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Working together to achieve your mission

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A type of collaborative working

This page looks at how organisations collaborate on the projects that directly contribute to their overall mission.

Voluntary and community organisations working together on joint projects can make their frontline activities more effective and/or more efficient. If your collaboration successfully achieves one of these outcomes, it does not necessarily mean the other will follow as a matter of course.

It is trustees' responsibility to make sure that an organisation's activities further the aims set down in its governing document. So when deciding whether and how to collaborate on joint projects, the most important question is whether joint working will make you more effective for your beneficiaries.

NCVO's checklist, 'Should you collaborate? Key questions', offers more general guidance to help organisations make informed decisions about whether to collaborate.

Preparing to work together

60% of organisations responding to a survey on collaboration between voluntary organisations said that 'working with other charities takes more time than we expected.'

Although it can bring great benefits, working with other organisations is more complex than working alone. Its success rests on a combination of formal and informal ways of achieving good working relationships on both an organisational and an individual level.

It is essential to discuss how you will work together, defining roles, responsibilities and contractual or other legal obligations, and to get this in writing in a joint working agreement. People working in collaboration also cite the importance of values, such as trust, in their relationships. However, even where you have a pre-existing relationship and trust on which to build, preparation, planning and a written agreement can help you avoid misunderstandings.

It is important that staff and volunteers understand why their organisation is working collaboratively and have an insight to partners' aims and values. Time spent developing an understanding of partners' culture can help people from different organisations to work together.

Securing organisational commitment to the collaboration should lessen the impact of staff moving on and ensure that your own organisation supports this way of working with resources and understands the investment needed to make collaboration work.

Successful collaborative working takes time and long term benefits may only result from considerable effort as you set up and maintain joint working arrangements. Partners need to plan for and explain this to all stakeholders.

Issues to consider

Funding a joint project

Organisations vary in the funding mix they rely on to support their work. When you work together, you need a funding plan for your joint work. This should clarify whether you aim to support the work with funding secured for that particular project and how much you intend to draw on each organisation's existing funds or unrestricted income. While it is sensible to draw on the strengths of each organisation in particular types of fundraising, joint working also provides an opportunity for organisations to learn from each other.

  • Who will be responsible for co-ordinating your fundraising?
  • Funders often require that one organisation acts as accountable body for the receipt of funding. Which partner will take this role?
  • How will you explain the joint project in fundraising material?
  • How will you handle interim funding needs - for a feasibility study, risk assessment or the project set-up phase?

Charities must account for their collaborative projects in line with the Charities' Statement of Recommended Practice and describe the funding arrangements transparently in their annual accounts.

For good practice in securing and delivering public contracts with other voluntary organisations, please see 'Joint working for public service delivery'.

Management structure

Someone in each organisation should be responsible for that partner's contribution to your joint project. Managers not used to joint decision-making may find the process time consuming and counter cultural. The key is to discuss and agree roles and responsibilities.

  • How are you going to lead and manage your joint project? Many partnerships are led by a project co-ordinator from the accountable body, with a joint steering group overseeing the work. How senior should they be?
  • Is one organisation better placed to co-ordinate a particular area of the work where they already have expertise?
  • How can you get 'buy-in' from the relevant staff and volunteers before they start work?

See 'Structures for joint projects' for the different ways that trustees oversee collaborative work.

Staffing a joint project

The staff who deliver collaborative projects may do so as part of their existing post or they may be employed to work on a specific project. They may remain based in their own organisation or they may work in more than one location. In each case, careful planning and regular communication are essential for the arrangement to work well.

  • Who will legally employ the staff working on the project?
  • Who will bear additional costs such as maternity leave payments?
  • How will line management arrangements work?
  • How can you ensure staff remain informed of the work of partner organisations and have a chance to feed into project planning?

Clarity and consistency are key when a member of staff is working in more than one organisation. For instance, if there are disciplinary or grievance issues, the employee, employer and other organisation/s must all be clear on who has line management responsibility and therefore which organisation's policy and procedure to follow.

Working across organisations can be difficult for a member of staff. Terms and conditions, working practices and cultures vary between organisations and these factors can affect how valued, involved and supported staff working on a joint project may feel. It is important to be aware of such differences early on so you can decide how to handle them.

If new work involves staff moving from one employer to another, organisations may be affected by TUPE, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations. Legal advice should be taken on whether this applies to you.

Communication and conflict

Poor communication is behind many of the disputes that threaten to stall collaborative working. A written agreement should minimise such misunderstandings. More informally, it is vital to keep lines of communication open, talking or meeting regularly and sticking to the schedule you devise for this together.

