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Drawing on the lecture and article on authenticity, explain how attempts to create authentic relationships with three of your organisation's stakeholders might be at risk of being seen as inauthentic.
Explain why this might be the case, using the stakeholder perspective as your starting point.
How does audience read it? Assess it?
It has been argued that more than ever before citizens are demanding that the institutions operating within their society behave in an authentic manner (Arthur W. Page Society, 2007). But as outlined by Edwards (2009) organisational claims to authenticity are by their very nature problematic and unsustainable in many contexts. In this essay I will look at some of issues related to authenticity in the commercial context, including its use as a sales tool and as criteria for entry to a specific field. I will then apply some of the concepts outlined by Edwards ( 2009)to the relationships Saint Michael's currently has with three of its stakeholder groups: donors, volunteers and bereavement clients. This will be used to demonstrated how the fluid and contested nature of authenticity and its connection to the social environment could lead to relationships appearing authentic.
Before beginning this discussion it is important to define two of the key concepts used throughout this essay, that if authenticity and that of the stakeholder. To be authentic, commercially, is to tap into the geist of a particular group of people so that you, or the claims you make are accepted, trusted, and the consumers you appeal to are convinced (Fachat, 2009). It is this understanding of authenticity on which this essay is based. But rather than being narrowly applied to the consumer, is has can be used in relation to the wide range of groups who can affect or be affected by the achievement of the organisation's objectives (Freeman, 1984), otherwise known as its stakeholders.
Saint Michael's has a huge range of stakeholders but this essay will concentrate on two specific categories; donors, original volunteers and the clients of our new bereavement service.
Let us begin with exploring the authenticity of our relationship with our donors. Up until 21st century charity research indicated that the majority of donors trusted charities to do a good job, so demonstrations of impact by these organisations were not necessary. But research by nfpSynergy points to the fact that this is no longer the case. They found that donors/potential donors have a high level of concern about whether charities spend their money well. This is concentrated around two specific issues: how much of donations goes to the cause and how much is spent on salaries and administration (nfpSynergy, 2004). Although this is national research we know from our own experience that these attitudes mirror those of our donors. However communications by Saint Michael' is not traditionally strong at demonstrating where and how donors money is spent. The result is that donors/ potential looking to assess the worth of our charity by these measures could be left wanting, leading them to believe that the claims made by our charity are untrustworthy and inauthentic. The knock-on effect of this could be a drop in the positive associations of being seen as authentic and a chance that donors choose not to accept our claims. As people decide what they purchase and what they don't based on how real they think the offering is (Gilmore and Pine II, 2007, quoted in Edwards, 2009, p.7) this could be disasterous for charities who rely on donations. There is no reason why we shouldn't apply this concept to charities, because the only difference is that instead of buying a tangible product, they are buying into an intangible belief of how the world should be.
This is a working example of how authenticity cannot be claimed but can only be realised as part of an organisation's reflective interaction with its environment (Ferrara, 2004, cited in Edwards, 2009, p.4). Edwards (2009) goes on to say that authenticity isn't secure and ‘……..organisations must constantly negotiate discursive and practical challenges to their claims from those who do not accept their version of the world (2009, p.11). In this case the changes in the social context( the attitudes of donors) are creating the symbols that represent an authentic experience with a charity and therefore charities, like Saint Michael's, would be wise to include demonstrations of impact, transparency and accountability in their communication or risk losing vital support.
Saint Michael's could also be at risk of losing the support of another stakeholder group due to issues around authenticity. Since 2007 the original group of volunteers who helped set up Saint Michael's have become increasingly negative about the charity, critical of what they call its increasingly business-like manner, which devalues their contributions. This change from trusted and loyal supporters to critical supporters' co-incided with the implementation of the charity's new five year strategy of service improvement and expansion, which aims to double the number of people the charity could care for by 2012. Although this plan was embraced by some stakeholder groups, such as NHS funders, corporate supporters and regulators, the increased professionalism, investment and staffing levels interpreted differently by this group of volunteers. They viewed the charity as becoming far to business like and spending too much money on staff and facilities, when the job could be done by volunteers.
