Regulation with Rosie: mergers

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman says that timing is key to a merger.

Stand-up comedy, asking for a pay rise and - I'm told - making the perfect souffle all have one thing in common. Their success is dependent on timing.

The same applies to successful charity mergers. Not all small charities seeking mergers or acquisitions do so from positions of strength. Some do so simply in order to survive.

Many small charities seek mergers only when the situation is so bad that they might be lost causes or require huge injections of cash to be rescued. This clearly isn't the best-case scenario, either for charities that are struggling or for the resource-limited larger organisations that absorb them.

Recognition that problems exist is key. The National Autistic Society was alert to this a few years ago, correctly anticipating that increasingly demanding requirements on service providers, coupled with the need to provide expert in-house skills, would lead to more small autism charities considering a future as part of the NAS. The charity's board developed a merger template, which it sent to all known autism service providers. It included an explanation reassuring these charities that it wasn't actively seeking to acquire them, but urging them to consider their long-term futures. If the logical conclusion for any one of them was that they didn't have a viable independent future, early dialogue with the NAS was a sensible first step.

Since issuing the template, two small autism charities have expressed an interest in merging with the NAS. If and when they finally do decide to merge, this early intervention could ensure they are in better shape at the point of merger than they would otherwise have been.

- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

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