Q: Is matrix management really all it's cracked up to be?
A: There is a growing trend for charities to adopt the matrix management model. It is particularly popular among fundraising staff in national charities: staff report to a fundraising manager but also have a dotted-line relationship (that is, a less formal one) with a service manager in the charity's regions, or vice versa. I'll use this example to illustrate the main issues.
Matrix management can work brilliantly, but I know one charity that tried it and eventually abandoned it.
What are the positive aspects? The main one is that it ensures staff who deliver services understand fundraising and recognise the key role they must play if it is to be maximised.
They must learn to appreciate that fundraising is about raising money for essentials, not for added extras; that donors make demands on the charity, but this is acceptable if the charity is getting a good deal out of the relationship; and that funders often need detailed business plans and outcome frameworks.
From the fundraiser's perspective, being integrated into the service delivery environment is great for motivation because fundraising becomes far more than reaching a target. Closer working also avoids a potential mismatch between what a fundraiser has 'offered' a supporter and what the service team can or wants to deliver.
The obvious downside is the challenge of having two managers and the danger that each will have a different take on what the individual's objective should be.
The need for additional communication could be perceived as taking time away from the front line.
Unless the two managers have a good relationship and confidence in each other's decision-making, the fundraiser could also be stuck in the middle. It could mean staff have less day-to-day liaison with colleagues in similar roles and therefore miss out on bouncing ideas or feel isolated.
Whether or not matrix management works for your charity will come down to its culture as much as anything else. There needs to be some integrated working already, because introducing it as a way of trying to improve relationships is certain to be fraught with difficulty. Processes for developing and approving strategies and objectives need to be clear and, most importantly, there must be buy-in at all levels, starting from the top.
I have to confess to preferring more traditional management structures, but that is because I have been lucky enough to work mostly in charities where communication with colleagues across all departments has been good and we have experienced the benefits that come from matrix management without any of the disadvantages. The choice is yours.
Send your questions to Valerie.Morton@haymarket.com
Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant