This blog is about why we as a sector need to be angry. It sets out my thoughts on why we need to deliver angrily and starts to think about how we might communicate our anger. The blog was inspired by the latest CCVS research.
Gordon Brown wrote in the Guardian that
“For the first time since the welfare state was created, it is the food bank, not social security, that is now our safety net, and charity, not universal credit, that is our last line of defence.”
Foodbanks have become the norm, so much so that we have seen politicians visiting, opening, and congratulating them on their work.
We are helping set up warm hubs because people can’t heat their homes.
More people are losing their homes as they find rent, mortgage or energy costs spiralling.
Everyone working in the sector will have their own story. They have told us how demand has increased. How the people they help have more complex needs as they cannot get access to services.
Yet as a sector we quite rightly try to do that bit more, raise that bit of extra funding, ask those volunteers to do that one extra shift. The sector quite rightly doubles down and keeps delivering. that is how it should be. that is what you do.
But if our research has shown anything it is not a bottomless pot of capacity, organisations and individuals are stretched. We know staff have left; volunteers not returned after the pandemic. We know that money is harder to come by but still we keep delivering, right up to the point where we can’t anymore.
Gordon Brown goes on to say
“Just as need rises, our country’s voluntary sector finds itself as beleaguered as the people it is helping. Compassion is not running out but cash is. Donors who have a little and generously give to those who have nothing will soon be unable to give at all. Gifts left on supermarket trolleys are declining. Many charities, like a local welfare fund I know, are flat broke. Even churches, which have selflessly offered their heated halls to help elderly people stay warm, fear they will now struggle to pay their own fuel bills.”
So, what are we, what are you going to do about it?
I suggest that you start to deliver angrily.
That is not to direct anger at those you work with, for them you will be the helpful, approachable, non-judgemental professionals you have always been.
Reserve that anger for the people who have put us and more importantly those we work with in this position.
Reserve your anger for those that spread the myths of the striver and the shirker.
Reserve your anger for those that blame the people in need and t those who make decisions that are about preserving their power or their fortune.
Reserve your anger for those that deny there is a problem or offer too little too late
Those people need to hear the roar of the small charity and the community group.
Too often the voices of our larger cousins in the charitable world are lost or are just one side of a balanced news item or are dismissed as fake news.
But when the thousands of small charities raise their voices how powerful could that become.
I ask you to tell your stories and those of the people you work with
I ask that you make more opportunities to explain why you have to exist and what you are dealing with
I ask you to call out the consequences of decision makers at all levels.
I ask you tell people what needs to change so that your services are no longer needed, however unlikely that is to be the case.
I ask you to join together with other local voices to amplify your message.
Your organisations should not be the safety net, they should be the support that helps people get off the net once you have landed on it or the harness that ensures people do not fall onto the net.
It is no longer enough to just be brilliant at what you do. I am asking you to shout. To stamp your feet, to demand change.
In September 2020 Support Cambridgeshire were commissioned to carry out some quantitative research into how the sector and statutory partners had adapted and worked together during the period of lockdown as part of this we talked with:
19 groups made up from a range of countywide, small and newly formed community groups and charities;
representatives from 6 district/city hubs and the county hub.
We carried out some basic desk research into reports and research carried out by other local and national bodies, we combined these findings with our first-hand experience in working with organisations during the period March to September 2020. This included learning from networking events, from requests for support and from catch up calls with colleagues. The report forms part of a wider document that is available here.
We have witnessed thousands of individual acts of kindness, some small some big, but all important, and all of which have contributed to the fact that people and communities in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have weathered the crisis up to this stage as best as possible.
It has been a surprise the number of bridges we have seen built. Organisations and statutory partners have reacted in ways that would not have been envisaged without the catalyst of a global pandemic.
Adaption – By the time local government looked up, activity was happening on the ground. Organisations, communities and individuals were the first and the quickest to react to the needs of people across the county. In the main everyone recognised this and went along with it. Statutory partners were able to adapt as they developed their own services and what emerged was a set of co-produced solutions that were different in each area and that built on the infrastructure that existed locally.
