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Bad experiences of collaboration breeds mistrust between charities, report warns

03 Feb 2021 News

Negative experiences of collaboration have “corroded trust” between some charities, according to a report calling for organisations to work together more effectively.

The report Rebalancing the Relationship,  jointly published by NCVO, ACEVO and the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, said that small charities in particular can find it hard to “bounce back” when collaboration goes wrong.

It said that poor experiences of collaboration often arise when charities get together to bid for public commissioning contracts, although this process has benefited some voluntary organisations.

We must 'acknowledge our mistakes'

There are “bright sparks” of collaboration between charities, but some “negative experiences have corroded trust”, the report said.

It said: “We must first acknowledge why things have previously gone wrong [when charities collaborate], and acknowledge our mistakes. 

“We can then focus on changing our behaviours and attitudes to partnerships and building back better together, including by collectively tackling broken commissioning practices.”  

The report added: “Some respondents expressed good experiences with commissioners. However, the majority of respondents were very negative about funding practices and their impact on communities and organisations. 

“While some believe competitive tendering is good to work out who is best to deliver, there are others who believe the system is fundamentally flawed.”

Giving evidence to parliament last month, as part of an inquiry into proposed changes to procurement rules, Paul Streets, chief executive of the Lloyds Bank Foundation, said that the plan “simply isn’t going to work” for charities.

Large charities criticised

Some respondents raised concerns about large charities undermining the efforts of smaller local organisations, and trying to “game the system” to win contracts without delivering adequate services. 

However, another respondent argued that partnerships between large and small charities can benefit junior partners by bringing in “regular income to smaller groups, often in marginalised groups, meaning they bring in more funding and improve their governance”.

One charity told the researchers that small charities “shared the upside” when services were delivered, while “we took the risk of the downside” of putting up most resources.

The report draws on evidence collected from more than 200 charities over a year and a half.

Building on the response to Covid-19 

Sarah Vibert, interim chief executive at NCVO, said: “During the pandemic, collaboration and partnership have become the default way of working. 

“Voluntary sector organisations of all sizes collaborated quickly, willingly and effectively to get people the help they need. 

“This collaboration has supported the deployment of millions of volunteers and has enabled charities to be agile in responding to changing community needs. 

“It has also created a stronger, more unified sector voice for influencing central government. 

“There is an opportunity as we emerge from the pandemic for charities – of all types and sizes – to build on this collaboration to ensure communities can continue to access high quality support.”

Vicky Browning, chief executive of ACEVO, said: “This report clearly demonstrates that collaborative, generous leadership is more essential than ever for voluntary organisations and the people we work with to thrive. 

“While the report identifies clear ways in which the competitive commissioning environment needs to change, there are also positive opportunities for leaders to create collaborative cultures – for example, listening to staff, working with boards to manage risk, and taking a nuanced approach to growth.”

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