Workshop: Personal Trainer

I chair a national quango. We are misunderstood by the sector - what can I do?

Misunderstood? Could there perhaps be a good reason for this? There is a huge vibrancy and legitimacy in voluntary sector organisations. We are nearly always much better connected to communities and citizens. And that is a particular problem with quangos. You run a body that is appointed by and answerable to government and often seen as unaccountable. This is often not the case in reality, but impressions matter.

I suspect the issue here is one of old fashioned 'customer care'. This is something that is important for us all. No organisation, whether third sector or quango , can afford to upset customers or stakeholders.

When the National Lottery Charities Board was first established, the Government appointed David Sieff from Marks & Spencer as its first chair.

Because of his customer orientation, he was always very clear that the first responsibility of the board and staff was to its main customer - the third sector.

How are you doing this? You say you are misunderstood, but clearly there must be things that you have done that have offended your customers. Always remember that in dealing with the third sector you are working with people that are strongly motivated by principle. They believe in 'independence' and won't like to see an organisation that seems keener to comply with ministers or civil servants than to work with sector leaders.

What practical steps are you taking to work with your customers? Are you so engrossed in the organisational detail and civil service relationships that you fail to network effectively? Have you patronised your customers rather than genuinely involved them? You need to review your strategy on stakeholder-customer involvement. Get some of your critics together and ask them how you can do this.

This is a question we all need to ask. In running our organisations we often fail to deal with legitimate complaints from stakeholders. We retreat into thinking we are misunderstood. It is easy to think that customers don't understand.

Quangos, like third sector bodies, must ensure strong involvement from key stakeholders. You, like us, need to listen to the points that have caused problems, actively address them and work with them to secure change.

Telling them they misunderstand will only inflame matters. So get a grip!

- Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo).

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