Relationships – These have proved vital and are the oil that allowed the machine to function. Where they were better and stronger we often saw better and more co-ordinated responses, but we have also seen new relationships formed and new partnerships entered into.
Very often how well things worked was down to who knew who. This highlighted the importance of connectors – individuals who bridge communities and organisations and can bring people together. It also highlighted the fact that it is essential for statutory partners to engage with local organisations and to build connections and trust.
Equality – Not everyone has been impacted by the pandemic in the same way. The virus has shone a light on issues of inequality; it has amplified inequalities of all type including digital, health, ethnicity, income or any other indicator. We have seen those suffering these inequalities facing additional pressures and barriers to staying safe or healthy, or access services. Much of the work of organisations has been to look at how they can reduce these barriers with their client groups to ensure people are best able to ride out lockdown or other restrictions.
What we learnt
Our overriding lesson was that there was no one correct response to the pandemic. Responses were not perfect, they were sometimes messy, confused and complicated, but organisations and statutory partners innovated, adapted and worked tirelessly to help and support people. Errors were made and these were addressed in positive ways as all organisations found ways to adapt and survive.
On the whole organisations in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have faired reasonably well. Whilst both CCVS and Hunts Forum have had to help organisations find solutions to difficult problems brought on by loss of funding or other areas, we have not seen large numbers of closures and the groups we work with have avoided large scale redundancies. Whilst organisations have lost funding, seen demand increase and had issues with volunteers not being available, we have not seen the large scale issues reported by Groundwork in their national research.
Organisations are worried.
We asked organisations whether they could continue to deliver essential services, especially during periods of further lockdown. The overriding answer was yes, but not with the capacity of first-time round, burnout is an issue as are availability of resources and volunteers with the right skills and experience.
Funding is a crucial issue. In an immediate and short-term response funders and councils have stepped in coupled with government grants or furlough payments to enable organisations to adapt services and meet demand. However, there is a growing concern about future funding. There is acknowledgement that many funders have overspent in the crisis, that local councils will be even more cash strapped than before the crisis, and that we are entering into a protracted recession. In addition the restrictions necessitated by the crisis have severely impacted on organisations ability to fund raise. We will never know if locally the sector has lost the £34.5 million predicted. But numerous national research reports say that the sector has lost anything up to £10 billion nationally.
Local is good…
Each district responded differently in response to the very different characteristics of their area and to the organisations active in the location, to geography and to the relationships that were in place and that developed. This tailored response from the local authority was welcomed by all organisations; but it did make it harder for those working across multiple districts to ensure they were plugged in to all the right places.
However, this approach has meant that not all communities have had the same support or services, resulting in a bit of a postcode lottery. Often, we have seen more activity in more deprived areas and this is born out by the groundwork report nationally.
Centralisation nationally probably caused as many problems as it solved, this included ‘Boris boxes’ and the national volunteer scheme. We did not see these issues replicated between county and district functions and organisations working at the different tiers. Essentially things worked well between local partners from all sectors.
Embrace change but maintain the focus
Client services will look different going forward even once the pandemic is behind us. Much of the move to digital delivery will be combined with a return to face to face work for many charities. There is likely to be changes to where and how people work and there is a universal desire from many statutory partners to continue to use video for many of the meetings they convene.
Communication has been key, and especially social media. Facebook and WhatsApp have been pivotal in the setting up and development of groups; they have also played a key role in allowing communities to keep in touch. This change from one central communication path to many creates a challenge in the future for organisations and statutory bodies communicating key messages. They must also ensure they meet the needs of those not able to access digital communications.
Organisations have faced challenges in maintaining the day to day functions of service delivery and not moving away from their mission. This is a particular issue for small organisations who have had to alter their services but who have few resources and little time to spend on this. These organisations will need support to enable them to embed essential changes to meet the demands of the new normal.
