Working Relations

Article modified: September 2017, Author:


Multiple stakeholders

Voluntary organisations often have a wide range of ‘stakeholders’ – those who have an interest in its activities. Commercial businesses generally are limited to shareholders or other funders, staff, and possibly customers / clients. Charities and the like could also have:

  • trustees/committee members who may relate more to members;
  • members as a group in themselves who may also be users;
  • possibly user groupings in their own right;
  • partner organisations whether businesses which are contributing volunteers or specialist expertise, other charities with common or complementary interests, or governmental agencies.

Managers can understandably be pulled in different directions depending on the current hot issues and who they are talking to. It can be difficult to balance the varying interests. A clear steer should ideally be coming from the governing body (management committee etc) – see Governance page.

Involvement and transparency

Encouraging participation of stakeholders, and others, in decision-making may be a good idea for a range of reasons, such as user involvement giving the ‘frontline’ experience, funders explaining their priorities, greater ownership (and hopefully loyalty/giving) by members or trustees.

The International Association for Public Participation (mainly American) suggests a spectrum of participatory approaches, starting with informing and ranging through consulting, involving and collaborating to empowering (find their spectrum chart). Problems can occur if there are differences, or lack of clarity, in expectations.

Make sure that decisions ARE made, clearly communicated and also implemented. Stakeholders may well be more annoyed by lack of action after consultation than if they hadn’t been consulted in the first place and had their expectations raised!

See Planning and Monitoring page for more about strategic planning, evaluation and other times you might want to involve stakeholders.

Partnership

‘Partnership’ is something of a buzzword in regeneration and social inclusion circles. Some may see these as public sector funders/purchasers dictating the agenda in a softer guise, but it can also be about using the strengths of each organisation to get the best results. Perhaps key is everyone being willing to recognise that all partner organisations have their roles, rights and responsibilities and should be treated as equals.

OurPartnership was an online learning resource aimed at individuals and organisations involved in partnership working. Closed March 07, material may be available on NCVO web site.

Local Strategic Partnership

Local Strategic Partnerships were seen by the Labour government to 2010 “To be the partnership of partnerships in an area, providing the strategic co-ordination within the area and linking with other plans and bodies established at the regional and sub-regional and local level.” Will have changed from May 2010. (From NCVO Policy Brief, January 2006.)

Federation or branch?

Local groups may interact with a national ‘parent’ body in a number of ways. A branch structure means that local groups are actually legally part of one large organisation, with the need to respect certain legal and accounting considerations. A federation leads to the local group having its own responsibilities, but some sort of agreement on use of name, logo etc. will be required.

NCVO has resources around Collaborative Working (or “cross-sector working”).

Joint working and Mergers

Possible areas of joint working.

  • Shared buildings, often with some shared services, have been around for many years. Groups with a similar interest or geographic base join together to lease, buy (or negotiate from local council) premises.
  • Community/sector/regional hubs are an upcoming approach, often with a development or umbrella body setting up office facilities and inviting target organisations to join. Can improve networking and lobbying, training opportunities, access to expensive equipment, breaking down barriers between groups or cultures.
  • As a step short of merger, hopefully gaining many of the benefits with few of the cons. Objectives need to be clear to stop suspicions of hidden agenda (job cuts or future merger), and prevent confusion leading to abortive work, duplication of effort or unnecessary arguments. Don’t avoid conflict at any cost, though, as if handled correctly this can get sticking points out into the open.

The Charity Commission has various reports and advice on collaborating and merging. For example, Making Mergers Work, Sept 2009.

See Liverpool Law School’s Charity Law and Policy Unit, Project Reports web page for Mergers: a legal good practice guide‘ (2001), detailed but plainly written advice covering all the legal issues which need to be considered when a charity merger is proposed.

NCVO did have a Collaborative Working Unit, and still has a ‘Cross sector working‘ resource page.

Northern Ireland’s NICVA has various resources available on CollaborationNI.

Pros of mergers

Improved efficiency in ‘back office’ (admin) operations; direct access to particular specialist expertise; better public profile and/or less competition leading to improved fundraising or funder relations; a way of tackling a leadership or funding crisis.

Cons of mergers

Loss of clear identity may worry members; can be (seen as) a distraction from core work; could change priorities or move resources away from existing activities; clash of cultures; need for change management skills which may not exist in current staffing (although short-term secondment or consultancy may help); could be (seen as) a takeover rather than a merger; some of the pros could be gained through joint working rather than outright merger; extent of legal issues, especially if a registered charity is involved.



Contracts

There are real reasons behind contract law being a speciality area. It can be tricky, both in negotiations and in writing it down, to get a contract for service delivery to work to both parties satisfaction. This is where advice and model agreements produced by umbrella bodies can really help.

Public sector partnerships

Section needs to be re-done after much change in government policy.

Public sector procurement

Another section needing replacement content!

Compacts

Compacts, which set out understandings of relations between government and the voluntary sector, have been developed nationally and are being adopted on a local level too.

National

Government agencies and offshoots have also developed specific Compacts.

Local and Regional Compacts

International view

Voluntary Sector Initiative is the Canadian equivalent. “A joint initiative to strengthen the capacity of the voluntary sector and to enhance the relationship between the Sector and the Government of Canada.” Seems to include much more commitment of funds and policy liaison and is worth checking out.

Governmental Sector Contacts

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