Friday, February 3rd, 2023 18:27:31

Managing Social Change Organisations

Updated: March 21, 2015 12:08 pm

Values such as transparency, participation and public interest should be reflected in the governing policies of voluntary organisations, writes John Samuel, and must be translated into organisational and programme practice

It is important to develop conceptual clarity and consensus regarding what is broadly classified as a voluntary organisation as distinct from a non-governmental organisation or a non-profit organisation. While it may be difficult to come up with an absolute definition, an operational definition is possible. Often, use of the terms voluntary organisation, NGO, and non-profit organisation varies according to the national, cultural and political context in which they are uttered.

The term ‘voluntary’ signifies an ethical and moral position rather than a structural or management one, therefore it is important to conceptually distinguish between a voluntary organisation, an NGO and a non-profit organisation. The term ‘NGO’ displays a ‘relational’ aspect, assuming an identity in terms being ‘not governmental’; the term ‘non-profit’ has a more economic or commercial connotation.


Voluntary organisations may be described as groups of people, an organisation or an institution initiated on the basis of commitment to the cause of underprivileged sections of society and on a set of values such as public interest, service, transparency, participation and accountability. People who work in such organisations may be compensated for their time and efforts, but their basic motivation and the principles of the organisation and management are based on the values of voluntarism, not on monetary benefit or incentives. While such organisations may receive funds without compromising these values, they cannot be called ‘fund-driven’ organisations.


The values and principles of voluntarism include:

             Voluntary formation and an element of voluntary participation.

             Not for the personal or private gain of those who control

and manage the organisation’s affairs; not self-serving.

             Deep commitment to the public interest and public good, especially a commitment to safeguard the rights of the underprivileged and to work for the betterment of marginalised sections of society.

             Respect for the rights, culture and dignity of men and women, including staff, served or affected by the work of the organisation, taking into consideration their special needs and abilities.

             Secular and non-partisan approach.

             Devoting maximum possible available resources to the task at hand.

             Ensuring that the organisation remains true to its mission and objectives, that its identity, integrity, methods and activities are not distorted, subverted or taken over by external or internal, personal or organisational self-interest.

             Maintaining high ethical standards at both the organisational and personal levels. Often such values and commitments are kept alive by a core group or key persons who initiate the process of organisation-building and help spread the ethos of voluntarism within the organisation’s work culture.

The social sector, consisting of social action groups, voluntary organisations, developmental organisations and training and research institutions represents a heterogeneous arena of interests, issues and ideologies. There is also a growing trend towards promoting NGOs to protect the interests of government, business houses and corporate interests. It is important therefore to comprehend the inherent complexities and contradictions within the NGO sector and to distinguish between organisations based on the principles and practices of voluntarism, and organisations that place greater emphasis on the utilitarian culture and market values for ‘delivering’ the goods.


Management, administrative and programme practices and policies depend to a great extent on the framework and manner of governance. Hence it is vital to develop a statutory and institutional framework that ensures efficient, ethical and transparent governance. Clarity of vision is an important prerequisite for good governance in any organisation.

A good governance policy guarantees an organisation internal and external accountability: internal accountability of staff and management for the task they have been entrusted with, and external accountability to the public and constituency for the cause and values the organisation represents. And finally accountability to donors and funding agencies for money received to implement a given programme or project.

A good governance policy emphasises the responsibility of organisations and institutions towards employees, staff and workers, including that of ensuring a work culture based on principles of equal opportunity, gender sensitivity, and providing a congenial work environment

that encourages efficiency, integrity and commitment and discourages partisan, biased or discriminatory management practices.

Values such as transparency, participation and public interest should be reflected in the governing policies of voluntary organisations and must be translated into organisational and programme practice. Good practice of governance encourages secular and non-partisan organisational characteristics and approaches.

It is important to incorporate appropriate provisions in the organisation’s charter or memorandum of association so that the principles and values of voluntarism become a legitimate and obligatory measure for good policy and practice of governance. Board members play a vital role in upholding organisational values and commitments in their functions and responsibilities. Unless board members are particular about safeguarding the vision, integrity, efficiency and values of voluntarism through initiating timely and appropriate organisational policies, organisations and institutions could fall victim to internal bureaucracies and power struggles of vested interests.