Much can be learnt from the pandemic, from the impact it has had on organisations, and from the way that we have seen the best and the worst of society Locally we would like to see the best of this practice encouraged and built on. This will allow real change to come from relationships and partnerships that have flourished due to Covid 19.
Keep reducing bureaucracy
There has been a significant reduction in bureaucracy during the pandemic. Organisations, funders and statutory partners have worked together to implement new services to ensure that people have been given the support they need. We want to keep this new way of working that has seen a more outcome focused rather than output focused partnership. It has been recognised that this is already starting to slip as partners regress back into their old ways of working.
A more equal partnership
We want to continue, and build on, our journey shoulder to shoulder. This means continuing to develop a more equal partnership built around common values, trust and transparency, and an investment into co-produced solutions.
Local is good
Communities have stepped up. They have recognised their needs and have worked with new or existing organisations and structures to ensure the needs were met in the most appropriate way. We want to see more weight given to local knowledge, to social value and to community investment when deciding on how to deliver services.
Empower and invest in communities
We want to see investment into communities and the organisations that sustain and nourish them. This will help to build skills and strengths and ensure truly community led, co-produced solutions. We also need to see real power divested into local communities to ensure they are at the heart of delivering solutions and services.
Support is important
Communities and the organisations that work in them have many strengths and skills, but for them to continue to deliver they will need ongoing support and the opportunity to learn and develop – well-resourced and effective support organisations are crucial to deliver this.
Our thanks go to all the organisations we interviewed and to the representatives from the district/city hubs and from the county hub. We have not named the organisations interviewed as we wanted to maintain full anonymity.
We would also like to thank the staff from Hunts Forum, Cambridge Council for Voluntary Service, Peterborough CVS and Living Sport who carried out the research interviews, and to CCVS for collating the results.
You can read more about the impact of COVID-19 on the sector, including additional information on this report on this Sway page. We will be adding to this as new research is published and as we develop further case studies.
Support Cambridgeshire is a partnership between Hunts Forum, Cambridge Council for Voluntary Service and Cambridgeshire ACRE.
Taking part in this joint event with our colleagues at Hunts Forum has been one of the highlights for me, of what has been a challenging year. The Question Time panel was diverse, informed and inspirational and they sent out some clear messages in response to the varied questions put to them.
On diversity; we can’t sit and wait for it to happen we need to get out there and talk to people, let them see who we are, what we do and how they could make a difference. We need to ask ourselves:
Do we look like somewhere that welcomes people from different backgrounds and experiences?
Are we advertising our opportunities in places that a more diverse audience will see them?
Are we removing unnecessary barriers to encourage people to find out more? Are we set up to recognise people’s potential, offering support and mentoring where needed?
Do we know about the motivations, skills and interests of our fellow trustees? What are the gaps in our knowledge bank, how will we plug these gaps?
Is our culture open to difference? When are meetings held? Do we encourage trustees to claim expenses so that those on low incomes are not disadvantaged?
Can we take advantage of the help on offer? For example, the Young Trustees Movement exists to help develop a relationship between organisations and young people so that they can contribute their leadership skills within an open and supportive environment.
To lead our organisations through this crisis we need to be willing to learn and to listen to all our stakeholders. We need to
Think ahead to plan effectively
Look for evidence to demonstrate the impact of what we are doing
Seek to mitigate the impact of increased stress and isolation on staff and volunteer teams
Collaborate with others
All this needs to happen as we ensure that we keep our charitable purpose at the heart of what we do.
To discuss any of these issues further feel free to contact the development team at Hunts Forum or CCVS. You might also be interested in upcoming online training our organisations offer, free to the voluntary sector, as part of our Support Cambridgeshire project particularly:
Effective Business planning which includes developing a theory of change planning model and putting together a business plan. 26th November 9.30 to 12
Essential skills for trustees. A two-part event will take place over 2 evenings one week apart aimed at giving trustees from community organisations and small charities the essential tools to perform their role safely and effectively. 18th & 21st January 6pm to 8pm
Virginia Henley, Head of Charities, Education and Social Enterprise at Hewitsons LLP Northampton. She is a school governor and a trustee. Virginia specialises in advising charities, universities and schools, and a wide range of not-for-profit organisations on the core legal, regulatory and governance issues they face.
