There is some - largely anecdotal but growing - evidence that one consequence of the constant changes in today's voluntary sector is that while small, local charities can, chameleon-like, adapt to the changes, and the larger charities have the infrastructure to absorb new developments, it is the medium-sized charities that are being squeezed. That is why the NCVO's partnership initiative, the Collaborative Working Unit, is so important.
There has, of course, always been co-operation between large and small charities - some of the more enlightened grant-making foundations have financially supported joint charity ventures. Other trusts have gone further and provided feasibility funding to explore whether joint working, sharing infrastructure costs or even merger is desirable for some bodies. But if real joint working is to be seriously explored, it needs an initiative that will somehow bring together both the Government and third sector support.
One modest proposal is government funding through grant-making foundations and trusts. The usual response to any such perceived need is for the Government to set up a new fund, with the accompanying fanfare that such initiatives inevitably involve.
But a simple scheme whereby government would match-fund grant-making trusts that encourage joint working schemes, has a new set of advantages.
First, it cuts down on infrastructure costs as it would largely be administered (and evaluated) by the trusts themselves, meaning the Government could adopt a light-touch approach. Second, it allows trusts, many of which have a good feel for what is happening at a grass-roots level, to gain additional leverage from their grants.
If, say, a trust makes a grant of £25,000 to two charities working together, the Government could match this with a similar amount, sending out a powerful message about the advantages of joint working between large, medium and small charities. It might also have the advantage of forging a new alliance between government and one of the last bastions of independence, the world of trusts and foundations. And what works at central government level could be replicated between local government, foundations and local charities.
It may not be a total solution, but it could be a new and interesting piece in the jigsaw.