  • How do staff and volunteers and their managers think the joint work is going? Discuss how best to keep each other in the loop - options range from ad hoc emails and phone contact to conference calls, meetings, written updates and awaydays.
  • Are you clear on the boundaries of your collaboration? For example, sharing operations does not mean partners hold the same policy positions. When are you speaking on behalf of just your own organisation and when are you speaking as a group?
  • Decide at the outset how you will manage any dispute between partners. There are costs to mediation - the golden rule is for organisations to keep talking so that they avoid making the assumptions that could lead to more serious problems.

Public Relations

There may be a case for publicising that you are working collaboratively, although service users and the wider public are likely to be concerned only about the quality of the outcomes that collaboration achieves.

Such publicity can:

  • demonstrate the efficiency of your joint use of donations or funding
  • diminish concerns about duplication of activities within the sector
  • give funders and policy makers the message that you are putting beneficiary interests above organisational profile
  • signal to other organisations that the partner organisations are willing to work, and good at working, in partnership
  • support organisational buy-in to the project from staff, volunteers and other stakeholders - promoting 'quick wins' motivates people as everyone wants to be part of success
  • alert funders to the benefits of collaborative working, perhaps opening up future funding opportunities.

However, issues around publicity and branding can arouse strong feelings so they need sensitive handling. Joint projects have faltered over which organisation's name comes first in a press release.

A joint project may be seen as 'owned' by some partner organisations more than others, perhaps where organisations vary in their degree of operational involvement, financial investment or where one partner is already well-known.

From the beginning, it is wise to agree a joint branding policy that is consistent and fair. Getting this agreement in writing and securing commitment to it reduces the likelihood of action which might later cause conflict. In a large organisation where some staff may not be aware that a project is collaborative, this document can also guide how they present it externally.

  • Does your organisation have brand-sharing guidance to be consulted?
  • Will organisations' names, logos or descriptions always appear in the same order in publicity material? Will they alternate? Or;
  • Will you create a brand for your joint work? Bear in mind that an additional brand in your subsector may be competing against your organisation's own brand.
  • Which groups are your priority audience for publicity? Consider the general public, the media and other organisations.

Reviewing joint work

Beneficiaries do not have to be aware that an activity is being delivered in partnership for the partnership to be successful. Regular reviews and users' feedback can help measure its impact.

  • Is your partnership achieving its objectives?
  • Are you achieving more by working collaboratively than by working alone?
  • What has gone well? What has gone less well?
  • Has your partnership or its activities changed since it began - do you need to make adjustments to how you work together?
  • Do all the partners still have shared aims?

Whatever changes partners may suggest, keep in mind why your organisation got involved in the first place and what will enable you to obtain the best outcome for your beneficiaries.

Structures for joint projects

Each organisation can maintain its own identity or partners can together create new organisations to run activities. The following points outline these options, but do not provide a comprehensive guide. Different structures are right for different organisations depending on their aims for the collaboration. Professional advice should help work out what is best in each case.

Joint working

Two or more separate organisations work together, but each organisation maintains its independence and its own identity.

  • The level of board and senior management involvement will vary with the scale of the collaboration and the type of organisations involved
  • Trustees have final responsibility for the activities of their organisation, including collaborative working arrangements
  • Boards of trustees may co-operate to oversee the collaboration for its duration. This could be by forming a joint committee with representatives from each board. Boards of trustees can agree a code of conduct to formalise how they will work together or;
  • Trustees may approve the collaboration, then delegate its implementation to a steering group of staff from each organisation with a project co-ordinator reporting back to this staff group
  • The collaboration can be controlled by a written agreement which separates the joint functions from the ongoing operations of each partner.

New organisation

Two or more organisations create a separate organisation to run activities for beneficiaries.

  • Each original organisation maintains its own identity distinct from the identity created for the new organisation
  • The new organisation is a legal entity in its own right. Its legal structure will vary. It may, for instance, be a registered charity as well as a company limited by guarantee, but there are many other options for the new organisation's structure
  • The original organisations may share the governance of the new organisation. In this case, the new organisation has its own separate board with each partner having an agreed number of seats on it
  • Another option is for one person to represent all the partner organisations on the board of the new organisation. The degree of influence the partners wish to have in the new organisation will determine which option is chosen
  • Where organisations' right to influence the running of the new organisation is not formalised by the governance arrangements, alternative mechanisms will usually be built into a written agreement.

Why create a new voluntary organisation?

Some organisations set up new organisations so that they can separate the collaborative working element from the continuing activities of each partner. This may be appropriate where there are significant financial or liability risks involved in starting new joint work.

Creating a separate organisation formalises the way that the shared work is managed, meaning that none of the partners should benefit unfairly from the advantages or suffer disproportionately from the disadvantages possible when sharing services.

Page last edited Mar 15, 2016

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