Voluntary organisations engage in the delivery of public services for various reasons in different nations across the globe. One such reason is to ensure that services are brought closer to the communities. Communities and voluntary sector organisations are critical since they help in “reforming public services and reinvigorating civic life” (Ponikiewski 2002, p.91).
This argument implies that, within a nation, such organisations are pivotal in linking operations and repairing gaps in service delivery within communities.
They boost the mechanisms of available services through petitioning the government to improve ways of delivering public services and goods that help to advance the lives of its people. From this line of thought, voluntary organisations have important roles to play. However, while playing their roles, they encounter a myriad of challenges.
This paper aims to examine and discuss how voluntary organisations may participate in public service delivery. The article first discusses the roles of voluntary organisation in the delivery of public services followed by the challenges encountered by such organisation while executing their roles.
These challenges include accountability issues, policy formulation and implementation, collaboration, and the pulling together of resources, improvement in working conditions for paid staff, and better means of funding practices.
Role of Voluntary Public Sector Organisations in Public Service Delivery
In the UK, there are about half a million voluntary and community-based organisations. These organisations range from “small and local community-based groups to large, established, national, and international organisations” (Billis & Harris 2006, p.35).
Although some of these organisations have their mechanisms for raising income, others largely depend on voluntary members for their operation. In reality, paid professionals manage most of the larger voluntary organisations, thus necessitating a significant sourcing of income, which presents major challenges.
In scholarly discussions of the roles of voluntary organisations in the delivery of public sector services, one dominant matter that attracts discussion is whether voluntary organisations have any purpose in charity work. This subject culminated in a conference entitled Charity Law Conference held in London in 2006.
The main concern raised in the conference was a discussion of the role of voluntary organisations in the delivery of public services. Some issues identified could affect an organisation in a negative way.
From the research findings of a survey conducted by the Directory of Social Change (DSC) in London, 68 percent of respondents surveyed thought that voluntary organisations do not play any roles of charity in the societies within which they are established (Directory of Social Change 2006). In the Public sector, modes of service delivery can be described as being benevolent and socially responsible.
Voluntary organisations need to deliver services from this theoretical point of argument. Conversely, if the public sector service delivery could be described as involving the delivery of service through charity, voluntary organisations engaging in delivery of such services, therefore, ought to be described as charitable organisations.
However, voluntary organisations fail to meet the classification of being charitable. Charitable organisations are not subject to introspection in the public domain to reveal whether they deliver their mandates precisely.
This argument implies that in charitable organisations, the proof of accountability and responsibility does not attract the public interest since the public has no central role in framing certain expectations that must be fulfilled by the organisations.
As opposed to charitable organisations, voluntary organisations are “often subject to greater scrutiny and monitoring processes than the private sector organisations” (Bovens 1998, p.457). Charity is conducted to ensure that the organisations remain accountable.
The public anticipates particular roles that voluntary organisations need to play in the delivery of public services. One such role is to ensure improved service delivery by the organisations. In this respect, it means that voluntary organisations may act as overseeing organisations for the manner in which the government bureaucratically manages the process of delivery of public services.
This case helps in ensuring that government services reach all persons who deserve them. Where the services fail to reach such persons, voluntary organisations act as the voice of the people. The operation of the voluntary organisations must be conducted with an expenditure of funds. Therefore, apart from facing the challenge of where to source funds, issues of internal and external accountability also emerge as discussed below.
Internal and External Accountability
Public accountability is one of the noble concepts that are universally supported by scholars in the discipline of public administration. In political discourses coupled with policy documents, the term finds an imperative usage since it portrays an image of trustworthiness and transparency (Forrer et al. 2010).
These two aspects are crucial in the discussion of the challenges facing the voluntary organisation that engages in the delivery of public services.
Citizens who are also the clients of voluntary organisations have to be satisfied that a system of service delivery through voluntary organisations is able to meet their expectations of the public sector, without exposing funds to the risk of fraud. To this extent, accountability emerges as one of the critical values in public administration and voluntary organisations.
Accountability entails making organisations transparently responsible in their dealings, with efforts to enhance their trustworthiness. For this goal to happen, a number of issues must be addressed by organisations seeking to be accountable. One such issue is the development of the facility to deal with emerging issues that could impede the organisation’s efforts to become and remain accountable.
For instance, the advent of globalisation presents many challenges to corporations, institutions of public administration, and voluntary organisations that seek be accountable to many nations. Kearns (2003) supports the argument by adding, “Globalisation plays the role of shaping the current trends in the global economic markets and the increasing interactions among nations and people from different parts of the world” (p.76).
Emergence of new interactions that are driven by the advent of globalisation introduces challenges to institutions of public administration, including voluntary organisations in that they handle the emerging new roles to expand their sphere of functionality.
The more expansive an institution or any system requiring checks, the harder it becomes to handle all the individual facets of its organisation.
