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Most voluntary organisations will have experience of partnership working at a basic level: networking, information-sharing and referral, joint events; perhaps also through involvement in joint strategies or delivery plans or through co-location of front-line staff.

Some voluntary organisations may have gone a further step by joining pre-tendering consortia such as the Third Sector Health & Wellbeing Consortium for Greater Manchester – such a preliminary step is fairly undemanding.

In the face of a funding crisis, organisations may need to consider deeper forms of collaboration. There are two main areas to consider:
• shared inputs or resources
• joint service delivery

Where both aspects of collaboration are being considered, it may make sense to consider full organisational merger.

Sharing resources may take the form of:
• Sharing management or administration (transfer, secondment, contracting)
• Sharing specialist functions (IT, HR, book-keeping, pay-roll etc)
• Sharing premises
• Sharing equipment & other resources

NB Staff-sharing may incur VAT liability. Check with your accountant.

Subject to the rules of any specific procurement exercise, joint service delivery may take the structural form of:
• Lead contractor and sub-contractor(s) – where overall responsibility and control lie clearly with the lead contractor. This is the simplest option, and it may be  particularly suitable for smaller organisations seeking “shelter”
• Consortium with steering group – where strategic planning and scrutiny are shared, but there is still one partner acting as the body accountable to the commissioners and exercising ultimate control. (This has a different “feel” to the previous option, but the objective difference is debatable.)
• Special purpose or special delivery vehicle – where a separate legal entity is created under joint ownership to deliver one or more services. The lack of a formal track record may be a disadvantage under procurement rules

For more detailed guidance see:
Getting Ready for Collaboration: Learning from Experience (IVAR)
Collaborate Resource Kit (HCAT)
Collaborative Working and Mergers: An Introduction (Charity Commission)
• Making a difference together? Planning, monitoring and evaluating voluntary and community sector collaborative working Guide (Charities Evaluation Services)