EDITORIAL: Collaboration or mergers will cut out overcrowding

Lucy Maggs

Cancer and homelessness are notoriously over-crowded causes in the voluntary sector. Having a huge number of organisations working in the same area can't possibly be the most efficient way of providing services.

Organisations operating in a crowded market need to consider if they are really doing the best thing for their users, or if they could achieve more by merging. If full merger is not possible they should at least be considering the possibility of sharing head office functions such as HR.

Mergers and collaborative working both cut administrative costs, meaning more money can be spent on beneficiaries.

There is also a public perception problem that there are too many charities working in the same area which can lead to confusion and leave the impression that the sector is wasteful and inefficient.

Of course, there is a need for a number of charities if they are providing different services to suit different users, but they need to ensure they are providing an innovative and useful service and not just replicating what already exists.

One of the obstacles to merger is the attachment staff and trustees develop to an organisation. From volunteers to chief executives, people build up a relationship with "their charity". This attachment is far more emotional than in private or public sector organisations and people find it difficult to accept that it is not providing an exceptional service.

The forced merger of charities is not the answer. It would result in resentment and destruction, but staff and trustees do need to be made to take a step back and consider whether there is a case at least for collaborative working.

NCVO has set up a unit to advise charities on precisely these issues, but is careful to emphasise that it will be neutral and only assist organisations once they have decided to merge. But if charities are proving to be reticent about joining forces, maybe they need more of a shove than gentle encouragement.

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