This issue may provide loopholes for acts of fraud. Emerging new issues such as those prompted by globalisation also present challenges to an organisation’s public liability due to “ the need to understand the dynamics of global value chains, creating trade facilitation structures, developing partnerships, and the establishment of value chains and networks” (Kearns 2003, p.81).
Existence of such new challenges means that voluntary organisation officials have to change their tactics for enhancing accountability, which is due to traditional approaches or styles for public administration cease to be effective in handling all contemporary situations. This aspect may prove to be a challenge to their efforts to become transparently responsible.
From the above discussion, it is essential that an organisation that seeks to be accountable in a globalised market needs to consider looking for new approaches to enhance transparency as opposed to traditional approaches. In fact, this point is yet another crucial issue involved in making voluntary organisations answerable both internally and externally.
The history of public administration reveals that the primary approach for enhancing accountability is through exercising control and close monitoring of persons who are mandated to execute general duties. This task entails “bureaucratic discretion through compliance with tightly drawn rules and regulations” (Forrer et al. 2010, p.477).
Voluntary organisations form some of the administrations that are subject to a tight control in their operations, as they aim to set an example of good governance that ensures that resources are equally distributed across nations and organisations.
Alteration in the approach of bureaucratic discretion as a methodology for enhancing internal and external accountability in voluntary organisations is critical in a modern world that is driven by significant interactions.
Rather than direct control, an organisation has to consider implementation of strategies for enhancing accountability based on the concerns of delegation as a methodology for breaking down the bureaucratic approaches to public answerability.
The relevance of this issue for a voluntary organisation that wants to be responsible internally and externally rests on the platform that, although delegation is an effective way for enhancing accountability, it has its limitations.
A challenge facing a voluntary organisation that is determined to be responsible is thus establishing a balance between and a determination of the extents and permissible thresholds of accountability in the organisation.
Voluntary organisations engaging in the delivery of public services also face the challenge of dealing proactively with the issue of balancing the levels of accountability that is anticipated from various stakeholders. In support of this argument, Forrer et al. (2010) believe, “public managers report not only to a multitude of elected officials, but also to a plethora of interest groups, clientele, media, and other actors” (p.478).
This argument means that public administrators serve many conflicting interests of different stakeholders, both formal and informal, through the deployment of appropriate mechanisms for enhancing accountability.
The balancing mechanisms that an organisation that seeks to become responsible must deploy include hierarchical accountability and public accountability while not negating deploying of mechanisms for enhancing accountability to impersonal standards.
Voluntary organisations that embrace the relevance of accountability as a way of development of trust among various stakeholders must appreciate that one of the important issues they must put into perspective is that they must conform to their established models of accountability in their internal and external structures.
Policy Formulation and Implementation
Organisational success is measured by the achievement of the purpose for which it was established to serve. This goal cannot be achieved without the development and subsequent implementation of a variety of policies.
In case of voluntary organisations, challenges in policy formulations and implementation arise due to the difficulties associated with those who should ensure compliance and which methodologies are required to ensure that the established policies that aim at increasing the ease of accessibility of public goods are implemented.
This challenge is significant primarily upon considering the argument, “the scale of voluntarism and the relationship between voluntarism and the state have driven to the top of third sector research and policy debate” (Frumkin & Andre-Clark 2000, p.331).
The main aim of voluntary organisations is to enhance the lives of people. For instance, voluntary organisations operating in the healthcare setting alert people to the risk factors of specific ailments e.g., anti-smoking publicity.
While it is easy to develop policies to ensure that this aim is achieved, implementation of specific policies in the healthcare setting requires the action of bureaucratic structure (O’Donnell 2005; Taylor 2007), i.e., laws. Where the person charged with implementation of individual segments of the policies is not paid for the work, compliance to bureaucratically established roles becomes almost impossible.
Although the goal of many voluntary organisations is to work with all people, they tend to attract those who are disadvantaged in society. Such persons are marginalised and/or disadvantaged. Consequently, voluntary organisations require large funds to run the various policies that are in place.
The challenges associated with financial capacity to handle large programs as proposed by some of the voluntary organisations make policy implementation experience a major drawback (O’Donnell 2005). In this context, it is paramount to note that voluntary organisations at best identify the needs of the people they serve, although meeting the needs becomes a significant challenge.
This case makes it impossible for such organisations to run effectively. Implementing some policies without a voluntary organisation’s social projects can only be done within financial constraints hence making it hard for the organisations to operate as entities that are independent of the state.
Even though the state does not interfere with the policies developed, where the implementation of the developed policies requires the support of the national government, such policies must be consistent with the extents to which the government is able to fund various projects that are developed by voluntary organisations for societal gain.
Collaboration and pulling together of resources
Stemming from discussion raised in the previous section, voluntary organisations in health care cannot operate without close collaboration with the government.
Collaboration and pulling together of resources among the government and other organisations that provide health care services, as a public good, is vital since “ collaboration would aid in reduction of competition, duplication and costs and the sector would become more effective” (Ponikiewski 2002).
With collaboration, it becomes possible for all stakeholders operating in the organisations to speak with a single voice, especially when talking to the government.
