The Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) reports that there are more than 56,000 registered charities in Australia. This number is also growing at almost 4% per year.
As discussed in Equity Trustees’ Annual Giving Review 2018, what we are hearing from the sector is that limited philanthropic dollars, increased competition for government funding and an ever-growing demand for services has generated interest and indeed action towards sector collaboration.
For some, this collaboration has moved beyond discussions and “working better together” on discrete projects to complete organisational integration.
SAVE THE CHILDREN
A global organisation, Save the Children gives a powerful voice to children and champions their rights. Since 1919, Save the Children has supported some of the hardest-to-reach and most vulnerable children and young people around the world. Like many other charities working under a federated model, the first phase of “working better together” came in 2004 when its Australian state branches consolidated to become a single, national entity.
With the goal to make an even greater impact for children, Save the Children Australia joined forces with Good Beginnings Australia in 2015. For the Chair of Save the Children, Peter Hodgson, this merger was a highlight of the organisation’s long history to date, describing it as “a really important step as we act to consolidate the sector and continue our mission”.
The merger resulted in the creation of Australia’s largest and most respected humanitarian aid agency dedicated to improving the lives of thousands of children across the country. CEO Paul Ronalds says the move deepened the group’s programming expertise, increased its policy influence with government, made it more attractive to donors, and generated significant financial savings.
Save the Children Australia didn’t stop there. The success of the 2015 merger inspired them to begin discussions with Hands on Learning Australia, an organisation that creates opportunities for school students at risk of dropping out to discover their talents and experience success through meaningful community projects. In 2017, Hands on Learning and Save the Children joined forces under a shared goal to help young Australians stay connected to school. This merger has increased the number of schools participating by 30% and provides resources to seek funding for expanding the program nationally.
HOUSE WITH NO STEPS
The rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in 2016 created a promise to put people living with a disability at the centre of the scheme. While the national rollout has not been without its challenges, it has encouraged service providers to shine a light on their internal systems and programs and ask, “How can we best serve our clients and create more impact in their lives?”
At House with No Steps, an organisation with almost six decades of history of advocating for and supporting the needs of individuals with a disability, they realised that a national system necessitates a national response. CEO Andrew Richardson said they chose to merge with The Tipping Foundation, a Victorian disability service provider, after “an exhaustive process of looking at our culture and the complementarity of our services. Ultimately it made a whole lot of sense for us to come together.”
“With our combined experience, we’ll help our customers flourish under the NDIS. We’ll do that by providing consistent, highquality services throughout eastern Australia; by investing in our workforce so we attract, develop and retain great staff; and by implementing new technologies that make us easier to engage with and the NDIS easier to navigate.”
With a ‘common DNA’ and shared Vision, Mission and Values, House with No Steps and The Tipping Foundation commenced their new history together in March 2018.
As CEO of the amalgamated organisation, Andrew Richardson confirms that the rationale for the merger is all about serving the community better: “It’s a huge milestone for House with No Steps and The Tipping Foundation. We’ve joined forces to support more people with a disability in more places in new and better ways. We’re now one united, for-purpose organisation, committed to the human rights and well-being of all people with a disability.”
Of course, merging charities – much like mergers in the for-profit world – is not easy, and requires a lot of work and adjustment.
Beyond the complexities of the number-crunching, both organisations must harmoniously align their Values, Mission, culture and beneficiary outcomes, as well as ensure that staff and volunteers are on board for the journey. Key to this is moving past the ego and protective behaviours that can sometimes get in the way of true organisational collaboration.
Nevertheless, as we have just seen, successful mergers are certainly possible and their upshot can be very powerful. Save the Children and House with No Steps are just two of many examples of “working better together”, successfully amplifying the value of finite fundraising and philanthropic dollars towards supporting those in need
Left: Tanya Plibersek MP visits Save the Children’s Hands on Learning Program.
Right (and banner): House with No Steps’ packaging business provides employment and training for about 50 people with a disability, and is one of their nine different businesses.