioned contract.

Informal network

What is it?

A loose network of organisations agreeing to collaborate.


  • Members retain total independence and control/manage their own contracts
  • Different organisations may lead on different projects and subcontract to others, thereby spreading the risk
  • Often a first step to a formally constituted consortium 


  • No legal entity for commissioners to contract with, so cannot hold contracts
  • Does not allow for coordinated service delivery  

Lead agency

What is it?

A partnership with a nominated organisation taking the lead for contracting  purposes. 


  • Able to bid for contracts
  • Existing organisation with track record and known to commissioners
  • Infrastructure already exists 


  • Lead partner has sole legal accountability for contracts and bears all risk
  • Lead partner could bring provision in-house (a risk for the subcontractors)

Constituted consortium

What is it?

A new legal entity is set up, with a membership structure ensuring that its members control it. 


  • Owned and run by members
  • Protects members from risk
  • Single ‘front door’ to sector for commissioners
  • Collective bargaining power


  • Difficult to prove track record at early stages
  • Significant funding and time required at start-up and development stages
  • Vulnerable to fluctuations in commissioning patterns 

Read more about consortia.


What is it?

Where organisations undertake a full legal merger and become a single entity or group structure. 


  • Is in the best interests of your charitable purposes and beneficiaries
  • Enables a service to continue if an organisation becomes unsustainable
  • Prevents duplication of services and creates efficiencies
  • Creates an organisation with a larger turnover, therefore access to larger contracts
  • Potentially greater profile and reach


  • Volunteers, staff or financial supporters might not progress into the merged organisation.
  • Highly disruptive to day-to-day business.
  • Significant differences in culture or ways of working could prevent effective integration and may undermine the financial or other drivers
  • Depending on the proposed new structure the process can be very complex, time consuming and (costly) professional advice required

Find out more about mergers.

Last reviewed: 29 September 2016

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 29 September 2016

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