Monica Brown, Head of Charity Advisory and Programmes at the Charities Aid Foundation. She is an experienced senior charity executive with extensive experience of working in and with the voluntary sector including 12 years as the National Head of England for BBC Children in Need.
Anthony Wheeler, East of England Ambassador for the Young Trustees Movement and Chair of Trustees of Cambridge Student Community Action. Anthony first became a trustee at 20 and is passionate about empowering young people and breaking down barriers. He’s part of the 1% of trustees under 26 and 3% under 30.
Patricia Rose, The Diversity Trust – Pat Rose is part of the Windrush generation who came from the Caribbean to the UK as child in the sixties. The challenges of growing up in a predominantly white working-class background inspired a lifelong commitment to Equality and Social Justice. In 2014 Pat won the Mental Health Professional Award in the BBC radio 4’s “All in the mind” National Awards.
This is our manifesto for #SmallCharities, short and sweet and only one point!
Loads of charities are writing manifestos in the run up to this election and I hope that whoever enters No 10 in December takes a look at these as they all make excellent points in a far more crafted way than I can. You can find some of the best here.
Good practice states that your manifesto should not be too long,
and I read somewhere it should have an uneven number of points and have five or
less demands. So this works!
To all prospective candidates, to all political parties and to all who are elected this is our #SmallCharity manifesto.
Give #SmallCharities more money.
That’s it! I really don’t care how this happens, but there should be a variety of opportunities to enable funding to flow to different organisations in different places doing different things. So maybe think about
Unfreezing all the dormant assets and find a way to spend the money on #SmallCharities, maybe through community foundations (thanks to NCVO for this one)
Repaying the lottery money used on the 2012 Olympics (thanks to DSC for this one) and while you are there increasing the percentage of money going to good causes.
Increase funding to local authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups so they can reinstate and increase grants to local groups.
Increase tax and ring fence some of the money to be used to improve local communities.
Give us a money tree.
If you do this #SmallCharities will carry on being the
powerhouse for good that they have always been.
If you do this #SmallCharities will continue to make the communities
we live in better, stronger and more resilient.
If you do this #SmallCharities will be able to grow and
prosper and not wither and die.
It may seem a bit crass or simplistic just asking for money,
but national research has shown that small charities have suffered more
financial pressures in the last 10 years than bigger charities.
“Over the last decade, small charities have seen a 20% decrease in their overall income while income has increased by 30% for major and super-major organisations. At the same time, the proportion of income from government going to small charities has also decreased from 2.7% of the total in 2006/07 to 2.1% in 2015/16.”
Coupled with the loss of funding smaller charities are more susceptible to short term funding decisions and to fluctuations in funding.
“Instability associated with short-term funding streams appears to be a more critical issue for smaller charities, for whom the removal or retention of single funding awards can be the difference between survival and closure.”
Not only have #SmallCharities seen disproportionate drops in funding, but by their nature they are less able to deal with these fluctuations. I would therefore ask that while you are finding us the extra money can you also ensure that this can be accessed by charities over longer periods; five years would be good 10 years would be better.
That’s it, my single point manifesto.
Give #SmallCharities more money.
With more money we will recruit, manage and
train more volunteers.
With more money we will deliver more projects to
reduce inequality, loneliness and ill health.
With more money we will waste less of our time
on fundraising and devote more to doing what it is we are best at.
With more money we will run more clubs,
activities and events for people.
With more money we will still be here in the
It really doesn’t matter how you do it – just make it
NCVO state that of the £50billion funding that comes into
the sector in a year the lottery is responsible for 1% of this, so given the
number of organisations that rely on this funding it is a surprisingly small
amount. I have not analysed who is funded but this article concentrates on those
organisations with incomes between £10K and £1million, that make up just under
half the sector.
