OPINION: Thinkpiece - Local societies must move on from RNIB deal

Lance Clarke is the chief executive of the Surrey Association for Visual Impairment

The furore over the RNIB's decision to cease its partnership in fundraising contracts with local societies for blind and partially sighted people has now tailed off.

Local societies have resigned themselves to the fact that they now have to stand on their own two feet. For some, mainly those managed by volunteers, the experience will be so daunting that they may have to close operations.

For others, it will mean making unpopular cuts until they can develop new income streams in the face of unreasonably short notice. But uncertainties remain, particularly about the common sense of having two charities collecting in aid of the same disability in the same area.

The RNIB now has a lot of work to do to maintain links with those previously in the agreement and to encourage partnership work with those who were not. The irony is that most local societies knew in their hearts that this agreement had had its day and that another approach, based less on reliance and more on good teamwork, could yield better returns. But the RNIB approach has left them pondering on the suggestion of a new joint venture.

It is all down to communication, timing and openness. Joe Korner, spokesman for the RNIB, remarked in Third Sector (12 February) on the "bitterness of some figures", but this hardly helps the situation; a round of applause was not really on the cards. All charities that have similar shared funding agreements need to heed an important lesson that it ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it.

In such situations, consulting on the best way forward and working together to develop a solution to maximise returns beats confrontation any day.

Local societies that work in direct contact with a client base and which encourage and develop volunteers may not have the experience of the well-off national agencies, but their value is incalculable. They are also extremely determined and history shows that they will last the course.

The challenge to the RNIB is to repair the damage and regain respect.

In the mean time, local societies will move on; but in doing so it is inevitable that they will no longer be so reliant and spend more time reading the small print. The next six months will reveal just how good the RNIB is at dealing with the situation.

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