What are the 5 secrets of successful 3rd sector consortia?

  • TRUST is the essential partnership ingredient. Yes, you may have working agreements in place; yes, you may have a confidentiality policy; and yes, you may have business terms agreed. This isn’t enough if you don’t share the same motivations and personal values. In an environment in which organisations have increasingly viewed one another as competitors, sharing can be challenging. As with all relationships, trust is something you will need to keep building at every stage of your journey together. Conflict of interest, or potential for conflict of interest, needs to be continually revisited.
  • TIME is required from everyone. Committing to be a Director of a company, or even signing up your organisation as a member of a consortium is only the start of the journey. In order to realise the value of the partnership, everyone involved needs to recognise what is required of them and how their commitment can be maintained. Everyone has other responsibilities and therefore considering how to share the workload of the group is essential if the venture is to be a success that truly builds on combined strengths.
  • RESOURCE your HUB! In additional to identifying Directors and initial members, a decision needs to be taken on how best to run the central functions of the consortium. There are instances of consortia funding a full CEO role, with additional core staff. On the plus side, this means the consortium will be somebody’s day job and a live concern. On the downside, this can encourage members to view the staff as the consortium and neglect their own commitment. (Plus it’s expensive!) Another option has been to use a local CVS to run the hub. Whilst there are instances of this working well, there can be challenges to building a partnership on the back of an infrastructure model that may not reflect new regional commissioning footprints. A third option is to use an external organisation that has specialist skills in governance, bid management and policy horizon scanning. Whilst it may be counterintuitive to use services located out of the consortium’s area, the benefit of tapping into specialist skills may be invaluable in terms of positioning the consortium effectively in an increasingly challenging commissioning environment.
  • CARE must first and foremost be given to your own organisation. Whilst a new partnership can be exciting and initially will require significant input, in the long run the strength of the group needs to come from the health of its constituent parts. If your own organisation suffers due to the amount of energy you are putting into the consortium, no one will thank you. The consortium needs to add value to work you are already doing. Getting that right will be a constant challenge  so it may be worth putting in some checks and balances both with the consortium and your own board to ensure that your vision is shared around the risk vs. reward calculation.
  • EXPECTATIONS should be realistic but ambitious. After all, why go to the trouble of forming a complex partnership if you are not going to seriously consider your heavyweight potential? Understanding your operating environment is essential to positioning yourselves effectively. For example, why limit yourselves to a single county when your council is on the brink of becoming part of a combined authority? Why focus too narrowly on a single client group or cause when new contracts are increasingly cross-cutting in terms of regional priorities, reducing health inequalities or supporting community cohesion? Think about the value the combinations your membership or other potential partners can add. Remember, the consortium is not bound by the mission of all its constituent partners but will likely have a broader remit which means it can, and should, try something new. Now is the time to move beyond conventional service models into combined offers that build on collective skills yet offer something new that speaks to the very real social challenges in communities across the UK. If they are able to learn the lessons from the trailblazers of the last five years, regional or city-wide consortia have the potential to meet the challenge of integration and devolution in a way no single organisation can alone.

Note: ACEVO now offers the Consortium toolkit free to ACEVO members. ACEVO Solutions advises on hub and business development functions for consortia and other partnerships. The team has particular expertise relating to consortia seeking to deliver services in areas with devolved budgets and integrated commissioning arrangements.

Keri Landau, Business Development Manager

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