On the whole these organisations are relying on paid staff as well as volunteers to deliver predominantly local projects. Organisations work across the whole range of issues and causes that charities cover, and unfortunately NCVO research shows that these organisations have been disproportionately impacted by austerity, seeing income drop especially from statutory sources but also in other areas.
Apart from the biggest most of these organisations will not
have a fundraiser, or, if they are lucky, they may have a part time fundraiser.
Otherwise fundraising falls to other staff and to volunteers or trustees.
So, when these organisations get a three-year Reaching Communities
grant, they breathe a sigh of relief and start concentrating on delivering
services that make a difference. This funding will often cover the bulk of the
programme that is being delivered. It will ensure a vital service continues and
the organisation has a (by our terms) long term future. These days the money
may also come with a Building Capabilities grant to improve how the
organisation works and their sustainability.
But what happens when the funding starts to reach its end?
How is this money replaced? What does sustainability mean?
If groups are very, very lucky they may get a second round
of lottery funding, but this puts off the problem for another three years or
so. But if this is not the case how do groups replace a single significant
Earn your income. According to NCVO the biggest amount of
money coming into the sector is from earnt income. This could be from selling
services or a charity shop or from contracts. This is not long term income
unless you are lucky to be able to get a contract which in the current climate
is getting harder for small organisations. Couple this with the fact that many
of these organisations are delivering to individuals and communities that can
not afford to pay, earning significant income is not going to be a big source
of new money. And to be fair the organisation was probably already maximising
this to top up their lottery funding!
We have heard of groups being advised to try Social finance, but let’s get real this is a niche funding stream that the vast majority of organisations in this size range will not be able to access even if the trustees have reached the ‘we will try anything’ point to keep the organisation afloat. You can read one take on Social Impact Bonds here
Corporate sponsorship. If I had a pound for everyone that
came to CCVS with the idea that this was going to solve their funding issues we
could return all our grants! This is not a panacea as business does not have
lots of free cash they are waiting to give to worthy causes. Building better
relationships with business is extremely positive, many organisations benefit
from financial and other support, but this type of fundraising takes time and energy.
If you want to look at how business can help there are ways but it is more than
simply sending them a well written email.
The public is the biggest external funder of the sector. But
most of these organisations do not have the expertise, staff, or time to fund
themselves in this way. Raising money from donations or legacies is time consuming.
As technology moves on many organisations do not have the wherewithal to collect
as much as they did in the past. Even in my local sandwich shop most people pay
by card which means less change going into the collection tin on the counter.
Fundraising from the public takes time and effort and you need to invest to
make it happen. Maybe those organisations who get Building Capabilities funding
should include investing in the skills and the technology to facilitate and
grow this type of funding.
This leaves the staple for many of these organisations,
grant funding! But many of these are for small amounts, often they want to fund
something new and anything more than one years funding is unusual. We regularly
see organisations trying to raise money this way. It didn’t take long to find a
local group getting money from 45 different funders to find the £180K needed to
run. The time and effort to apply and report to these is phenomenal and it has
to be repeated year in year out. No wonder we are seeing burn out,
organisations cutting projects and organisations closing.
What is sustainability in the real world. It is something we
aspire to, something we pay lip service to because we have to, or something we can
only dream about? How many of us are one funding decision away from partial or
total collapse? People want our services, so do the professionals, it is not
the need that is the issue it is the expectation that we will be there to
deliver whatever. How much energy in the sector is wasted in getting the money
and reporting and measuring? Energy that would be better used in delivering
solutions and solving problems. Pretty much every organisation has the most
senior person in the building not actually delivering services but filling in
forms and writing reports.
What is the answer?
We need multi year grants from all providers three years minimum,
5 is better.
We need all funders to stop demanding their own reports. Organisations
do financial reporting for trustees, they should also be reporting on
activities and impact. Let us tell you as funders what we are already reporting
and only ask for something different if you desperately need it.
We need more standardisation across how we apply for funds.
