Motivations and drivers

Motivations for collaboration

Organisations and individuals express a range of motivations to work with one another. Mission and necessity are the most common reasons given for collaboration. Several work with smaller organisations with the goal of building their capacity. For some this is a way of achieving their mission and they see it as their responsibility, for others this outcome is a bonus rather than a motivating factor.

There’s bumps in the road, people do silly things on both sides, trust gets broken, data doesn’t get shared….and you have to spend time on it, and keep those relationships going.


I think young people in our case like that diversity of provision…local embedded community groups are often better at reaching young people than a large monolithic one.

Charities often collaborate to ensure the people they support, and especially those from marginalised communities, can:

  • Have a choice of support: 'No one organisation can deliver there is value in having a real range and mix of sizes and different types of orgs to give people choice. So, no one organisation should feel the need to swallow up everything…'
  • Use a local service informed by local knowledge and connections.
  • Access a holistic service, with the relevant specialisms.
  • Easily navigate various services, often offering a single point of access.

Our behaviour as an organisation is about communities rather than about just being a big player...the whole reason we exist is to change the lives of people...Our partnerships are about that and not about us getting bigger, sometimes it's about us getting smaller where we are bidding for stuff that we are no longer going to deliver and we have helped other people win.

Several organisations recognise the importance of collaborating beyond delivery of a particular service: 'It's about how together we can serve our purpose of enriching that community and if that means that small charities survive and thrive and we survive and thrive then, well isn't that a marriage made in heaven?' Others emphasise the role of collaboration in solving much bigger social problems: 'We bring all of those partners in [and] actually get a broader view of how our work can help to solve some of those gnarly problems that we are finding very difficult to crack.' Some larger organisations seek to help others win work because they see it as beneficial for the communities they serve.


Some organisations collaborate because they cannot succeed alone, including larger organisations. While some larger organisations say they don’t need to enter partnerships, many say they have no choice but to partner with others. Some commissioners set an expectation of partnership working within larger contracts, partly due to the size and breadth of contracts. Charities may require partnership with a local organisation because they do not have the specialism, skills or local presence needed: 'Most of the time [we’re] looking for a local partner, not least because we don't have a base but we don't have that local intelligence that means you can mobilise quickly'.

Money or value

Collaboration is also driven by a desire to make resources go further or deliver ‘value’: 'The main thing comes back to what’s the best way to deliver value and to deliver quality for the contract. If we think it’s to do it all ourselves then we do that. If we think it’s to work with a well-known local provider who we know is very good, then we’d approach them to partner with us.'

Several organisations describe wanting to make resources go further in the following ways:

  • preventing duplication of services
  • using collective buying power
  • sharing resources and back office functions

Capacity building

For smaller charities who are doing really local, granular work which other large organisations wouldn't get near, it’s really important to see how to include them and for them to benefit financially without them needing to take on the systems and processes of the commissioning authority.

Several charities collaborate in order to build the capacity of smaller organisations or to learn, but for others this is a positive outcome rather than a motivating factor. Many charities describe wanting to build the capacity of other organisations for several reasons:

  • To help smaller organisations to be more sustainable and go on to lead contract delivery and compete for contracts: 'We've done a good job in the way we have capacity built an organisation to mean they have learnt from the process….and they've got more options as an organisation to be sustainable.'
  • To support organisations embedded in disadvantaged or marginalised communities: 'Partnerships of this kind also strengthen the voluntary sector as a whole providing regular income to smaller groups, often in marginalised communities, meaning they bring in more funding and improve their governance.'
  • To project the broader work of smaller organisations, which they see as valuable: 'These local partners deliver a range of other services in addition to advocacy and by winning this contract the future sustainability of these services is more certain.'

To win bids

Some explicitly say they collaborate to win bids, but for others this is not a primary motivation. Several organisations of all sizes recognise that they win more bids in partnership than they do on their own, although this will vary across service areas. Some small organisations partner with larger organisations to gain access to funding, either to pass the financial threshold or benefit from their expertise on funding processes: 'Working with bigger organisations with a good reputation has also been very important, because they have access to funding or contracts.'

I think that if we had been more competitive…there would be less money coming to us, and less money coming to the regions we work in because actually a lot of funders now are looking for partnerships.

Some organisations explicitly say they collaborate to 'stave off the competition' and 'to protect "local" organisations and services from the large national charities seeking to win local commissions'. Some regret deciding to collaborate with potential competitors, but others suggest that developing a joint venture,[1] for example, gave them freedom to focus on the work: 'Our combined turnover was better able to repel the big nationals that parachute in as soon as a contract reaches just over £1m. It has enabled us to focus on what's important rather than that constant look over your shoulder and that survival piece…so that removal of competition has been hugely valuable locally'.

