At Work: Partnerships - Collaborators - Non-profits working together - Charityshare 'is worth a million'

Mathew Little

The firm set up to run IT facilities for two children's charities has been a success.

Less than two years after the NSPCC and the Children's Society formed a separate company to run their IT facilities, they are reporting savings of more than £1m and faster technical development.

The partnership has generated dilemmas about accountability, but it has done well enough to persuade its founders to consider expansion by opening talks with two other major charities.

The idea for Charityshare emerged at a meeting of the finance directors of the NSPCC, the Children's Society and Barnardo's. The three charities then commissioned a feasibility study in early 2004.

Although Barnardo's pulled out, the remaining partners forged ahead to form Charityshare, a limited company, in January last year. The firm is responsible for supplying computers to both sets of staff, maintaining Microsoft systems and running the helpdesk. Each charity retains its own unique software packages.

To avoid having to outsource any functions, the charities established Charityshare as an agent. The firm can't own assets itself - it buys IT equipment and runs it on behalf of the charities.

According to John Graham, finance director at the NSPCC, the partnership has saved his charity £500,000 a year. Anticipated savings of 20 per cent have been superseded by efficiencies of about 30 per cent. Charles Nall, director of corporate services at the Children's Society, says the cost of PC support has fallen from £1,200 per computer to £800.

There has been some confusion of roles, however. Both Graham and Nall double as directors of Charityshare and of their own charities - they remain ultimately responsible for holding the company, of which they are directors, to account. "Occasionally I find myself in a difficult position in which I wear the Charityshare hat but also run the IT function inside the NSPCC," confesses Graham.

But the project has proved its worth. "Operationally, it works," says Nall. "We have the service level statistics to demonstrate it."

Charityshare is close to agreeing deals to bring another two charities into the arrangement, and Graham says it could be replicated in other areas. "Let's prove that it can work for three charities, and then you can look at other back-office functions," he says.

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