This is the CV vs application form debate. If organisations have written
project plans with budgets, needs analysis, outcomes etc. there should be an
easy way to apply using them along with a covering letter about how you meet
the funders particular priorities.
We need funding to enable small charities to catch up
digitally and technologically with bigger charities in order to allow them to
raise funds more effectively.
We need a long term, high profile campaign to change the
narrative about charities so that the public recognise charities as the majority
and not the minority of mega charities. That way they will think about smaller
local organisations when they fundraise, donate or leave a legacy.
We need to reverse cuts to local government and other
statutory services and ensure that they are funding local services and groups.
We need the HNS and local Clinical Commissioning groups to
put their money where their mouth is about the importance of non-clinical and
preventative services. We need to start to fund this to save money in the
We have to address inequality as a country in order to
reduce its impact on people across all aspects of their lives.
Lottery funding is fantastic (if you are reading this we
could do with some here at CCVS) but with it comes the inevitable cliff edge of
what happens when it runs out. Fundraising is taking more time, energy, and
resources away from delivering solutions. This is especially true in the
smaller organisations who have been most impacted by austerity and reductions
to income. We really need to address this or more organisations will be forced
to close projects or simply cease to exist.
If you ask many small charities and groups, the answer to the above question is “not enough people”. If you ask most members of the public, they would probably look at you blankly and ask what a trustee does. Almost nobody volunteers for a charity because of the quality and excitement of their trustee meetings. People get involved because it is a cause, an organisation, a mission they are passionate about; people want to make a difference by doing, campaigning, interacting and not by meeting to check the safeguarding policy is up to date or the annual returns have been posted! Too often trustees are press-ganged into the role, I have lost count of the number of trustees I have met over the years who were dedicated supporters and/or volunteers of a charity and have been co-opted (coerced) onto the board because there was a need for more bodies.
Lots has been written about diversity on boards and this is
something that should be encouraged, but too often the reality for most
charities is that ‘we will take anyone who offers’. I know any number of
charities who are so desperate for a treasurer they would happily accept the Count
from Sesame Street as at least he understands numbers. Sometimes diversity or
skills are less important than warm bodies who will turn up. We need to think
about how smaller groups can turn this around given that there is no budget,
and that there is less kudos and more work in small organisations, often
trustees have to take on the day to day management tasks as there are not the
staff or volunteers to do this. Arguably the role of say the secretary in a
small organisation with a £50,000 turnover is more time consuming than it is in
a multi-million pound one. In the small organisation you are doing it all, in
the larger one you are checking that someone has done ‘it’.
Without a doubt a diverse, highly skilled, and well
recruited trustee board is a positive benefit to an organisation. There are
lots of people thinking about this at the moment, but I wonder how many will do
so in a practical way for small organisations. How much of the advice will take
into account the reality of working in rural or more deprived communities?
Recently Susan Elan Jones, the Labour MP for Clwyd South and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Charities and Volunteering introduced a 10 minute bill that has passed the first stage in parliament. This would add trustees to the list of activities that organisations have to give employees reasonable time off to attend, putting trustees on a par with councillors, magistrates and school governors. This is a good thing but there has been a recent issue with these bills making it through the parliamentary process. And anyway parliament seem to be obsessed with something else at the moment! – We can hope this is successful and you can find out more in this article.
If we assume that this happens will it help our small groups?
Yes but …. What is reasonable time off? What does it mean to smaller local
firms who may employ the local trustees? What does it mean for those in low income
or temporary work who may be the trustees of the grassroots organisations? Will
this mean more trustees for small local charities?
Should we pay them
My answer is and always will be no. This may seem idealistic
but if you start paying people then motivations change and so does the whole
ethos of charities IMHO. So, no payment but let’s be better about expenses.
Encourage people to take them, if all do it, it won’t make that person who does
need to take them feel stigmatised. If those that don’t need them donate the
money back to the charity or another charity great, and we can claim gift aid,
so great with a perk! Also remember expenses might include paying for child
care or to overcome other barriers to coming out like a carer or interpreter.
