Collaborate, Merge or……

Posted by | January 19, 2021 | Charity sector insights, Employers, Inspiration, Retention

Collaborate, Merge or……blog header

By Carolyn Brown

At last count, Charities Services reported 27,240 registered charities in New Zealand. I am betting that a large number of those are glad 2020 is over and are now furiously trying to figure out how to survive 2021.

For the lucky few of you, life will be business as usual. Sadly, for many, as the public (and Government) inevitably start to tighten their belts, your organisation’s survival might mean downsizing, ramping up the fundraising efforts or drawing down on emergency funds to keep you afloat.

If you are in the survival category, I encourage you to add collaborating or merging with organisations that have similar aims and structure to your list of possible outcomes.

nonprofit collaboration

Copyright New Internationalist Magazine

When I think about collaboration, I am reminded of the poster I had above my desk when I worked for New Internationalist magazine. We were a tiny office of two, so working with others to achieve our goals was almost mandatory.

I no longer work for them, but I still have the poster as I firmly believe in collaborating with others to achieve common objectives. During my long history with not for profit organisations, I have met many who have thought the same. Most recently, Craig Fisher and Steven Moe from RSM published a paper in June 2020, titled – Charting the Future, a framework for thinking about change. In it, they discuss a way forward for not for profits caught in the Covid crisis through collaboration or merger with others with similar purpose and structure.


Is it time to collaborate?

Collaboration usually entails pooling resources on a joint project or combining administration services to reduce overheads.

The creation of community hubs where NGO’s share office space is one example of collaboration that is growing in favour, even though the concept and practice have been around for decades.

I remember, back in 2005, multiple agencies working together to Make Poverty History. They were able to raise significant interest in the cause by working together through the distribution of wristbands and public events. We failed in making poverty history, of course, but it was one of the more successful examples of a multiagency approach to raising awareness.

Collaboration is easy when mission statements are similar; you trust each other and are okay with sharing the publicity. I know of at least one not for profit who refuses to be associated with other organisations on campaigns because they want to keep their brand pure. I think this rather short-sighted in the overall scheme of things and a case of putting their brand before their mission statement.

Collaboration doesn’t just have to be about sharing spaces or working on campaigns together. The Working Together More Fund (WTMF) suggests NPO’s collaborate by:

  • sharing physical facilities such as office space and equipment
  • sharing ‘backroom’ services – payroll, accounting, information technology, storage
  • sharing volunteers, secondment of staff – maybe even grant writers
  • cooperating at a planning level including allocating activities/clients to reduce duplication
  • sharing aspects of management/governance.


Maybe it’s time to merge?

Mergers are slightly more rare than collaborations in the NGO world but are not unheard of. For example, several organisations that once operated a collection of regional groups, with their own committees and structures, have now merged to form one national organisation with one Board and a head office overseeing nationwide activity.

The benefits of merging are not only limited to operational and governance cost savings. With so many charities created by individuals due to personal stories or events, it is increasingly difficult for the general public to decide who to give to. They might all be singing from the same song sheet, but their voices are lost in a cacophony of pitches and timing.  At least with a merge, you can guarantee the message will be sung in harmony.


Or, is it time to close your doors…?

If times are tough and the idea of merging or collaborating is NOT already on your radar, I urge you to consider it as a way to keep your mission statement alive. Which is more important, the name on the Trust Deed or your purpose? Unless your purpose is unique (and I can’t think of one that would be), merging or collaborating with another agency may be the best way to fulfil your goals. Ask your management team, Board of Directors, Trustees, volunteers – which option for 2021 best suits the reason why we exist?


Where to go for advice.

The WTMF was established in 2009 by various NZ funding organisations to “support collaborations and mergers that bring long-term benefits to non-profit organisations and the communities they serve”. NPO’s and charities interested in working together can apply for funding to help with the cost of collaboration or merger. To date, they have provided funding to over 300 organisations wanting to collaborate or merge with others.

So if you have been struggling to come up with a plan for 2021, revisit your mission statement and remember why you do what you do. It may well be that the best way for you to achieve your goals in a pandemic is to work with others.


Further reading.  



Niche Recruitment

CID The Council of International Development’s discussion paper on the Health of the international NPO sector from September 2020.


Stuff article on collaborating to survive.

The Guardian article on reasons why mergers are difficult for NGO’s   



About Carolyn Brown

Carolyn enjoys writing stuff that engages readers, makes them feel like they are in a conversation with the screen, and doesn’t require a dictionary on standby to make sense of what she has written.

When she is not creating content, she likes to keep busy volunteering for various not for profits; throwing sticks to her step-dog as they walk along North Beach in Christchurch, and enjoying the company of friends. If you would like to know more, head on over to her website or email her at [email protected]

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