Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Scope of Third Sector Organisations

Venn diagram showing 3 overlapping circles

We usually think about the three sectors; statutory, private and third sector organisations, from a national top-down perspective and so perhaps see a greater separation between them than we find in neighbourhoods.  All three sectors are part of the ecology of a healthy neighbourhood and so we need to understand how they interact and contribute to public well-being.

The diagram represents the three sectors, and the potential for interaction between them.  They can all play a vital role in a neighbourhood, providing jobs and social spaces where community can grow.

Third Sector Organisations

Third sector organisations (a) are not easy to define because people use the term to cover a ragbag of everything that is neither statutory nor private sector.  Personal contributions of time or money, eg through faith and community groups, grant aid and support for social aims through trading commonly fund third sector organisations.

Statutory Organisations

Statutory sector organisations (b), might be working for the local authority, the NHS or the police, for example.  National government may also be active through various schemes.

Grant Aided Community Organisations

There are not so many type (d) organisations these days, where statutory funding aids voluntary organisations.  This type of organisation has been very common over the last few decades but is not so common in an age of government cuts.  Some people criticise government funding as a contested use of tax-payers money.  For certain purposes it is vital for the welfare of our communities.  However, there are many issues where government funding supports local regeneration and vigorous debate about the implications of this approach is long overdue.

Private Sector Organisations

There will also be private sector organisations (c), from self-employed people and small businesses through to large companies and multinationals.  Where the latter are present in an area, they can be the source of many jobs.  Or else they may be present as branches of supermarkets or other chains.  A local trader might provide a vital service, at the heart of a neighbourhood and so, whilst clearly not third sector, is relevant when assessing the assets of an area, for example, a local café whose proprietor encourages community meetings.

Community Businesses

Community businesses are type (e) organisations, which aim to generate income for social aims through trade.  Other local businesses can become type e from the private sector side, for example by forming small business mutuals to support enterprise in a neighbourhood.

Development Trusts

Section (g) combines elements of all 3 sectors.  In the UK these are usually some sort of development trust.  They aim to develop an independent asset base within a neighbourhood.  In practice most seem to combine grants with trade and deployment of assets.  Some seem to be surviving the cuts and so perhaps the model has staying power.

In future posts I shall look in turn at the various types of organisation found in our communities.

Community Development in the Future

I’m a community development worker of over thirty years standing.  I’ve seen community development in the UK evolve over the decades and today I see it is undergoing a profound transformation.

It is a matter of life or death.  Many organisations that previously supported community development, eg local authorities and churches, no longer do so.  Funding for community development has never been so scarce; very few posts are advertised.  There has never been a career path for development workers and no professional standards. This means the wealth of experience held by practitioners is in danger of being lost.

Does community development have a future online?  I have no idea!  It is worth exploration and this website will do that.

If there is an online future, it can work only through close integration between online and real life communication.  Online communication cannot substitute locally for face-to-face meetings.  How do you integrate such fine-grained local relationships online?

There is a long term need in the UK to drag community development out of the control of local and national government.  I have had a ring side seat, watching politicians drain the life out of community development.  Community development needs to find its own resources and build networks independently of political control.  It is what happens in the United States and could happen in the UK too.  This is about independence from political control through funding.

We can support this online but it requires major changes to how we understand community development.  The focus must be on how we build local economies (not always geographically local) rather than funding for projects or workers.  If these local economies pool resources, they could purchase the developmental support they need.

In future posts I shall develop these ideas further.  We need a renewed vision of the future of our communities and that means going back to the roots to find a new way forward.

The Art and Science of Conversation

Conversation is something we take for granted and perhaps don’t readily associate with web design.  We don’t appreciate the extent to which online activities become collaborative.  Over barely ten years the Internet became a place where conversations are held with contacts all over the world.  We need to understand the art and science of conversation.

Two things intrigue me about conversation and they have implications about how all of us conduct our online business including how we structure our websites.

At their best conversations happen when one or more minds engage in considering a problem or situation.

The Science of Conversation

Note I suggest a single mind can hold a conversation and this leads me to the first characteristic of conversation.  Conversations happen when minds are paying attention.  Imagine a scientist who contemplates some minor fluctuation in readings, seeking patterns.  Perhaps the scientist will try something to see how the experimental system responds.

The scientist’s single mind might then enter into conversations with colleagues and suddenly a new paradigm emerges from that conversation.  Sometimes attention paid by colleagues lead the scientist to a sudden insight.  If colleagues resist their insight, the scientist must hone their argument, to test their hypothesis and produce evidence.

