The two universities will work with voluntary sector representative organisations including umbrella body the NCVO, chief executives body Acevo and the Social Enterprise Coalition.
"We want to have all the major sector-wide agencies involved because we are committed to research that is valuable to the sector and can be disseminated across it," said Pete Alcock, who has been appointed director of the centre.
He will relinquish his role as head of the school of social sciences at Birmingham University to take up the new position on 1 September. John Mohan, professor of social policy at Southampton University, has been appointed his deputy.
Alcock pledged to provide an "extensive and robust research resource" for the third sector that will help it demonstrate the value of its work.
The Centre for Public Service Partnerships, which is based at Birmingham University, will conduct research for the centre on how good charities are at delivering public services.
The Economic and Social Research Council and the Office of the Third Sector will each contribute £5m towards the centre, with the Barrow Cadbury Trust adding £250,000.
The centre will publish an annual 'state of the sector' report showing what research is being undertaken each year.
Third sector minister Phil Hope said the centre would "develop the evidence base on the sector and the impact it has on people's lives".
Middlesex University and Lincoln University have been awarded £1m contracts to run 'capacity-building clusters' to support the centre's work.
Organisations involved in the bid include Acevo, the Association for Research in the Voluntary and Community Sector, Charities Evaluation Services, the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Organisations, Futurebuilders England, GuideStar UK, the Housing Associations' Charitable Trust, the Institute for Public Policy Research, the Institute for Volunteering Research, the NCVO, the Social Enterprise Coalition, UnLtd and Voice4Change England.