Voluntary bodies considering merger should tackle structure and governance issues early on, says report

London Voluntary Service Council publication looks at lessons from failed merger of three organisations

London Voluntary Service Council report
London Voluntary Service Council report

Voluntary sector organisations that are considering merging should make sure they deal with key questions such as structure early in the process, according to a new report.

Vital ingredients when merger and collaboration are on the menu was published today by the London Voluntary Service Council and Voluntary Sector Forum.

The research, carried out by Tim Brogden, policy officer at the LVSC, and funded by London Councils, is based on interviews with people from 15 organisations that have gone through a merger.

The report looks at successful mergers, such as Disability Rights UK, which in 2011 brought together the Royal Association for Disability Rehabilitation, Disability Alliance and the National Centre for Independent Living, due to financial reasons.

It also looks at a failed merger involving three organisations whose identities are not revealed.

The recommendations the report derives from the failed merger include making sure difficult issues such as structure, governance and leadership are dealt with early in the process.

It also stresses the importance of being honest, particularly about "bottom line" issues, and not underestimating the time, energy and financial cost that the process will take.

The report also looks at examples of collaborative and partnership working.

The report recommends that VCS organisations consider partnership or merger as a solution in cash-strapped times only if it benefits service users, and that they seek support and advice.

For funders, the report recommends that if partnership bids are a condition of funding, they should allow appropriate time for them to be developed and offer opportunities for support and partnership brokerage.

"For some in the VCS, the big issue now is about survival: it is the choice between co-operation and collaboration or closure," the report concludes. "Others feel that collaborative working is being forced on VCS organisations if they want to bid for ever larger contacts, which are their only chance of survival.

"Just as none of us knows what will happen to the VCS in London once the dust settles on public sector cuts and welfare reform, it seems likely that having read through these case studies, having talked to all these passionate and committed people, something pretty wonderful will remain."

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