Is it time for more charity mergers? No.

An interesting piece from David Walker in Guardian Society on the need or otherwise for more charity mergers. For Walker the key questions are:

So why have there not been more charity mergers? Shouldn’t merger and concentration be options, especially during financial stringency? Of course. But the question is whether trustees, left to their own devices, will seek opportunities and work, as it often turns out, towards their own demise.

These are all good questions but what’s missing is the question of who benefits from large national charities merging with each other. Walker reports that:

Eight years ago, when the proposed merger of Shelter and Crisis fell apart, the then head of the government’s rough sleepers unit, Louise Casey, regretted “a lost opportunity to help homeless people more effectively”.

Having heard Ms Casey speak on a number of occasions, I certainly don’t doubt her noble intentions as an individual but it doesn’t take a genius to see why the idea of a single massive national homelessness charity, carrying out most of the largescale activity in a sector, would seem like a great idea to a leading civil servant.

This kind of ‘consolidation of the market’ leaves the people in power with one organisation to deal with. In the case of homelessness, this merger would’ve left one massive charity balancing the demands of contracting with government, working with government to deliver shared goals and advocating for the needs of homeless people. It’s easy to see why at least one of the result – only one charity in a given sector having the muscle to question and challenge government – is wonderful news (at least in the short-term) for the government, it’s harder to see how it’s good news for the vulnerable people that those organisations work with.

This is not a problem with all mergers. Clearly the situation is very different for charities, such as the successfully-merged Cancer Research UK, whose work is based around getting money (mostly from private donors) to work towards a specific goal – particularly if, as with attempting find effective treatments for cancers, that goal is not a contentious one. However, when an organisation is involved in face-to-face to service delivery mergers accentuate two pre-existing problems for larger service providing charities:

  1. the problem of whether an efficient, consolidated structure is more or less likely to deliver services that are responsive to a wide range of specific individual needs
  2. the problem of the trade-off between delivering services for money and campaigning on behalf of the people you deliver services to

I’m not in the ‘big charities bad, small charities good’ camp. That’s clearly an overly simplistic position. Large charity that have been able to grow and scale-up because they provide good services to lots of people in lots of places are fundamentally a good thing. But one of the significant benefits of services being provided by voluntary sector providers rather than the government is diversity of provision this promotes, based on the different skills and organisational experiences of those providers.

In the field of mental health, different national charities specialise in serving and advocating for a range including (amongst others):

  • long-term in-patients
  • people who managed a mental health condition while living a ‘normal’ life
  • young people with mental health difficulties
  • carers

It definitely is important that charities working in a similar field find ways to work together – both on campaigns and in delivering specific services but, while many in the voluntary sector would object to the description, it’s this competition in the market that enables different voices to be heard and different groups of people to get the services and support that they need.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Is it time for more charity mergers? No.

  1. The reality is the larger Corporate Mental Health Charities already effectively operate as a cartel without acknowledging their conflicting ‘Provider’ and ‘Rights Representational’ roles – for example, see Rowntree Foundation report for difficulties this creates for genuine involvement in Commissioning local services – and it’s clear that the ‘Social Enterprise’ approach needs to openly acknowledge and resolve its own conflicted interests too as itsa fact that Social Spider’s own national One in Four magazine project only ‘ democratized ‘ and enabled people to leave comments on the One in Four website after 2 years of operation because the powerful top down ‘One in Four’ anti stigma networks closely aligned with the charity cartel , NMHDU and New Labour crashed when the latter and its over controlling ways got trounced back in May.

    Social Spider is certainly aware that using the One in Four name for its national magazine project is wholly divisive because One in Four became such a sterile and loaded political term that the powerful networks used to freeze out other perspectives of mental health and even ways of discussing mental health in the media and now that the One in Four magazine project has expanded it’s remit to mental health lifestyles in the plural and publishes system critical as well as simply ‘ aspirational ‘ content it really is time that Social Spider relaunched the mag with a less tainted and more inclusive title.

    In other words David put your own house in order before prenouncing on how much competition is required to enable different voices to be heard .

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  2. beanbagsandbullsh1t

    Dave,

    The reason why you haven’t been able to post comments on the One in Four website until now is that we had an old html site which didn’t have a comment facility. I used to update it myself in Dreamweaver. It took ages.

    We got some funding earlier this year for a range of activities related to One in Four, including £1000 towards building and maintaining a new website.

    We haven’t intentionally changed our remit but we’re always looking to provide as good a service as we can so I’m glad you think it’s improving a bit.

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  3. You were repeatedly asked to add a comments section to the funded One in Four national magazine project website to allow people with MH difficulties to openly comment and get their voices heard in the media.

    As for your excuse that you had to manually update the site in Dreamweaver, One in Four editor Mark Brown claims he was a successful website manage and you clearly had no problem setting up your own blog here so there was no tech barrier to the One in Four site being more inclusive and interactive, it just wasnt a priority for you guys. You’re also still ignoring issues around the continued use of the politically loaded and divisive One in Four title . Again, being more inclusive just doesn’t seem to be a priority.

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  4. beanbagsandbullsh1t

    Dave,

    As far as I know, we’ve never been asked to add a comments section to our website by anyone other than you. And up until now, we’ve never been funded – nationally or otherwise – to run a website at all.

    Rather than being contradictory, all the following statements are true: that I updated the One in Four website in Dreamweaver; that Mark has previously been a successful manager of a website; and that running an interactive website has not, until recently, been a priority for us. It is still less of a priority than producing a magazine and delivering training.

    I’m not really sure what you want from on us on the issue of the One in Four name.

    For us, the term expresses that a large percentage of people experience mental health difficulties during their lifetime – and the aim of the magazine is to help those people find ways to deal with some of the challenges they face.

    If you disagree with the position that a large percentage of people experience mental health difficulties and/or that it’s useful to provide them with information to help them to deal with some of the challenges they face then our position is different to yours.

    Over the course its existence, One in Four has worked directly with hundreds of people with mental health difficulties and distributed the magazine to hundreds of thousands.

    Most people who contact us find the project’s work valuable and useful. We’re always happy to receive constructive suggestions on how we could make it more useful for more people.

    We entirely respect your right to disagree with our views and oppose the work we do. We would be happy to print your opinions on our letters pages (you have refused this opportunity). We’re not going to stop doing what we do just because you tell us to.

    I’m not going to extend this discussion on this blog – it’s not directly related to social enterprise – but I’m happy to continue it via email or in person (you’re very welcome to come to the office for a cup of tea).

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