Conflict in Charities: Disagreements & Disputes

Conflict in charities?  Heavens forbid! Generally, charities, not-for-profits and social enterprises are set up by “nice, kind people”, who are horrified at the thought that there would be conflict in their organisations. They see conflict as shouting, quarrelling or open hostility. Negative feedback is either not delivered or done so in a gentle way. Poor performance is often tolerated, particularly from volunteers. However, many of these organisations suffer from insidious hidden conflict. Avoiding dealing with differences or difficulties early often results in them becoming worse. When it comes to a head,  life becomes very unpleasant.

Mediation provides a swift, cost-effective and constructive way of resolving conflict in charities. Not only does it resolve current issues, but it also provides those involved with helpful insights to reduce future conflict. It helps to heal individuals and rebuild relationships.

helped lift lid on personal blindspots and this was really helpful I unreservedly recommend Nancy to you.

Comment from client

Why Conflict Needs to be Managed

Although we all know disagreements and disputes are unpleasant, we underestimate the costs of poorly managed conflict

… poorly managed conflicts cost organisations: the average employee spends 2.1 hours a week dealing with conflict. For the US alone, that translates to 385 million working days spent every year as a result of conflict in the workplace…Indeed, nearly one in ten even saw conflict lead to a project failure. (CPP Global Human Capital Report July 2008)

Disciplinary and grievance procedures are time and energy-consuming. If the matter goes to litigation, legal fees mount up. It is rare to recover all the costs, never mind the cost of the time spent trying to resolve the conflict. This usually also results in negative publicity and severe damage to the organisation’s image. Where an organisation is dependent on donations, this can be catastrophic.

Insurance costs rise. Theft and sabotage are more likely where there is conflict. Managers spend a considerable amount of time in resolving conflict, damage limitation and investigations.

Staff often leave because of personality clashes or poor working relationships. The cost of recruiting and training new staff is another hidden cost of conflict. Morale suffers, and absenteeism rises. The brightest and best are more likely to leave, and the organisation starts a downward spiral. Conflict in charities and social enterprises has a devastating effect if not resolved.

What are the principles?

Confidential: Everything that happens in the meeting is confidential. There are exceptions to this, for example, if there is a child protection issue, if someone is in immediate danger, or if someone has benefited financially from a crime. We will also co-operate with court orders.

Voluntary: The participants choose whether or not they want to use mediation. They are free to withdraw at any time. Mediation is non-binding; the parties are responsible for keeping any agreements they make. Some mediated agreements become legally binding court orders.

Non-judgemental: Mediators do not make judgments about the situation or tell the parties what to do.

Independent: Mediators are independent of the dispute and don’t take sides. They help both parties equally.

What Happens at Mediation?

Mediation offers a chance for everyone involved in the conflict to take time out from formal processes and try a more human approach. With the help of a skilled professional mediator, people are able to talk about difficult issues. It may take place before any formal process or participants may have already started taken legal advice.  All parties need to agree to the process (Roundtuit Participant Agreement to Take Part) and to the mediator chosen if it is a formal mediation.  (I also offer informal early intervention and  conflict coaching if people are not ready for mediation).

In cases where the dispute is between employer and employee, or between two employees, workplace mediation provides the best way forward. More details on workplace mediation.

Individual sessions

bringing discussion back and focus workplace mediation

Participant comment

First, a mediator speaks with each person involved in the situation individually. These sessions are confidential. Nothing is shared with anyone else (unless the person specifically says to do so). Each participant is encouraged to give their view, and express their needs. The mediator helps the person reflect on how to express this so that the other participants can understand. This time for consideration helps people think more clearly and objectively. It helps to highlight common interests. These sessions create an environment for the participants to have a constructive conversation. Then, when all participants are ready, the mediator arranges a joint session.

Joint sessions

Next, the joint session takes place, ideally in a neutral venue. In the joint session, the mediator acts as a SatNav or translator. The mediator(s) keep things on track by focussing on solutions and the future. She highlights similarities and differences. Then, she helps participants explore issues and discuss options. This skilled management of the meeting helps the participants understand each other.. They may be in the same room talking together with the mediator present or in different rooms with the mediator moving between them. This is also the case on-line with a virtual meeting.

At the end of the mediation, the mediator documents any agreements or actions. When there is no agreement, the mediator provides a statement of where things have ended. It is up to the parties with whom they share it. In the case of payment by an employer or third party, the parties in the mediation agree what information may be shared with this person.

More on mediation,  specifically in the workplace

Why Use Mediation to Resolve Conflict in Charities? 

Recommendation for Nancy

Client Recommendation

  • Faster to organise and implement than other options (often within a week)
  • Cost-effective (less expensive than lawyers. Nancy offers special prices for charities as well)
  • Promotes healing
  • Chance to understand each other
  • Gives clarity about next steps
  • Better communication
  • Opportunity to speak freely
  • Works for trustees, volunteers or staff
  • Positive, solution and future focussed

The earlier that positive solutions to conflict are considered, the better.  Contact for free confidential exploration of what would be best for your situation.   Resources: Conflict First Aid: How to stop personality clashes and disputes damaging you or your organisation,  Mediation and disputes with clients or customers