People Management: Three minutes with Kate Aldous, Collaborative Working Unit manager, NCVO

When should charities think about collaborating? Charity Commission guidelines say that charities in general should collaborate more to improve efficiency, but there are specific instances in which it might make particular sense. For example, if a number of charities support new legislation in an area - Sustain, for instance, has been co-ordinating support for the Children's Food Bill for other charities such as Barnardo's and Cancer Research UK.

What other areas might bring collaboration? It might not only be on policy where charities overlap - it might also make sense from a geographical point of view.

For example, a small charity called Action for Change won a government contract in Brighton and Hove by teaming up with Addaction. It probably wouldn't have got it on its own because it is so small, and Addaction didn't have the same level of local knowledge. Charities can also collaborate on back-office services such as ICT - the NSPCC and the Children's Society have done this.

What issues should charities take into account before embarking on a collaboration? When charities merge, they normally carry out a risk assessment. This might also be worthwhile if they are collaborating. It's worth considering if the other charity has a different way of working, and who is going to pay VAT. It's also a good idea to decide what each charity's responsibilities are, and put them down in writing.

What are the potential benefits? Access to greater resources and expertise - and, in the long run, more income. It can also enable charities in the same area to speak to the Government with one voice.

What are the pitfalls? It can be time-consuming and expensive, and it can lead to a loss of autonomy, conflict or even bad publicity. This shouldn't happen, however, if the collaboration is properly planned.

For a free copy of Should You Collaborate?, call the NCVO on 0800 2798 798.

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