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Working in the voluntary sector
Working in the voluntary sector

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4 Influences on voluntary organisations

Photo with the words Far and Near on a board
Figure 5 Near and far factors exert influences on organisations

You saw in Section 2 how people’s roles can be influenced by various factors, which included the organisation. This also applies to organisations themselves: no organisation operates in a vacuum. This might be more obvious when thinking about a retailer or a manufacturer, for example, and how they are affected by an economic downturn.

However, voluntary organisations can be affected by many forces too. The word ‘environment’ is used to explain the context of an organisation. The organisational environment is subject to influences within the organisation itself, such as those from the people and organisations directly connected to the organisation (this is called the ‘near environment’). The environment can also be influenced by what is happening externally (the ‘far environment’; for example, political and economic changes).

Breaking it down further, influences can come from:

  • the individuals and groups with whom an organisation works on a day-to-day basis
  • the network of arrangements and regulations that define what an organisation can and cannot do
  • the wider social and economic trends, political developments and changing values and belief systems that affect the particular communities and society within which the organisation has to operate.

The problem for voluntary organisations lies not so much in specifying what things usually make up these environments, but in deciding how to sort them out usefully and how managers and trustees can make sense of them.

Understanding these influences can help you to make sense of why changes might happen within the organisations you support or where you work. You could then help a colleague who might say ‘I don’t understand why they had to make the team redundant’ or ‘The organisation doesn’t seem to be doing things in the same way it did when I started volunteering 10 years ago.’

You will now look at the near and far environments in more detail.

Near environment

The near environment relates to those factors and groups that impact directly on an organisation’s work. This is sometimes called the operating or stakeholder environment. So, the near environment comprises an organisation’s funders, clients, service users, beneficiaries and other organisations with whom it networks, collaborates or even competes.

An aspect of the near environment that is critical to voluntary organisations is the ‘competitive environment’: the number of organisations operating in the same industry (for example, health and social care), their sizes, strengths, weaknesses and plans. This environment can be mapped out in order to see whom to collaborate with or, increasingly, to see which other organisations might compete for government contracts. If a small voluntary organisation loses a major contract, it might need to make staff redundant and close services.

The far environment

The far environment comprises those factors that impact less directly, but not necessarily less importantly, upon the organisation. For example, some consequences of the government deciding to cut public expenditure could be less money for services and fewer contracts available to voluntary organisations. If the population has less money due to cuts in benefits they may not, for example, have money to keep their pets, which means animal charities will have more unwanted animals to care for. Alternatively, charities for homeless people and food banks will have more people seeking their services. Another example is changing demographics and lifestyles: there might be more people taking early retirement but they might be looking for things to do other than volunteer, so the pool of volunteers that some organisations have traditionally relied on might be changing.

Thinking in this way about outside forces and the trends affecting voluntary organisations can be used by managers and trustees to develop strategies for their organisations. Even if you are not involved at this level of decision making, you could use it to think about how and why an organisation you are interested in might experience challenges at different points in time.

You have covered a lot of different ideas and issues so far, which has hopefully given you a sense of your organisation and your role within it.