What to do about tension between Headquarters and Affiliate offices

What to do about tension between Headquarters and Affiliate offices.png

If you work for a nonprofit which has offices all over the country or world, you may have noticed some tension between the headquarters and its affiliate offices, or even between different affiliate offices when “turf wars” arise. In Season 4 Episode 11, the Nonprofit Jenni Show podcast addresses this natural tension to compare the positive and negative aspects of working for a far-reaching charity organization. Two anonymous nonprofit employees offer their perspectives on what it’s like to work for the home office, for an affiliate office, and even overseas where cultural norms are completely different. They also provide advice on how you can work within the system to improve relations among your staff and between offices.


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☑️ Streamline processes across the organization.

My first guest “Amy” talked about how “red organization” had vague corporate values, but didn’t have defined processes or routines. The organization’s national efforts seemed very disjointed and didn’t inspire camaraderie. On the other hand, the “green organization” had defined processes and shared best practices among affiliate branches so the entire organization became stronger.

☑️ Ask staff about their personal goals.

Employees spend more waking time at your office than they do at their own homes. Is their work meaningful and inspiring? “Amy” said the “red organization” would give instructions and set expectations without employee buy-in. Conversely, the “green organization” leaders asked staff to talk about their career path and personal priorities, allowing staff to get involved in setting collaborative goals for the organization.

☑️ Invest in your staff.

Include room in your budget for your staff’s professional development training. Also, encourage staff to invest in one another. Instead of having all training materials come directly from the home office, ask affiliate team members to contribute through their practical experiences and learned practices. If you are not in a leadership position, advocate for your own goals and seek out your own professional development opportunities to show your enthusiasm for growth. Also, don’t forget to bring in outside consultants when a fresh perspective is needed.

☑️ Make sure staff actively engage in the mission.

Even if staff members serve in administrative and office-based roles, it’s important for them to regularly immerse themselves in the organization’s mission. Development, marketing, operations, and other office staff need to remember they’re working for a life changing cause which is bigger than their individual job. This will help with employee retention and workplace culture.

☑️ Dedicate plenty of time to care for affiliate staff.

My second guest “Mary” talked about how “water organization” didn’t make intentional efforts to support staff located overseas. Practical issues such as finding schools for staff members’ children weren’t considered, and retention efforts for home office employees were far better than any efforts which happened to reach international staff. On the other hand, “relief organization” had a staff person whose only job was coordinating support for overseas employees in a variety of areas.

☑️ Offer solutions, not just problems.

If you notice your headquarters office is pursuing a project or using a tactic which isn’t effective in accomplishing the organization’s mission, find a tactful and constructive way to call attention to the issues. Also, be sure to offer a more impactful strategy instead of just pointing out the negative aspects of the situation.

☑️ Take time to find great staff.

Don’t make hasty hiring decisions for your affiliate offices, because these cost much more time and money for your organization in the long term. When you do have trustworthy team members in other offices, lean into their advice and always involve them in decision making.


Nonprofit Jenni is currently accepting new clients who need consulting or coaching in the areas of Engagement, Communications, and Marketing strategy.

I also cover a wide range of topics related to nonprofit management on my podcast, including board development, program creation, and grant writing.