Valuing others

While some organisations only want to work with organisations like them, most recognise the value of working with other types and sizes of organisations. Larger organisations often recognise the value of smaller organisations, and this largely aligns to the way smaller organisations articulate their own value. Smaller organisations are perceived as having the following characteristics:

  • Practical, innovative and responsive
  • Specialist
  • Embedded in local communities and trusted
  • Person centred and holistic
  • Integrated in communities
  • Having staff with lived experience
  • Holding a mirror up to larger organisations

Some local organisations believe it is impossible for national organisations to bring these qualities: 'How can national organisations share this same empathy, passion and commitment whilst engendering the trust of those [in the] community?' However, several organisations think that larger organisations can bring some of the same qualities as smaller organisations: '[Smaller organisations] will tend to bring quite a good local network and maybe contacts beyond that particular they will know everyone within that local area...and have quite long standing relationships...really in-depth knowledge of that area. That is not to say that big organisations don't though'.

Organisations recognise that those larger than them can bring more developed infrastructure, policies and procedures, as well as bid writing and contract monitoring expertise: 'We can be part of bids that are much bigger than we would be able to bid for…helps us to develop new areas, new contacts... it helps us to deliver the work..., but also it allows us to grow our reputation, our influence, our ability to reach more young people...we have also to be fair learned from larger organisations...measuring data, systems...there's also more informal learning you get from larger organisations'.

However, when larger organisations describe their own value, they also talk about influencing government, economies of scale, aggregating funding and disrupting markets. These characteristics are less likely to be identified by smaller organisations. There are several possible explanations for this. Smaller organisations may be more focused on their own survival and service delivery, rather than these broader strategic issues. There is also a strong narrative about the value of smaller and local organisations, which may not be mirrored by a compelling narrative about larger organisations or shared identity across the sector.

Perceived drivers of negative behaviours

In order to scale it would be fantastic to be working with larger charities.

Charities tell us that commissioning and procurement practice is the driving force behind damaging behaviours in the voluntary sector, with some organisations suggesting that individual and organisational behaviour has a part to play. With some significant exceptions, many organisations struggle to recognise their power to make different choices within the competitive environment.

The procurement process has led to charities...losing sight of what they are there for and makes them chase income…

There is consensus that the competitive environment makes collaboration difficult, undermines trust and influences organisational behaviour. Cuts to services have led to organisations protecting themselves: 'Cuts to services threaten them further and make them batten down the hatches.' A significant number view this as the only reason for poor competition and collaboration.

With tendering you never know what your level of success is going to be so I think we work on the basis that we may well not retain everything of our existing work so we’re constantly looking for new opportunities to make sure we maintain the same size or potentially grow slightly year on year.

Individuals often describe feeling powerless to behave differently when bidding for and delivering contracts: 'You either expand or shrink, it's almost impossible to stay still. Unless you are presenting your organisation as the provider of choice in certain areas either themed or geographically, then commissioners will find another provider to deliver that service'. Some charities express a need to keep growing to meet pension deficits, and keep providing what is expected of a good employer.

While many charities don’t think they have a choice to respond differently to the environment, several organisations do recognise a responsibility to behave differently. Some want to see themselves and others challenging commissioning and procurement practice collectively. While this is difficult, for some it is imperative to achieve their mission: 'I think we need to push against the system...This system rewards competition but...we are all here for young people and a certain amount of partnership means putting aside your own “we are the best and nobody else can do it”. The environment makes it more difficult but in some ways that means all the more reason to do it differently because actually that is what is best for young people.' Others are sceptical as to whether organisations will make decisions that result in less money and power.

I think as a sector we need to be stronger together in saying 'actually we won't let you put us in this position'…but when your very survival depends on it that is a very hard stance to take.

Some perceive bad practice of some, not all, larger organisations to be driven by greed or personal ambition for market share or to sustain the ego and pay of chief executives. Some believe organisational behaviour is driven by a desire to mimic large private sector providers, and correlates to highly centralised organisations. Others think organisations are not focused enough on what is best for their beneficiaries: 'Organisations appear to care less about the people they're meant to be there to serve and more about their own futures and so make purely financially based decisions'. Some believe this behaviour is driven either by a desire to 'asset strip' other organisations, or simply by a lack of concern for smaller organisations: 'Bigger charities do not see it as their mission or business to build up the sector - only themselves'.

There are different views in the sector as to what drives damaging behaviour in response to the competitive environment. We think there could be a common approach taken by some larger charities that is an influencing factor. Charities often say they have to behave in certain ways in order to survive or maintain their size. While understandable, we think a response that focuses on protecting or furthering organisational interest over what will deliver the most impact to individuals and communities can present challenges. It can limit the scope for collaboration and negatively impact the support available to individuals.


  1. A joint venture a commercial enterprise undertaken jointly by two or more parties which otherwise retain their distinct identities. There are several different types of agreements that can support a joint venture.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 03 February 2021