In the UK, there are about half a million voluntary organisations (Wilding & Wainwright 2006). Coordination and close collaboration of this magnitude of organisations, which have their own procedures and ways of operation, present a major challenge.
A research by Barr et al. (2009) that was aimed to deduce the collaboration issues that hinder voluntary organisations to pull resources together found that “43% of voluntary organisations in Canada cited competition with other organisations for funding or revenues to be a major problem” (p.15). Twelve percent of these organisations identified competition as the main challenge that hinders proper coordination of the sector.
This finding implies that within the organisations in the sector, several challenges hinder collaboration of all voluntary organisations because small organisations feel that their voice would be engulfed by the voice of the large voluntary organisation when they collaborate on some matters (Hall et al. 2004).
Improvement of working conditions for paid staff
Large voluntary organisations require human capital to operate effectively. Tantamount to other profit-oriented organisations, voluntary organisations must balance the costs of paying for labour services provided to them and other activities, which must be accomplished for the organisations to fulfil the purpose for which they are established (Hall et al. 2007).
In an effort to keep employees motivated, voluntary organisations must deal with the challenges of improving the working conditions for the paid staff (Glennerster 2008). Where organisations provide low-cost services or free services, the efforts to improve the working conditions for the paid staff present significant challenges to them.
In a research to determine the impacts of the challenge of improvement of conditions of paid staff in the UK, Voluntary and Community Action (2009) found that among the organisations interviewed in its research, all participants noted that low salaries coupled with poor working conditions presented significant problems.
This aspect resulted in high labour turnover rates, thus making it difficult to hire staff with requisite skills and professional expertise (Voluntary and Community Action 2009, Para.8). These challenges can be offset by providing more external, constant, and stable funding to the organisations by the government so that voluntary organisations can become labour competitive.
This argument underlines the need for involving the roles played by non-voluntary organisations in the development of public policies at the national level. This strategy is crucial in the effort to ensure that public goods and services provided by the voluntary organisation remain competitive and of similar quality to those offered by profit-making organisations (Hall, McKeown & Roberts 2001).
For example, even though health care services are offered free of charge in the UK, benchmarks of quality are available elsewhere in the world. However, it is crucial to note that free at point of service does not make the NHS a voluntary organisation.
For voluntary organisations dealing with healthcare issues, such as inaccessibility of reasonably priced health cover, quality healthcare to the elderly, for instance, cannot be offered without highly qualified professionalism. Recruiting and maintaining hired employees when impaired by inadequate funds implies that major problems arise in any voluntary organisation.
Better Means of Funding Practices
In the performance of voluntary organisations, a myriad of practices requires a commitment of funds. Considering the funding challenges encountered by many voluntary organisations, Packwood et al. (2007) argue, “Funding of operations, the time, and money required when applying for funding to fulfil the reporting requirements of funders amplify the challenge” (p.19).
Dealing with these challenges calls for voluntary organisations to construct mechanisms of dealing with operating costs to increase service delivery gains (Hall et al. 2005) such as better healthcare to the public.
However, arriving at a collective formula common to all organisations in the sector that will enable all unpaid organisations to operate efficiently presents challenges because the need to remain relevant hinders cooperation amongst various organisations.
Research conducted in various charitable organisations reveals that they encounter problems while seeking to source funds from the government. For instance, in a research conducted in Canada by Hall and Andrukow et al. (2003), 48 percent of the studied organisations reported experiencing significant challenges in getting funds from foundations, government, and corporations.
Although only 20 percent of the organisations argued that the problem was serious, it is arguable that, since a similar challenge is experienced in the UK, better means of funding remain a major challenge to charitable organisations on the global dimension.
Volunteers participate in voluntary organisations through their altruism and to help essential services to the public become realised. This argument implies that volunteers form interest groups for voluntary organisations (Championing Volunteering and Civil Society, 2012).
They must then be engaged in the development and implementation process of the unpaid organisations’ policies (Community and Voluntary Service 2008; Moxham 2010). Although this role is necessary, not all volunteers’ contributions in the voluntary organisation can be incorporated in the final policies implemented by the organisation.
This case may create perceptions of inconsideration of particular people’s contributions. Therefore, engaging the volunteers in the development and implementation of policies within charitable organisation may attract conflicts of interest. Resolving these conflicts encompasses one of the major challenges that these organisations have to deal with in any sector, including those in the health care sector in the UK.
Voluntary organisations play pivotal roles in ensuring that public services are brought closer to the most deserving persons, such as the marginalised and disadvantaged within communities.
They do this by consulting with local and central government on the most successful communal projects, for instance, elderly healthcare services. This paper argues that realisation of these roles encompasses seeking mechanisms of dealing with the challenges encountered along the way.
These challenges include engaging volunteers, seeking effective ways of ensuring both internal accountability and external accountability, and policy formulation and implementation. Other challenges discussed in the paper include the need for collaboration and pulling together of resources, improvement of working conditions for paid staff, and seeking better means of funding.
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