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New report calls on voluntary organisations to deliver services in collaboration, building on the spirit of partnership developed during the pandemic

A new report from NCVO, ACEVO and Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales highlights ways in which larger and smaller voluntary organisations can support each other in the competitive commissioning environment and collaborate to achieve greater impact for the communities they serve. 

Rebalancing the Relationship is the result of an 18-month research project that collected evidence of good and bad collaborative practice from over 200 larger and smaller charities.

The research found examples of positive collaborative behaviours, such as local staff being empowered to develop partnerships, charities not bidding for a service if a local organisation is already delivering it well, and larger charities building the capacity of smaller organisations. 

However, it also heard of negative experiences of poor collaboration having broken down trust between charities. Examples included unfair distribution of funds to smaller charities, not including partners in decision-making, and organisations bidding without the necessary local knowledge or experience to deliver services well.

Organisations reported challenges with the way public authorities contract charities to deliver services to their local communities, which can create financial uncertainty for charities and make collaboration more difficult. The report acknowledges these challenges, but the research demonstrates there are positive steps charities can take within the current environment to collaborate with each other better for the benefit of communities. 

The report recognises the power of good collaboration, as evidenced during the pandemic, and sets out five key recommendations to facilitate better collaboration between larger and smaller voluntary organisations when bidding for and delivering public services.  

  • Compete in an ethical and responsible way.
  • Demonstrate openness to collaboration with various organisations.
  • Explore different ways to support other charities.
  • Develop fair and equal partnerships.
  • Nurture a collaborative organisational culture and leadership behaviours.

Rebalancing the Relationship calls on charity leaders and trustees to adopt these behaviours and prioritise collaboration to ensure communities can access high quality services. Many charities have worked together to meet the needs of communities before and during the covid-19 pandemic, and leaders can build on this effective collaboration to help communities build back better after the crisis is over. 

Vicky Browning, Chief executive of ACEVO, said:

"This report clearly demonstrates that collaborative, generous leadership is more essential than ever for voluntary organisations and the people we work with to thrive. 
While the report identifies clear ways in which the competitive commissioning environment needs to change, there are also positive opportunities for leaders to create collaborative cultures – for example, listening to staff, working with boards to manage risk, and taking a nuanced approach to growth. By focusing on delivering quality not quantity of services, leaders can drive better outcomes for communities at a time when charities are never more needed."

Sarah Vibert, Interim CEO at NCVO, said:

"During the pandemic, collaboration and partnership have become the default way of working. Voluntary sector organisations of all sizes collaborated quickly, willingly and effectively to get people the help they need. This collaboration has supported the deployment of millions of volunteers and has enabled charities to be agile in responding to changing community needs. It has also created a stronger, more unified sector voice for influencing central government. There is an opportunity as we emerge from the pandemic for charities – of all types and sizes – to build on this collaboration to ensure communities can continue to access high quality support."

Laura Bunt, Deputy chief executive of drug, alcohol, and mental health charity, With You, was a member of the project’s steering group. She said:

"We've seen such fantastic collaboration throughout the pandemic, particularly at the start, where organisations pulled together to focus on helping people keep safe and supported. Collaborating in public markets can be tough and takes hard work but can achieve much wider reach and impact. All charities should consider what power they have and work together to share that power with people and communities. This report is a great handbook for leaders looking to build more collaborative cultures."

Paul Streets, Chief executive of Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, said:

"The commissioning and procurement environment presents great challenges to charities large and small. We’ve seen how this can lead to fierce competition between organisations and at times some sharp practices. Yet, voluntary organisations can overcome these challenges as this report has shown, replacing competition with collaboration. 
We know that small charities are embedded in the communities they serve and play a distinctive role in how they reach and engage people, whilst in turn larger charities can bring capacity and reach. We would encourage charities of all sizes and those who lead them to reflect on the learning and examples in this report and actively seek out how they can play to their respective strengths through more effective collaboration, ensuring people and communities get the services they need through covid and beyond."

For further information please contact Muireann Montague on 020 7520 2469 or email


  1. The Rebalancing the Relationship project launched in March 2019. The researchers engaged with organisations across the voluntary sector through a call for evidence, workshops, in-depth interviews and the establishment of a steering group and advisory group. Find out more about the project.
  2. Case studies showcasing good practice and different models of collaborating are presented at the end of the report.
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