These two principles are typical of conversations.  Pay attention and new ideas emerge from a meeting of minds.  You may already be thinking of dozens of reasons why conversations don’t happen online.  But is it possible they don’t happen because too often we’re not paying attention to how we design our websites and online presence?

How to draw down donations

How might a charity build relationships online?  The charity’s first priority is to find its market.  It might seek to tell the public about an issue or concern.  Or seek to build relationships with its beneficiaries, perhaps by encouraging them to join online (or real life) mutual support groups.  One significant aim is likely to be fund-raising through donations.

To draw down donations you must build relationships with visitors that make a compelling case.  It is never easy to build a relationship of trust with people you don’t know, possibly all over the world.

A Model Relationship Building Approach

  1. What is the situation?  Why do you need financial help?
  2. What this charity does to address the problem.
  3. What have you achieved?  How many people have you helped?  What difference does the charity make?
  4. Outline work that still needs to be done.
  5. The generous support of people like you makes possible the work of this charity.  Please donate today, every little helps, so please give whatever you can.
  6. Thank you for reading this far and giving us your consideration.

This model shows you how you can structure your pitch for donations.  By using information about your charity, this model can be re-shaped into copy that works.  Follow the link for further posts, where I returned to this model, examined each stage in detail and showed how you can structure your site to best present your case.


The Need for Website Consultancy

Website design is about 20 years old and its origins are firmly rooted in the technology.  As markup languages, such as html, developed people learned how to use them, augmenting them with css, flash and various other languages and  applications.  But these days prospective website owners need website consultancy, as well as technical expertise.

Many people do not have the time or interest to learn these technologies, and have little or no interest in keeping up with developments even though they need a website.  So, there is a market for those who understand the technical side of web design.

However, this is not satisfactory.

Seeking Value for Money

Any organisation that pays for a website will, not unreasonably, expect value for money.

A commercial enterprise, can reasonably expect their website to earn more money than it costs to design it.  For a non-commercial site, the client can reasonably expect it to substantially further their aims.

But it is not always clear how a website might best support an organisation.  The client may know they would benefit from a website but will need help to pin down exactly what their site should do.

They will find they do not know enough about what is possible online.  Or there may be approaches to building online relationships they have not considered.  So, a website designer may need to spend some time as a consultant, helping their client get to grips with their site’s purpose.

Marketing: The Irresistible Offer

Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest has a lot to answer for.  It seems Darwin supported the idea that competition is totally natural.

Survival of the fittest makes sense if you lust after unaccountable power.  It’s brilliant to be able to suggest the universe runs on your principle of power.  “I’m better at competition, I defeat and wipe out my competitors.  It’s all perfectly natural.”

But survival of the fittest is culturally determined.  I read somewhere the term did not appear in Darwin’s first draft!  You can see the appeal to  people seeking to justify their greed and lust for power.

The fittest is the one who fits best.  And you fit best by collaborating.  Even relationships we might read as violent can be mutual.  Foxes need rabbits yes.  But rabbits also need foxes; without foxes they compete for food and ultimately starve.

Examples of collaboration in the natural world far outweigh examples of violence and use of force.  Nothing works when the bullies take over.  Nothing evolves on its own, punching its way to superiority.  Eco-systems evolve, not individual species.

So, the marketplace is not an arena for competition but for collaboration.  It is where we supply one another’s needs and a place to exchange ideas and support each other.  It is only in relatively modern times that we understand it as a place for competition.  Competition happens when things go wrong, the fittest survive because they know how to collaborate.

We enter the marketplace because we have something to share. When we’re online we’re in the market place: those who go there to scam, bully or otherwise be destructive are ultimately not survivors.

Design for your Market

Web design is barely 20 years old and so it is no surprise designers do not agree about what their job is.  It is an important question, especially where resources are scarce and value for money crucial.  Even if a wealthy business or charity can afford a beautiful site that does no work for their organisation. no serious organisation can be satisfied with this.  The problem is many organisations do not know there is an alternative.

The old model is ‘graphics – words – numbers’.  The message here is the site’s graphics are most important, then the content (often supplied by the client and not of particular interest to the designer) and then numbers – the research to find out what actually works for the client.

The new model reverses this: numbers – words – graphics.  First we do research, then construct excellent content, get it online, more research and as we find out what works introduce and improve the graphics.

