After staff costs, facilities are the biggest outgoing most charities face. But according to Andy Christophi, head of facilities at homelessness charity Shelter and founder of the FM Charity Network Forum, facilities management is underdeveloped in the third sector.
"Before starting at Shelter, I had worked in facilities management in both the public and the private sectors, so this was my first foray into the charity sector," he says.
"After nine months in the post, I realised there was no contact between the facilities managers of different charities, which was funny because I had always spoken to my peers in the private and public sectors before."
Christophi's solution was to form the FM Charity Network Forum to help charity facilities managers meet up and share their knowledge and expertise. The network aims to increase the level of professionalism in facilities management in the third sector.
"Facilities management is still very young as a professional discipline, but it's developing faster in the private and public sectors than in charities," he says.
Facilities management encompasses a wide range of activities, including buildings maintenance, compliance with health and safety law, arranging insurance cover, hiring contractors and organising security.
Hiring contractors is an area where the FM Charity Network Forum can be particularly useful. By sharing experiences, says Christophi, charities can get useful tips on which suppliers to work with and how to get the best deal when negotiating with them.
The network is also helping third sector organisations join forces to negotiate contracts with suppliers. "At Shelter, we're teaming up with several other charities to put some services out to tender together," he says. "That gives us a better negotiating position and means we can get the best rate possible for Shelter and for the other charities involved."
But he admits that getting charities to work together is not always straightforward.
"Some were a bit sceptical at first about collaborating in this way, but when they start to see the potential benefits in terms of reduced supplier rates, they come around."
The FM Charity Network Forum currently holds quarterly meetings for its 22 members, but it is planning to add a discussion forum to its website - www.fmcharitynetworkforum.co.uk - so members can network and share information on a more regular basis.