Collaborations and Mergers Research

Making Community Foundations fit-for-purpose in an ever changing landscape

Community Foundations Collaborations and Mergers Research Project led by Cathy Elliott, Chief Executive of Community Foundations for Lancashire and Merseyside

In conjunction with The Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, City University of New York and the International Fellows Alumni Conference 2016, Milan, Italy

Published September 2016

In 2009 the Community Foundation for Merseyside’s Chief Executive Cathy Elliott published a research report on community foundation collaborations and mergers. This research informed the eventual merger of the Community Foundations for Lancashire and Merseyside in 2014, and seminars for community foundations in the UK at the national UK Community Foundations conferences in 2011 and 2013. This researched was linked with the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at the City University of New York and Cathy’s Senior International Fellowship with them in 2009. Since then Cathy has continued to share her research findings and practitioner experience with CUNY as a visiting speaker in 2015 and with community foundations in the UK and linked to CUNY to encourage best practice. Cathy was invited by CUNY to revisit her research for an international Alumni Conference in Milan in October 2016 to up-to-date the latest practice in community foundation collaborations and mergers, and to share the stories of learning and success in this area.

For community foundations wishing to share their stories of collaborations and mergers to feature in this research, please contact Cathy directly or at

Outlined below are emerging case studies of collaborations and mergers to illustrate the revisiting of this research for community foundation practitioners to gain insights from to inform heir own work.

Focus on Collaborations

Case Study: Sharing Resourcing – CFLM and Cheshire Community Foundation

Sarah Mitchell is the Finance Director for two community foundations and three areas in the North West of England. She joined the organisation in June 2016, following a pilot and development of the shared Finance Director role. Sarah was jointly recruited by the two community foundations and shares her time amongst them each week, reporting to two Finance Committees and two Boards. This enables Cheshire Community Foundation as a new and growing organisation to employ an experienced senior member of staff within their requirements and CFLM to share finance back office with their neighbouring community foundation.

The benefits already gained are:

•             Common improvements can be implemented more efficiently;

o             Innovations and improvements can be tested and implemented more quickly without new issues arising;

•             Benchmarking of operational efficiency and strategic decisions can be cross-referenced. This benchmarking helps implement improvements from finance perspective to both community foundations, such as for investment management, banking, IT, audit etc;

•             Cost/benefit upside for smaller organisations.


The challenges include:

•             Ensuring the needs of two trustee boards are met;

•             Ensuring confidentiality is protected, especially on matters which might bring about conflict of interest.


Sarah shared: “There can be constraints and continued work needed to meet each organisation’s expectations. I am putting a plan in place to ensure my time allocation is workable for the longer term, but this challenge will continue as I am contractor and yet board contributor for Cheshire whilst being paid by CFLM. However, the cost/benefit upside is greatly welcomed and needed for both organisations, and I very much enjoy the role.”

Sharing Functions with a Vision

Case Study: Quartet Community Foundation (QCF) and Gloucestershire Community Foundation (GCF), South of England, UK

In terms of the background to this collaboration GCF was struggling with costs, exceeding core income and an ineffective governance structure which was not an uncommon situation at the time.  Trustees recognised the significant social needs in their area and the opportunity to build endowment in the future, but they needed an interim arrangement which could deliver reduced costs, good governance and high quality grant making. As a strong neighbouring community foundation, QCF agreed a contract to provide methodical grant making, back office support (finance/accounting, HR, administration and governance) as well as business development and consultancy advice.

A three year agreement was signed in March 2014 with half yearly performance reviews.  In the 2½ years to date they have together improved governance (GCF achieved QA3 with QCF support), instituted a methodical approach to grant making and linked grants to Funds, streamlined the Board and supporting Committee arrangements, and moved to realistic budgets.  The biggest challenge they faced was having the right people in the team as is the case for many small organisations.  Overall, together they have created a stronger GCF that is ever more confident in its endowment building and grant making.

Sue Turner, Chief Executive of QCF shared: “I would advise anyone looking to collaborate in this way to partner only with an organisation with whom they share common values; as well as agreeing the basics of the Service Level Agreement, both parties need to be flexible and approach the unexpected issues that will arise in the spirit of partnership not confrontation (QCF & GCF are good at that!) and to have a shared, confident vision of what the future looks like.  They should also have a transparent approach to time recording and costing so that everyone’s time/costs are properly valued and understood.“

Source: In conversation with Sue Turner, Chief Executive of QCF, August 2016


Focus on Mergers

Arthur Roberts, Chair of the Community Foundations for Lancashire and Merseyside in the UK talks about the merger of the two community foundations in 2014, including its challenges and the benefits:


Taking on a Partner Organisation

Case Study: South Yorkshire Community Foundation, North of England, UK

South Yorkshire Community Foundation (SYCF) took on in January 2014 on South Yorkshire Funding Advice Bureau (SYFAB) to widen their services to small and medium sized community groups which has proven to be a huge success.  Ruth Willis SYCF’s Chief Executive shared ‘They approached us as they liked the values and ethos of the Foundation Network and what it was trying to achieve within deprived communities’.  SYFAB’s aim is to capacity build small and medium sized groups, and to encourage them to apply for funding, alongside providing training and consultancy for community groups. Ruth shared that ‘it fitted seamlessly into our work’.  In terms of branding SYCF use SYFAB’s branding alongside their own as it is so strong and well known, though in terms of governance SYFAB is part of SYCF.

Their achievements in the last 12 months have been:

The biggest challenge for the partnership has been to ensure that SYFAB is self-financing.

This collaboration operates outside of a community foundation or similar organisation, however, the organisations have similar purposes to drive investment into communities. Ruth shared that ‘in my view capacity building is very much at the heart of the community foundation movement and I would encourage any community foundation who gets the opportunity to take on this service locally to do so.  It can help get your message out particularly into the public clients.’

Source: In conversation with Ruth Wills, Chief Executive, South Yorkshire Community Foundation, UK, August 2016

About the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, City University of New York

Further details on The Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society are available here:   

To the best of our knowledge, the information contained herein is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication.

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