Board members must ensure that:

High standards of planning, operation, administration, evaluation and reporting are maintained within the organisation.

All statutory obligations are met and adequate resources made available to the organisation for all aspects of its work and administration.

Resources provided to the organisation are used for their intended purpose, and are properly accounted for.



Organisations and organisational leaders must practise what they preach. With increased flow of funds and greater infrastructure facilities, many organisations face the threat of hyper institutionalisation at the cost of the values, cause and issues they claim to stand for.

This could lead to dwindling transparency and accountability.


The integrity of an organisation, to a large extent, depends on whether it represents and stands for the public interest or whether it is steeped in institutional interests or is being used for the self-interest of its ‘leaders’. The integrity of a voluntary organisation is adversely affected when institutional interests take precedence over the public interest or cause. Or if the self-interest of its leaders take precedence over both the public interest and institutional interests.

To safeguard organisational integrity it is necessary to develop an effective policy regarding the appropriate use of resources and infrastructure facilities. And to establish standardised norms and practices that guard against misuse or disproportionate use of organisational resources and facilities for the self-interest of senior management staff or board members.

It is equally important to develop and maintain voluntary organisations that are public (as distinct from private) in their scope, structure and principles. This is more relevant in the South Asian context where organisations begin as voluntary and public initiatives, gradually turning into instruments or institutions that serve the personal or family interests of a single organisational leader or a handful of key actors on the board of trustees or directors.


Good management practice must ensure efficiency, effectiveness and accountability at all levels, and the organisational ability to deliver results without compromising the values and ethics of voluntarism. A professional attitude is absolutely necessary for good management practice. Planning, performance, monitoring and credible account practices should form an integral part of management. Half-yearly and annual performance reports, coupled with consistent analysis of the organisation’s expenditure patterns, help assess the strengths and limitations of management practice. A decentralised, task-oriented and functional management approach is relevant in the context of voluntary organisations.

It is important to develop multiple leadership roles for a more participatory management practice. A management practice centred on a single charismatic leader is adverse to the sustainability and growth of the organisation in the long run. To ensure continuity of the task as well as the organisation’s goals and objectives it is necessary to develop a second cadre of leadership at various levels of governance, administration and programmes. The basis for leadership in the organisation should emanate from competence, commitment to the organisation’s values, efficiency, effectiveness, decision-making capacity and ability for teamwork, rather than family, class, caste or regional affiliations.

The very term ‘human resource’ is based on the assumption that staff are a ‘resource’ that help maximise productivity. To evolve good management practice, employees or staff must be considered ‘subjects’ who participate and are involved in the process of bringing about positive social change; not ‘resources’ that increase the organisation’s ‘productivity’, or ‘objects’ that are used as a ‘means’ to the organisation’s ends. Good management practice should provide staff with an enabling and motivating work environment. A well defined and clear policy, with standardised service terms and salary structure, is essential to maintain good personal management practice. A good personal policy serves as a fruitful corollary to a management practice that emphasises team-building and team-development. Team-building is a process of continuous diagnosis, action planning, implementation and evaluation. A cardinal principle of effective team functioning is that members must be concerned with both their own needs and those of others. An important aspect of team-building is helping the team develop a ‘model of excellence’ against which its own performance may be measured.

Instead of encouraging monolithic organisational structures with thousands of employees and ‘labourers’, it would be more appropriate and effective to develop organisations with decentralised budgeting and operations, with many effective teams working together for a common cause.