I would add two more terms to these series, which I think shows the difference between (traditional) web design and web consultancy.

Web Design

(Designer) – graphics – words – numbers – (Client)

Web Consultancy

(Client) – numbers – words – graphics – (Consultant)

With numbers first, the web consultant can help their client find their place in their market.  Their site design should grow naturally from the client’s understanding of their market.


Do you know your market, their demographics, their level of awareness of what you’re offering and their habits online?


With first-rate content, visitors to your site will understand your offer and its benefits.  It encourages visitors to use your service and they might recommend your site to others?


How you structure your site, your branding, each page’s appearance, how people land on your site, the links between pages; all contribute to your site’s success.

What is best practice for the various types of pages found on websites?  I shall compare home, about, contact, landing and other page types.  What content is on them?  How can it be improved?

What are the basics for layout of pages?  What works and what doesn’t?  How to bend your CMS to your will!


How do we square the various demands on the site?  These may originate from various priorities within an organisation or else from the competing demands of search engine optimisation, good copy, legal issues, accessibility, etc.


Reviews of sites and groups of sites to show what works and what doesn’t.

Technique: How to put your Site Together

The words technique and technology come from the same Greek root, techne, which means ‘hand’.  The Latin equivalent is manus, from which we get the word manufacture. So,the heading technique covers the hands-on aspects of website design and maintenance.

If you engage a designer or consultant to manage your site, this heading will help you understand what they are doing so that you can engage in constructive conversations.  If you are going it alone, it will help you appreciate what is possible with your CMS.


When cars became cheap they had major implications for organisations.  The same applies to most technological innovations.  Telephones, typewriters, faxes, desk-top computers … all changed the way organisations work.  A website is a technological innovation.  Just because it is a set of text files on a server somewhere in the world, doesn’t mean it makes fewer demands upon your organisation.  Websites become moribund because their organisations are unable to adapt to their use.

How do you keep your site up-to-date?  It is best to plan what you want the site to do before you go online.  However, many organisations inherit a moribund site and lack the resources to carry out a major review.  So, whether you do it yourself, ask an employee or volunteer to do it or engage a consultant / designer, what do you need to understand?


I shall name common problems and techniques and show you how to steer your own site.  This is important even if you engage someone else to look after your site.  If you understand what they’re doing, you can make suggestions and stretch the boundaries in realistic ways.


There are loads of applications (software tools) that might potentially be helpful.

  • Social media can support your website or do the job you need without a website
  • Analytics – how do you get and interpret information about your site’s performance?
  • Search engine optimisation, keyword research and all those things that affect how your site functions.
  • Loads of applications help you write code and prepare graphics and animations for websites.
  • Content management systems
  • Various cloud resources help you share stuff online.

Many of these are free and some are very expensive.  How do you make the best choices? If your designer is using an application, how can you follow what the designer is doing?  I’ll interpret the jargon and explain what to expect.

Mutuality: the Ecology of Third Sector Organisations

If we do not understand our organisations, how can we determine the purpose of their websites or structure their content?

Not all third sector organisations are mutuals but mutuality might help us understand nature of third sector organisations.


Third sector means various things to various people. Politically it has been re-named as the Big Society in recent years.  Sometimes the sector is called not-for-profit or the community or voluntary sector.  None of these are satisfactory but may be important for determining the purpose of websites.  The words we choose have implications for search engine optimisation, for example.

Various organisations may be part of the third sector.  How does each type, eg community groups, voluntary organisations, charities, social enterprises, mutuals, faith groups; relate to the sector and what is its socio-economic position? In time this will be a resource organisations can use to define their role and work out the purpose of their websites.


Third sector implies there are at least two other sectors and their relationships need to be understood.  Their overlaps and boundaries are particularly interesting.  For example, is a self-employed web designer, specialising in the third sector, a part of the third sector or in the private sector?  What’s going on when a local authority applies for a grant to start a social enterprise?  These sectors are a model that helps us understand our society, the better we understand them, the better able we are to develop our websites.


For many third sector organisations, an up-to-date, relevant website is a big ask.  Is it possible for organisations to collaborate, especially where their vision for a local area is complementary?  Pooled resources might not only enhance online presence but also open up other opportunities for collaboration in real life.


Why mutuality? How is or could mutuality be expressed in various types of organisation?  What mutual methods might be possible online?  These will cover a range of activities including participative methodologies, community development and non-directive consultancy.

Purpose: Why do you have a website?

