Introduction

Last year NCVO, ACEVO and Lloyds Bank Foundation launched a project to address competition and collaboration between larger and smaller voluntary organisations. This work has focused on organisations working within the context of the competitive commissioning environment. By building awareness and understanding, this project aims to encourage organisations to work in a more collaborative way.

This work follows the Value of Small research commissioned by Lloyds Bank Foundation. This found that small and medium-sized organisations are often wary of collaborating with larger, national organisations. This work highlighted challenges including unsustainable payment models, concerns about losing control and identity, or the appropriation of ideas.

This interim report includes both emerging findings as well as draft recommendations for organisations.

Why this work matters

Organisations say they are dealing with a higher level of demand for support from the people and communities they serve. This is both in terms of volume and complexity and often alongside decreasing funding. Increasingly people require support from more than one organisation, especially if they are managing a range of different issues.

Whether organisations are large or small, national or local, they are working to tackle issues that are entrenched and systemic. This means we need a diverse ecosystem of organisations of all types and sizes to play their part within and alongside each other.

We also know organisations need to work in a different way with the people and communities they seek to serve and represent. There are some organisations, often but not always small and local, which have been ‘of’ rather than ‘for’ people since their formation. This approach has resulted in deep connection and empowerment in communities.

Organisations of all sizes need to work with and learn from these organisations if we are to develop responses that have a real and sustainable impact. As well as sustain trust and engagement in voluntary organisations.

Organisations have told us competitive behaviours between voluntary organisations are having a negative impact on the sector, people, and places. Good organisations are closing or shrinking. This is resulting in communities becoming disenfranchised and people losing the relationships, support and representation they need. If we do not act, the size and shape of the voluntary sector will change.

NCVO, ACEVO and Lloyds Bank Foundation recognise commissioning and procurement is challenging and will continue to push for change. But we cannot afford to wait for commissioning to change. There are many organisations that are demonstrating a more collaborative way of working even within the current environment. These organisations, and leaders, recognise the power they have compared to other organisations. They are open to working with others and base their way of working with others on empathy.

The sector needs to take responsibility for its own future and behaviour. All organisations have a responsibility to consider their impact on the sector. But those with more power (in terms of influence or resource) have a greater responsibility. This is not just a matter of avoiding harming other organisations. It is crucial we actively create an environment that ensures a range of good organisations can serve their communities.