How volunteers, CSOs and public bodies can build partnerships
Four pieces of expert advice on how volunteers, CSOs and public bodies can build partnerships
There are many stakeholders with an interest in the development of volunteering and CSOs. How can those stakeholders cooperate, create partnerships and complement each other?
These recommendations have been drawn up on the basis of discussions at the Dobro.Konferentsiia, which took place on 17 September 2022 in Kazan. The conference was organised by the Association of Volunteer Centres, the Federal Agency for Youth Issues (Rosmolodezh), the Ministry for Science and Higher Education, and the Government of the Republic of Tatarstan.
- Be open with each other
CSOs, government bodies and business need to be clear and open in telling each other about what they do and be ready to invite other sectors to work with them, believes the president of the Siberian Centre for the Support of Civil Initiatives, Elena Malitskaia.
The Centre was established in 1995 and from its inception it has worked on the principle of openness. In 1996 the centre organised its first CSO fair, to which it invited government bodies to show them what CSOs did. It also involved representatives of government and business in its grant-selection process in order to encourage co-operation between the sectors.
“Government bodies have been involved in all our training and educational events. We involve business and CSOs. And we immediately developed a policy of being able to criticise each other. We are able to say that government has got it wrong here or something should be done differently there, but that we need to work together” says Malitskaia, who also warns against jealously guarding your own patch.
“You need to create a community, share information and understand what your values are. And the most important lesson we have learnt is that conflict, fear and anger never produce good results and should never be used as a form of pressure” advises Malitskaia.
- Consult each other at the ideas stage
Marina Mikhailova, director of the Garant Centre for Social Technologies notes that sometimes voluntary groups work alone, without calling on the expertise and support of social organisations.
Elena Topoleva, Director of the Agency for Social Information, agrees. “I often hear from CSOs who say they have difficulties in attracting volunteers, that the volunteer centres work in a parallel universe. I have had CSOs report asking volunteer centres for help in finding volunteers only to be told that they work with exclusively with higher education institutions, for example.”
In addition the expertise of a CSO can be vital for volunteers, for example in order to understand whether voluntary help is really what the organisation needs, or whether indeed it is legal. Without that expertise, volunteers may collect money into their personal accounts, or plant trees where they are not needed.
“As a result there are a huge number of initiatives which either produce minimal results or even achieve the opposite of the desired effect. This causes disillusionment with volunteering and good deeds” adds Marina Mikahilova.
CSOs can help avoid such problems by helping identify what is really needed.
- Do not force volunteers to do things they do not want to do
A volunteer may have their own interests, so you should not simply put them in an organisation and force them to work there day-in-day-out. You need to give the volunteer the chance to get to know the CSO and choose the organisation themselves, thinks Marina Mikhailova.
The new Dobro.Tsentry which are due to open across the country will be able to assist with matching volunteers with organisations, she says.
“I believe that we should treat socially-active people with care and give them the opportunity to realise their own aims rather than force our aims upon them,” she adds.
- Put yourself in the position of your partner and speak to them in their language.
CSOs and public bodies who are working together have to listen to each other and come up with proposals that benefit all parties, believes Mikhail Komissarov, General Director of the Centre for the Support of Citizens’ Initiatives and Development of the Non-commercial Sector in Chelyabinsk region.
“Public bodies have the own programmes and interests. If you write to a public body in the middle of the year simply saying “Please could we have some money” it is highly unlikely you will receive it. However, public bodies can help with donations. Someone may be able to provide free printing, someone else transport, somewhere there will be a food-processing factory. By explaining exactly what you need and how you need it you may be able to get something, especially if you ask early enough. It is possible to form constructive relationships with representatives of public bodies but to do so you need to be able to think and work in a language that they can understand” says Komissarov.
In his words the thing which most frustrates public servants is CSOs’ lack of understanding of the bureaucratic processes in the public sector.
“ We recently did some small-scale research, holding focus-groups with civil servants. We asked them what most frustrates them about working with CSOs. They answered that it was their correspondence. They are forever writing to the regional governor, or simply straight to the minister. They write five days before something needs to be done but the letter only lands on the right desk 10 days after the thing was needed. This is something we need to study and we as a resource centre are teaching this to CSOs, as everyone needs to meet half- way” recommends Komissarov.