This situation demonstrates how claims of authenticity are not received passively but are defined and interpreted by the audiences that receive them (Edwards, 2009). Within this paper Edwards (2009) highlights research by Grayson and Martinec (2004) and Beverlend, Lindgreen, and Vink (2008) to demonstrate how people perceive different types of authenticity using different cues. Both these pieces of research concluded that although an organisation can present itself using certain cues the way these are interpreted is defined by the audience rather than the producer. Therefore control over what is authentic is impossible (Edwards, 2009). It is very important that Saint Michael's recognises that at this point in time the normative view of its own authenticity clash with the normative if these volunteers, who are used to Saint Michael's operating as a cottage industry=, and one where they have significant levels of power. The continuation of the current relationship could therefore lead to this group of volunteers becoming increasingly disenfranchised by our perceived inauthenticity, becoming publicly critical or even withdrawing their support all together.
At this point it is important to refer to Edwards (2009) again as she uses the work of Kreber et al(2007) who argue that to be authentic in the a relationship means allowing the other party to ‘just be; making space for their own journey of self discovery by showing genuine care. Therefore it could be argued that Saint Michael's is behaving selfishly and inauthentically as its relationships with this group does not take responsibility for the negative effect of our actions on these volunteers and our responsibilities to them as part of the relationship.
The last two examples have of what Edwards (2007) describes the use of authenticity as a sales too, that is device to make the charity more appealing to stakeholders I contrast the last example discusses what Edwards (2007) describes as authenticity as criteria for membership of a particular field.
At the end of last year bereaved people across the Harrogate District were given access to a new source of help. Saint Michael's, acting on local research which demonstrated an unmet need, establishing an open access bereavement service. However no sooner was the service up and running clients were forced to assess conflicting information about the service. Saint Michael's was telling them the service as the first local specialised bereavement support centre but this position that was then publicly challenged by national bereavement charity, Cruse. Confused clients were then left to decide whether to accept Saint Michael's claims to authenticity or not, putting the services claims to authenticity in jeopardy. This type of situation is discussed by Edwards (2007) as part of wider work on authenticity as criterion for a field of production.
“Fields of production are essentially arenas of struggle where the agents within the area attempt to secure the symbolic power they need to allow them to define the field's parameters and norms in their own interests (Bourdieu, 1992 , cited in Edwards, 2007).” Others in the field may contest these norms and suggest a new understanding of what authentic really means (Edwards, 2009).
Applying this concept to the situation above and you could argue that Cruse, as the leading national bereavement charity, has symbolic power in this field and that Saint Michael's, by establishing the services made a challenge to its relevance and status locally. Goldman and Papson (1998, quoted in Edwards, 2009) believe in today's competitive marketplace this type of challenge should be continually expected. With the help of today's instant communication methods, any claims a business makes are always open to counter claim and therefore signs of authenticity are neither stable nor predictable. (Goldman and Papson, 1998, cited in Edwards, 2009). Edwards goes on the use the work of Glynn and Lounsbury (2005) to suggest that when such a challenge is made to the dominant norm is a field through the commercialism process; the field becomes unstable until a new norm evolves.
In the light of this, it is important that Saint Michael's recognises the inherently contested nature of any claims to authenticity and gives consideration to the negative effect of this public debate may have on our relationship with service users. They may not decide to use the service unsure of its claims to authenticity. Strategies need to be developed to address any negative associations held by these stakeholders as a result of Saint Michael's entering a new market, with which we are not publicly identified and within which we are receiving criticism from what perceived to be the dominant voice in this arena.
The above examples illustrate the fluid and contested nature of authenticity and how it finds its foundations in the social context. By applying these to the relationships Saint Michael's has with three particular supporters groups: donors, volunteers and bereavement clients. This essay has demonstrated how such relationships may therefore be in danger of being seen as inauthentic.