Tips on how to collaborate with other charities summarised:

  • Look for informal collaborating opportunities, such as sharing information
  • Take time to assess the benefits of collaboration
  • Determine whether a joint funding bid really meets the needs of your beneficiaries
  • Embrace the opportunity to explore new ways of doing things, including digitally
  • Assess what makes your charity worth collaborating with

Collaboration has always been an important consideration for charities, particularly smaller ones, wanting to increase their impact and effectiveness. 

According to The Foundation for Social Improvement (FSI) it can not only help to solve social problems but also facilitate efficiency, growth and sustainability. And the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 crisis have compelled organisations to find new ways of working together – both to survive and deliver on their mission.

A House of Lords inquiry committee calling for evidence from charities on the impact of the pandemic on public services says it has already encouraged “radical thinking in some areas”, resulting in “collaboration across the voluntary sector, NHS and social care providers, police, local authorities and community services”.

Research undertaken by FSI in 2016 found that two-third of small charities had reported some form of collaboration, with networking the most common form (90%). It identified four other types of joint working - strategic alliances, formal partnerships, joint ventures and mergers.

So, while collaboration can mean different things, one common aspect, especially at a community level, are the different types of organisations coalescing around similar audiences – or beneficiaries.

There are many ways of making this work. It can be informal signposting, where organisations come together to understand what each other is doing to avoid duplication, or more formally, it can be charities bidding for funding in partnership, to jointly deliver services. Recent years has seen an increased desire from funders for this model.  

Michael Mapstone, CAF’s executive director who oversees policy, research, public affairs and international partnerships, says there has been a huge amount of collaboration during Covid-19.

He identifies collaboration on the fundraising side, such the 2.6 Challenge, created in response to the postponed London Marathon and other large sponsorship events throughout the UK, and the special Giving Tuesday Now day.

He also highlights a sharing of knowledge, best practice, and learning around how to run an organisation in a lockdown scenario. “Whether that’s employees working from home, discussing what technology is free and available to use, or how to adapt your outreach to communities, the learning is coming out hugely and it is global, which is fascinating.”

Charities’ engagement with the digital world has been brought into sharper focus during the pandemic.

The Charity Digital Code raises questions about traditional ways of leading, offering opportunities for leaders to build networks and collaborate further. It recommends that leaders and boards should explore the new ways of working and communicating that digital offers, eg by collaborating through platforms such as Slack, WhatsApp and other social media, and looking at how peers and similar organisations are using these tools.

It says that “the right culture will develop the confidence and motivation of staff and volunteers in digital, shaping the accompanying behaviour by increasing collaboration, creating momentum, breaking down siloes, empowering people to share new ideas, using data to improve decision making and increasing transparency”. 

The Code has produced a checklist to help leaders with decisions they can make about digital during the crisis, which says that remote working is changing the culture at all levels of charities, and leading to staff and volunteers in becoming even more collaborative.   

Speaking in Third Sector, Mike Adamson, British Red Cross (BRC) chief executive, says that Covid-19 has forced charities to take more risks.

“We know that building new relationships and experimenting with new ways of supporting people is the only way to respond to the unprecedented level of need created."

For example, its new partnership with FareShare has given BRC an insight into the worsening food poverty and allowed it to pool volunteer resources.

As chair of the Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership, Mike Adamson has also seen the way that something as simple as engaging in an open dialogue enables more diverse insights on the needs of different communities to be shared and opens new avenues for reaching vulnerable groups. “Crucially, collaborating allows us to support more people than we would otherwise.”

Therefore, when charities look ahead to surviving Covid-19 and beyond they need to form a vision of better collaboration and partnership. In many smaller charities there is an internal silo mentality, so they need to learn to collaborate within their own small teams before they start working in partnership effectively.

Formal collaboration carries risk and is not easy. Charities need to be prepared to invest time and resources without a guarantee that others will do the same. They can be delicate and complex to navigate, and when they fail they can have severe consequences both on the services provided and the reputations and financial stability of the charities involved.

Therefore, charities who seek to collaborate must be clear on the social purpose for collaboration and take all steps necessary to ensure success.

Theoretically, collaborating on funding bids allows small charities to access money and initiatives they wouldn’t get and/or could not deliver on their own. However, leaping head first into a new relationship without undertaking due diligence, and checking if values and approaches align, can lead to worrying issues down the line.

Michael Mapstone says that while funders don’t always make it easy, the really important thing is to take a step back.

“Make sure you have a really good grip on what your strengths and weaknesses are, your resources, what you have in place to make you a partner fit to be partnering with. You need to have a really strong understanding of what your values and objectives are.”

He cautions: “Don’t be distracted by the money. It is very important, of course, but charities need to constantly remind themselves not only to concentrate on the potential resources at a very difficult time but their beneficiaries and mission.

Ben May is the Charities Marketing Manager at CAF. With over 10 years' experience in the not-for-profit sector, Ben is committed to boosting the impact of charities globally. Find him on LinkedIn.

Survive. Adapt. Thrive.

Explore more actions to survive, tools to adapt and strategies to thrive during and after the Covid-19 crisis. Use the links below or get an overview of the resources available now

How charities are adapting to Covid-19

Susan Pinkney shares our research into the ways charities are innovating (3 min watch).

Watch the video

Collaborating with other charities

Michael Mapstone on why charities should consider working with others (5 min watch).

Watch the video

Nailing and communicating your mission statement

Beth Clarke on how to get your mission across to donors (5 min watch).

Watch the video