Brain Tumour Charity and Brain Tumour UK: a well planned merger

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Brain Tumour Charity and Brain Tumour UK: a well planned merger

Peter Dickens reveals how the recent successful merger of The Brain Tumour Charity and Brain Tumour UK was driven by good planning and a common purpose


Consolidation is often talked about in the charity sector, and while joining forces is not without challenges, it also has some clear advantages. In the case of medical charities and cancer charities in particular, there are compelling reasons for more charities to pool resources, reduce duplication of infrastructure and achieve economies of scale. Many have already done this successfully, and for many medical conditions there are now just one or two predominant charities.

Historically, very little attention has been paid to research, treatment or support for brain tumour charities - either by the larger charities or government. In fact, they are relatively new to the charity sector. It was just 16 years ago that the first national charity was formed and today’s 47 (at last count prior to the merger of The Brain Tumour Charity and Brain Tumour UK) are made up of a mixture of local and small national charities. Due to the sheer number of them, it has been extremely difficult for beneficiaries, people who want to fund research, and those in need of support and information, to work out which charity to support.

Brain tumour charities are overwhelmingly formed from a place of loss and are, in the main, founder led by motivated, passionate people who have lost someone they were close to. Brain tumours kill more children and adults under 40 than any other cancer, so the great majority of those who die are taken far before their time, increasing (if such a thing is possible) the sense of distress and injustice. These charities are often named after the person who has died or in their memory, marking a potent symbol both of remembrance and a focal point of their determination to change things for the better.


Same, but different

The reasons for the merger were compelling. Following a previous merger of The Joseph Foote Trust into Brain Tumour UK, The Brain Tumour Charity and Brain Tumour UK were the two leading charities dedicated to brain tumour research, support and information in the UK and their overarching charitable objectives were extremely similar. There was pressure from people who were using both charities’ support services to provide ‘one clear choice’. There research community was also putting on the pressure to form one larger, transparent funding stream, run through a process of accredited, independent peer review.

The merger would create the largest charity in the sector, and the second-largest brain tumour charity in the world. It would bring numerous benefits for the merged charity, including:


  • the opportunity to consolidate resources to allow more investment in research;
  • the expansion of services available to those who are affected and a stronger voice to raise awareness and influence policy;  
  • the ability to combine all the operations of the two charities under the credentials and oversight of the leading industry bodies (such as the Association of Medical Research Charities, the Information Standard and the Helplines Association), bringing gravitas and credibility;
  • opportunities, through the combined commitment to research, to have the charity’s activities recognised and participation invited in forums previously unavailable to the charities separately, such as the National Cancer Research Institute;
  • the ability to participate in the increasingly global scale of the fight against brain tumours, contributing to international efforts in monitoring, research and support;
  • the rationalisation of infrastructure;
  • the alignment of human resources; and
  • the targeting of greater ambitions, as the two charities combined would achieve a critical mass of capacity and support that would allow growth in a very difficult economic environment.


It was against this background that the two charity boards of trustees voted unanimously to approve the merger in late 2012.


Keeping the ball rolling

The merger of The Brain Tumour Charity and Brain Tumour UK happened quickly. The chairs of both charities had each started their own brain tumour charities following the loss of their children, and the merger had been explored unsuccessfully in the past.

This time, having found common purpose, the desire to maintain momentum was high and many of the legal prerequisites for the merger were completed, prior to informing staff, through a series of negotiations at trustee level, using an independent third party to support the process and conduct the due diligence required.

Crucially, unanimity among the trustees was achieved, and this instilled confidence in the staff at both charities. The two teams were complementary and the message that redundancies and rationalisation (other than to remove duplication of systems) were not the aim of the merger was clearly communicated to everyone.

Workshops were conducted with both staff teams to focus on the consolidation of the best of both charities: what they wanted to take forward, and what they would prefer to leave behind. The teams were highly-skilled and enthusiastic and the process empowered them to shape the new organisation.


A strong bind

Through collaboration and consultation, new structures have been developed and implemented, and staff have been able to retain the same conditions and places of work within the new charity. Many have been able to redefine their roles to include more of their preferred areas of focus.

What has also contributed to the merger’s success is the overlap and shared understanding of the challenges facing us in making a positive difference to lives of those affected by the devastating diagnosis of a brain tumour. Whatever the cultural and operational differences of the two charities, this strongly binds both teams.

Announcing the merger to staff was initially daunting, even with the conviction of the trustees that we were doing the right thing. Naturally, the teams had questions about how it would affect them; however, the reasons behind the merger made complete sense to them, and they unanimously agreed that we would work it through together.

In order to overcome potential fears, a comprehensive FAQ document for staff was circulated on the day of the announcement and the CEO was available to any member of the team who wanted to talk directly with questions. This made it clear that the reasons for merging were not about redundancies and saving money, but were about rationalising resources so that we could invest more in our services. We also appointed a team member from each of the previous charities to act as a liaison point going forward.


Positive response

March was Brain Tumour Awareness Month, so we presented one united brand publicly from 1 March, although the new charity formally began trading on 1 April. In the lead up to this we’d communicated the merger and planned changes to both databases. An overwhelmingly positive response reinforced the merger decision – it is clearly what our beneficiaries want and need.

Initial figures for the year end show that the two individual charities have both raised more than previous years, and as we start the new financial year as one entity, things are looking very positive. We still have a long way to go before we are completely integrated, for example with one central database, but we have plans in place and a team eager to deliver them.

We are aiming to more than double our income over the next five years, which will allow us to significantly increase our investment in research to improve understanding, diagnosis and treatments, while providing extended services for people living with a brain tumour, their families, friends and carers. We know this is a challenge in today’s economic environment, but the need is there, and we will do everything in our power to realise our ambition. We also hope to see further mergers and consolidation among brain tumour charities.


Peter Dickens is head of communications at The Brain Tumour Charity



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