When I ask people why their organisation has a website, they are often lost for words!  Is it really the first time they’ve been asked?  They’ve paid for it and possibly invested hours of work into it but don’t know why!

Sometimes it seems the site offers a web presence or ‘improves our image’.  What does this mean?  How do you know whether you’re getting your moneys worth?

Or perhaps it’s so that the public can download information.   Sometimes sites accumulate pictures of meetings from long ago.  It’s hard to see why anyone would spend time there, let alone visit for a second time.  Take a hard look at your site and ask why any visitor might return!

I can only conclude some sites exist because someone was told they should have a website.

Websites are powerful tools and if yours isn’t working for you perhaps you shouldn’t have one.  It would at least save you some money.  Alternatively, the task is to get your online presence working for you.


Why do organisations have websites with no purpose?  I’m sure the problem lies in the relationship between organisations and their website designers.  They need to guide each other into understanding the emerging purpose of the site.  At the beginning of their relationship, neither  knows the purpose of the site and design should not start until they understand and agree the site’s purpose.

So, I will explore the nature of non-directive consultancy as it relates to web design.  I will cover the roles of consultant (designer) and consultor (you) so that both get the most from the relationship.

A consultancy relationship might result in a range of online approaches, possibly not including a website.  Various uses of social media may be all an organisation needs.


Raising finance in various ways is important for many organisations and it is important to understand the relationship between finance and the social aims of third sector organisations.

Building relationships with your visitors is essential whether or not your purpose is financial.  You need a clear grasp of how you want your visitors to respond to your site and then to design your site to meet your purpose.

This category covers a sequence about websites and donations only.


An effective web presence implies a conversation between your visitor and your organisation. This may be implicit as the visitor follows a route through your site, clicking in your links and finally reaching a destination, if their interest carries them that far.  Or else it may be more explicit, such as where the visitor responds to comments and debates the issues your site raises.

However you approach this conversation, you need to understand in any conversation both parties transform.  Exploration of this will lead us into some interesting philosophical and spiritual by-ways because if we’re serious about our online presence, we need to appreciate its impact upon real life.

Core to this is the role of conversation as an encounter with the other.  It is through developed conversation that real change happens.

Web Design in the Third Sector

If you’re involved with third sector organisations you will know how it is difficult to find good advice and guidance about creating and maintaining websites.

Some advice, online or from designers, offers technical solutions.  Sometimes this is welcome but often problems have nothing to do with technology and everything to do with organisational culture or human relationships.

Where writers go beyond the technical, they usually offer advice about online marketing.  This is more helpful but focuses upon maximising financial income from your site.  Great if finance is what you’re after but not so helpful if you want something else from your market.  Certainly, if you want to generate income you need to build relationships but for many third sector organisations relationships themselves outweigh the finance they generate.

This blog aims to offer you the support you need to get your online presence working for your organisation.  Do comment and let me know when it is helpful and the issues you would like me to write about.

There are four main categories covering the areas of support I cover on this blog and through my community web consultancy.


It is a common mistake to rush to getting a site online, without a thorough understanding of the organisation’s context.  In an ideal world websites and social media would be planned alongside development of the organisation’s mission or remit.  This way real life and online presence can be made to work together.

I’ve looked at many third sector websites and too often they lack a sense of purpose.  Site content is dull and sometimes it is not clear why the site exists at all!  Where the reason for the site is clear, often it is not clear what the site offers the visitor.


When you set about designing a site, it is crucial that you understand

  • your market (particularly if you have nothing to sell) (because you do, otherwise why are you online?), and
  • content that will engage your market.

Your site’s appearance is important although perhaps not as important as you might think.  A lot of money spent on high quality graphics might do nothing to further an organisation’s aims.

If you’re working with your site’s Content Management System (CMS) balancing competing demands of search engine optimisation, compelling content and accessibility can be taxing.  What strategies can you use to reconcile these competing demands?

This category will show you how to design an excellent site with or without the support of a web designer.


This category will cover things you need to know to make your website work.  I shall explore strategies for using your CMS to best advantage and other online tools to help you navigate your way to an effective site.


This category is about the nature of third sector organisations.  To be effective online, third sector organisations need to understand themselves  and their relationships with partner organisations, followers and customers.

The things that go wrong with websites are often as much to do with the sponsoring organisation as it is with the technical details.  Understanding how organisations work can help restore broken relationships and build new creative ones.  Mutuality is an aspiration for many third sector organisations and so better understanding of what it means and how it can be expressed online is an exciting area to explore.