In my experience nonprofit organisations can be just a tiny bit combative and territorial among themselves, while showing the world a smile of compassion and collaboration. It comes from having to compete to get so much of their money from funders, sponsors and donors.
The UK Government isn't helping in the way that it is handling funds for the Changeup programme to improve the way nonprofits deliver services, with its plans for specialist 'hubs'. An acrimonious dispute has now surfaced between two consortia seeking to deliver technology support to other nonprofits. I wrote about this in June, and since then matters seem to have got worse rather than better. Third Sector magazine reveals that nine organisations have complained to the Home Office about the way that the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) is behaving.
These problems are not confined to technology support. I wouldn't be surprised if the similar concerns were voiced around a hub for advice and support on governance. From the point of view of Civil Servants and Ministers, it makes life a lot easier if one organisation or a consortium can be given the job and money to improve performance among nonprofits so they can help deliver public services more effectively - and cheaper - than local councils. (If they can, and if that's really what they are for.)
The trouble is that the nonprofit sector is a complex ecosystem of different networks and support systems, drawing sustenance from many places. A big splash of nutrient (money) can result in a bit of a feeding frenzy.... with the smaller fish complaining the big ones have grabbed all the goodies. Things are complicated by the fact that big organisations like NCVO are 'umbrellas', part of whose task is to support the rest of the sector. Are they the the obvious recipients for Changeup funding - or are they abusing their position in shadowing out others, including their members?
The issue is neatly encapsulated by quotes from the two consortia, in Third Sector.
Institute of Fundraising chief executive Lindsay Boswell added: "The strategic needs of the sector must come before the operational needs of any one organisation."
The NCVO's ICT Consortium manager Nicola Thompson denied the ICT Consortium was deliberately excluding some groups. "There are very clear guidelines on our website for anyone who wants to become involved in our work."
Hmmm. That doesn't really wash. As I wrote earlier, NCVO were first commissioned by Government to write the strategy, and have since then used this to promote their own model and define the guidelines. No wonder people are cross.