Clarifying Expectations on Both Sides

By Eileen Hammond
From , Directory of Social Change, 2008, 64-66

Clarifying Expectations on Both Sides

…However, it has to be recognised that the relationship between a charity and its high-profile volunteers needs to be one of mutual control in which the charity determines what it wants the personality to do, but the personality decides whether or not they are willing to do it. Therefore, before any relationship can be finalised, it is essential that both parties are very clear as to what exactly is expected.

Do you know what you want them to do?

In managing your high-level volunteers, have a clear idea of the precise duties which you would like them to perform and talk this through with them. Ensure that you reach a firm agreement about:

  •  the form of their involvement — in other words, their role;
  •  the time commitment that is expected from them;
  •  the back up and support that your charity is to provide;
  •  the hoped-for outcome of their association with you.

lf the personality’s help is required for a one-off event or project, the timescale is self-evident but in the case of the roles of patron or president, further clarification is required. The appointment of members of the Royal Family to such roles is normally expected to be on a more or less permanent basis but this does not have to be so in other cases. You might prefer to make the appointment time-limited. This does have certain advantages for both parties, in that it gives protection for you if the personality should fade from the public eye or if he or she becomes controversial in some way. It also relieves the personality from the somewhat daunting commitment of signing up for an ongoing role from which it could be embarrassing to disentangle themselves should their circumstances change. Indeed, some charities have a definite policy of making no long-term appointments —even for patrons and presidents.

Do they know what they are supposed to do?

The importance of a written agreement of some kind cannot be too highly stressed, even if this takes the form of a simple letter confirming what has been agreed in telephone conversations, meetings or emails with the personalities or their agents. Such a letter should serve to clarify the expectations on both sides including such issues as levels of support and PR opportunities.

Some charities feel that any more formally structured agreement is inappropriate, believing that this might be perceived by the personality — or, more likely by their agent — as too restrictive and binding. However, if your personality will be engaging in high-profile activities such as appearing on television on your behalf, it is desirable to have a formal contract in relation to that specific activity.

Age Concern Surrey has a general form of words laid out in letter style which is sent to all their personalities. This provides confirmation of what has been agreed between the parties, what is expected from the personality, what the personality can expect from the charity, the nature of the event or project and, importantly, whether the personality will charge expenses — and, if so, how much. 

Breakthrough also adopts a fairly informal approach in most cases, clarifying the nature of the involvement in a letter or email rather than drawing up a fully detailed agreement that they feel may not be acceptable to the personalities. However, written agreements are used in cases such as their Doodle Campaign which could entail questions of copyright or intellectual ownership.

Similarly, The Children’s Trust does not insist on written agreements except in cases where the personality is to be involved in a television programme such as Who Wants to be a Celebrity Millionaire?

Other issues upon which clarity is essential include:

  • when and in what context the charity can use the personality’s name;
  • the circumstances in which the personality can refer to their association with the charity;
  • whether the personality will provide images for fundraising materials;
  • the personality’s willingness or otherwise to work with the local media, make personal appearances at fundraising events or even go on over-seas visits.

When considering the initial agreement, formal or otherwise, remember also that the charity has a responsibility to ensure that personalities are fully briefed, not only about the event or project with which they are to be involved but also about the charity's background and objectives. As observed elsewhere in this book, a well-briefed personality is an invaluable asset but an ill-informed spokesperson can do positive harm to the charity — and bring embarrassment upon him or herself. Briefing should be designed to ensure that the recipient is in possession of all the information needed to demonstrate the charity’s values and to speak on its behalf — without complicating the message.

Remember that, in most circumstances, a brief should be just that — brief. It is usually unnecessary and, indeed, undesirable, to include a detailed history of the charity and fully documented expositions of its vision, values and mission statement — unless, of course, it is in this connection that you have requested their help. If, for instance, you ask a personality to provide help in producing written material, it is essential that you have first established that they fully understand not just what is needed but also the context in which it is to be used.

Many years ago, one of the client charities with which I was working was setting up a very locally based regeneration project and had, quite appropriately, recruited some of the leading figures in the community to help get it started — most notable, a very senior Church of England cleric. ‘Just the person to write our mission statement’, declared the chairman. ‘As a clergyman, he'll know all about mission,’ which, of course, he did. Pleased to be entrusted with the task, he worked long and enthusiastically to produce the definitive mission statement for the new charity, while the trustees eagerly looked forward to having a carefully crafted sentence to put under the charity’s title on the letterhead. When the results of the learned man’s devoted labours were eventually presented to the trustees, they proved to consist of three pages of closely written script — beautifully constructed and grammatically perfect but quite unsuitable for the purpose for which it was required. My fault entirely, since l had mistakenly assumed that everyone knew what a mission statement should look like and where it was to be used. Lesson earned: never assume: always explain.

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