Managing relationships
Managing relationships

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Managing relationships

3 Tensions concerning public and non-profit organisations

One key source of tension, however, in public and non-profit organisations can be the lack of relationship between those who supply the resources and those who consume them. If, for example, you are providing services for homeless people, you can only provide the amount of service for which there is funding no matter how much the demand from homeless people increases. This can lead to stress and burnout for project staff, who may have to make heartbreaking decisions about who does or does not receive your help. This in turn puts pressure on you as a fundraiser.

Another source of tension is the fact that public and non-profit organisations do not have owners in the same sense as private-sector organisations. Voluntary organisations generally have a governing body that represents the interests of the beneficiaries and holds the organisation ‘in trust’ for them. Usually in the UK these people are known as trustees and there are very clear laws about the financial relationships they are allowed to have with the organisation. As a fundraiser you are accountable to this body, but you also need to ensure that no breaches of the law take place. A public-sector organisation could be said to belong to the taxpayers, but it would be hard for them to exercise much control over the organisation, so some of the same issues around ownership and accountability arise there too.

In addition the problems that public and non-profit organisations address are complex and interrelated. The initiatives taken by such organisations often have unintended consequences, particularly if they work in an area pioneering new services where there is little knowledge about how situations may develop. So the diagrams in Figure 1 illustrate some important general points about both the nature of your work and your distinctive place in the organisation:

  • For the most part your work focuses primarily on the ‘inputs’ into the organisation. Winning resources and support are rarely ends in themselves; they are means to achieving the ends – or outputs – of the organisation: the cause, the service, the campaign, the event or, in some cases, the maintenance of the organisation itself. The distinctive values and purposes of the organisation are invariably framed in terms of those ends/outputs. This means that your contribution to the organisation can often be seen as subsidiary and rather instrumental. Providing the service or furthering the cause are seen as ‘the real work’ of the organisation; your work, while being entirely necessary, can nevertheless be overlooked.

  • Your organisation requires you to work with, and develop a professional expertise in relationships with, a particular set of external stakeholders who, for the most part, are very different from the recipients of the services or the objects of the campaign or mission. Many voluntary and public organisations find it hard to acknowledge the legitimacy of the interest and stake of funders, donors, sponsors or supporters in the work of the organisation. They hold themselves accountable instead to clients and users in the wider community. Because fundraising brings you into close and regular contact with external stakeholders, your perception of the work of your organisation may differ from the perceptions and commitments of colleagues who are either general managers or who are involved mainly in direct service provision. Your particular external orientation is inevitably reflected in your internal working relationships with other colleagues and sections.

  • The fact that fundraising and resource acquisition require those involved to look in different directions from those responsible for service delivery can give rise to conflicting demands and expectations. On the one hand you are expected to be effective and successful in your own terms. On the other hand, you are required to adhere to the dominant culture of the organisation – and not to undermine it by the working methods you adopt or the groups you work with. The World Wide Fund for Nature has long faced the dilemma of reconciling the differing views of its conservation and fundraising sides. The latter gets best results from focusing on attractive animals and issues which catch the public imagination – pandas, elephants, the exotic wildlife of the rainforests. Conservation people say that the issues are far more complex and there should be far more emphasis on topics such as habitat management.

Activity 1

Timing: 0 hours 15 minutes
  1. List the main stakeholders you and your unit or organisation are involved with.

  2. Note down what you think are the main expectations each of these stakeholders have of your unit or organisation.

  3. Make a note of any dilemmas you are currently aware of arising from these different sets of expectations.


Some common dilemmas that people have raised are:

  • Funders having a different view of the value of the organisation’s services from other stakeholders, and the danger of becoming funding-led.

  • Balancing the need to present the organisation in a way that will be attractive to donors, perhaps by using emotive stories, and trying to ‘educate’ people about the work of the organisation.

  • The public expecting fundraisers and campaigners to be expert in all aspects of the organisation’s work yet other departments being reluctant to involve them in their work.


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