Good management practice incorporates some of the following characteristics of team work:

  • The team shares a sense of purpose or common goals; every team member is willing to work towards achieving these goals.
  • The team is aware and interested in its own processes and norms operating within the group.
  • Group members listen to and clarify what is being said, and show interest in what others say and feel.
  • Differences of opinion are encouraged and freely expressed.
  • The team does not demand narrow conformity or adherence to formats that inhibit freedom of movement and expression.
  • The team encourages expression of conflict and focuses on it until it is either resolved or managed in a way that does not reduce the effectiveness of the individuals concerned.
  • The team exerts energy towards problem-solving rather than allowing it to be drained by interpersonal issues or competitive struggles.
  • Roles are balanced and shared to facilitate both the accomplishment of tasks and a feeling of group cohesion and high group morale.
  • To encourage risk-taking and creativity, mistakes are treated as opportunities for learning rather than reasons for punishment.
  • The team is responsive to the changing needs of members and to the external to which it is related.
  • Team members are committed to periodically evaluating the team’s performance.
  • The team is attractive to its members, who identify with it and consider it a source of both professional and personal growth.
  • Developing a climate of trust is a prerequisite for all the above elements.



Financial management practice should be based on optimum use of resources, sustainability of the programme as well as organisation, and maximum use of resources for the direct benefit of the constituency. Transparency of organisational budgets and accountability of resource spending are required for credible finance management. Monthly internal auditing helps monitor expenditure patterns. Good management practice ensures appropriate procedures for financial review.

Other important measures for finance management include:

  • When negotiating with donors for grants and/or contracts ensure that the terms and conditions of the funding agreement, procedures and reporting timetables are mutually acceptable.
  • Only pursue or accept grants or contracts that:
  • Are consistent with the organisation’s objectives and do not disrupt, subvert or corrupt the cause, identity, integrity, methods and activities.
  • Do not compromise independence.
  • Do not place more responsibility on the organisation than it can manage.
  • Seek to avoid dependence on single, narrow or insecure sources of Funding or Contracts
  • Resource mobilisation and investment should be adequately broad and oriented towards long-term sustainability. Means of attaining such sustainability must include developing a corpus fund and effective marketing and sales of publications, specialist skills and expertise.
  • Ensure that the fund-raising efforts of one organisation do not undermine the viability and sustainability of other voluntary organisations.
  • In preparing budgets and costing, ensure that all the organisational and administrative costs are recognised and included, and adequate resources obtained to meet them.
  • Ensure that funds provided are always used for their intended purpose, to uphold organisational and financial credibility. It is important that voluntary organisations publish an activity report and audited statement along with sources of funding.


Communication is an important aspect of management. Communica-tion to the public as well as internal communication between and among team members makes the organisation efficient and effective. Open communication is a two-way process that brings about mutual trust between the constituency and the organisation as well as consensus and cohesion among team members. If an organisation sets up a consistent communicative pattern with the public it goes a long way in realising organisational transparency and accountability and gaining social credibility and legitimacy.

The following are possible areas of communication with the public:

  • The organisation’s vision, mission, policies and programmes should be communicated through brochures, link letters and field meetings with the public or groups the organisation may be working with.
  • Source of funding, programmes and audited statements of accounts should be published and disseminated widely. A brief report and audited statement may be published in a local newspaper that commands substantial readership among the constituency. It is also important to communicate organisational and accounts reports directly to people who constitute the general body of the organisation.
  • Whenever a public programme or social issue is being highlighted through the media it is important to project the work done by the organisation rather than the personalities of the organisation’s leaders.
  • Communication to the public must be in the local language; simple, direct styles of communication are more effective.


Umbrella organisations play a crucial role in facilitating good policy and practice among voluntary organisations. Networking among the organisation has a synergising effect. Through consistent networking efforts umbrella organisations can provide channels and platforms that help evolve shared norms, policies and programmes to promote good organisational governance and ethical and effective management practice. While umbrella organisations may set a high standard of values and management practice as criteria for membership, it is not possible to ensure an enforcement mechanism that can be validated by the voluntary sector as a whole. Donor agencies, government and many other factors play an important role in determining and influencing the nature and manner of governance. Hence, umbrella organisations can only initiate widespread and sustained campaigns to influence important actors, including donor agencies and government, in the voluntary sector. Umbrella organisations are best placed to facilitate a disciplined and voluntary regulatory mechanism among organisations.


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