Charity partnerships: 5 top tips for success
Louise Beales, Head of the Charities Practice at Odgers Interim, discusses how charities can complete a successful partnership
The third sector is integral to the lives of those most in need in our society. It is a sector full of passion, dedication and individuals committed to causes they believe greater themselves. But it is also a heavily congested space for organisations to work in. Multiple charities fighting the same battle will inevitably compete for the same pot of money, unnecessarily duplicate resources, limit their potential for growth and ultimately dilute the cause’s message.
It is a problem that can be solved through the formation of partnerships. For many chief executives however, this is the sort of joint venture that is incredibly difficult to make work, involves extensive change and poses no small amount of risk. Nonetheless, getting it right means delivering far greater value to stakeholders, a significant decrease in costs and creates a more compelling message for the cause. This is how you can bring two charities together and create a successful partnership:
1. Start from a position of strength
Historically, charities have turned to partnerships when they are facing financial or even organisational difficulties. As a last ditch effort at keeping the charity alive, partnerships formed in these conditions are often rushed, leading to a loss of talented employees and create cultural imbalances. What’s more, one charity is likely to take on the problems of the other instead of creating a single, stronger organisation.
Timing is therefore critical and partnerships should be formed when both charities are in a position of strength. This allows for effective financial planning and means both parties can prepare themselves for cultural and resourcing changes. It also means that the new brand can go through the natural process of evolution, rather than being forced onto stakeholders.
2. Get your Board on board
Getting both your own and the potential partner charity’s Board to commit to the joint venture is the first and most difficult practical step in achieving a successful partnership.
They must truly understand the benefits of merging the two charities and support the decision entirely. The only way this can be done is through effective communication and indisputable evidence of what can be achieved in the long-term.
After all, it is entirely probable that half of each charity’s Board members will have to step down. To convince them to do so, they must be able to understand and support the benefits of that sacrifice.
3. Communicate internally
For a partnership to be successful, you need the support of the charity’s employees. This is only achieved through effectively communicating the reasoning behind the proposed partnership, the vision of the bigger picture and the positive change that will come about as a result.
If the rumour of a potential merger is left to fester, this inevitably leads to mass redundancies as employees grow concerned about their future career security. To mitigate this, all communication needs to be led with the message that ‘we want you all to stay.’ Some attrition of the workforce will still happen as the two organisations merge but this will be a natural process over time, rather than a mass exodus.
4. Make behind the scenes changes before external changes
A charity’s brand is the cornerstone of its capabilities, whether that is fundraising, campaigning or attracting volunteers. It is a carefully nurtured commodity that is both the charity’s legacy and the force that attracts the many legions of supporters. This is the last thing that you want to change in the formation of a partnership.
Instead, begin with the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the charity. This includes all resourcing changes of teams and functions, the potential site move and any back office and IT changes. Creating a shared service centre model for both charities to begin pooling resources is often the best place to start.
The most successful partnerships are not always an even split of resources; one charity may have more efficient back office services whilst another might be more focused on delivering front-line services. This is something that needs to be to be incorporated into any planned partnership.
5. Prepare to hand over the reins
Lastly and most importantly, you must be prepared to potentially handover aspects of your role as the leader of the charity and even do yourself out of a job entirely.
A partnership should always be for the greater good of the cause both charities are working towards. It is a leap of faith that needs to come above personal career aspirations and therefore may require a level of self-sacrifice from those leading it.
There will always be a level of hesitancy when it comes to these ventures. For a leader, it can be hard to find the time and there’s almost always something that takes priority and gets in the way. However, in overcoming and pushing through these barriers, you will provide a better future for the people that your cause supports.
For more information, please contact Louise Beales.