We all say we pay expenses but how many of us are doing it as no one has asked?
Open recruitment will make us more diverse.
That is what the research says, and I have to agree. But (and there is always a but), how practical is this for small groups with no budget and little experience. Luckily there are lots of resources available including a new guide from Getting on Board called ‘How to recruit trustees for your charity’ This has lots of advice that builds on the ‘Taken on Trust’ research. This included work to support 30 charities to recruit new trustees of which 74% were successful. Whilst this is great if only ¾ were successful when given significant help and support then it shows how difficult it can be for small organisations.
CCVS is there to offer some support so do contact us if you need help, but you have to sell your organisation and the role! Few organisations do advertise, and when they do it is generally in the free places where they are appealing to the ‘usual suspects’. By putting your advert on Reach or on Do-It, or for that matter on the CCVS website, you are advertising to people who are engaged. By advertising on social media, you are competing with all the other noise. This is a start but if you are looking to diversify your board you are going to have to invest time, energy and resources into this then. Use the above guide to try and get it as perfect as possible and be creative with your ad and where you place it..
Why do no diverse people come forward when we advertise?
There is an issue about diversity on boards. The Charity Commission has been (unhelpfully) highlighting this for a while. I am pretty sure that most of those working in the sector are aware of this. Unfortunately, open recruitment will not solve this alone. We need to address some fundamental issues which stem from the ‘that’s not for the likes of me’ syndrome. We need to look at any issues that exist about why some people do not see themselves as trustees. We need to look at why those from the working class or those from lower income groups do not see them selves as trustees. We need to address why there are fewer people from BAME communities who are trustees. We need to think why young people are not becoming trustees. We need to spread the word that trusteeship is about them, that they do have skills, insights and experiences that are important, we need to highlight the things that people can gain from being a trustee (there is a whole blog about what I have gained from it, but do check out this). If whole sections of the community do not see themselves as potential trustees no amount of open advertising is going to improve things.
So what can we do?
I think that there is a disconnect in the advice and the
reality for small charities (those with an income below £100K). I also think
that there is more that we as a sector can do, and more that we as a local
support organisation can do.
We see many adverts that list the skills needs for trustees as HR, finance, management, social media etc. and less that stress the need for commitment, passion, interest, lived experience. We need to get better at appealing to a wider group of people, we have to work to write better adverts.
We need to find ways to make more people see themselves as trustees. This means that groups working with these individuals need to look at how we educate and inform people that charities want them.
We need to find funders that will fund grassroots programmes to provide advice, support and training to get more people to become trustees.
Charities have to want diverse boards and not just say they do. Often boards become ‘clubs’ and this is very off putting if you do not naturally fit in. It is important that all organisations look for new ideas and disrupters, and are able to engage with and encourage the change that they bring.
We need to think where we are advertising and not simply use the usual channels, and this is where open recruitment needs to be better – if we have an advert that appeals to a certain group, we need to put it in front of that group.
We need to put in place appropriate training and support for new trustees. This has to be from infrastructure organisations and also from the trustee’s own organisation. We need to make this support and training flexible and appropriate to trustees from all backgrounds.
We need to be better at articulating both the difference that trustees make and the personal benefits that being a trustee brings. Many volunteering opportunities are couched in this way and sometimes it feels that trustees are looked at differently than volunteers when in fact it is simply one form of volunteering.
We need to make our meetings accessible to different people, this means looking at the times and venues but also at the use of technology and how we structure meetings.
Without trustees the sector grinds to a halt, yet for many small groups getting trustees is an ongoing struggle. We need investment that will both help the groups look in new places as they recruit, and will also help more people to see themselves as potential trustees. We need good quality advice, support and training for new and existing trustees to ensure they are kept informed and up to date with best practice and legislation. We need everyone, including the Charity Commission, promoting the fantastic work charities do and how trustees contribute to this.
What I need to move my charity forward and be the best it can is someone committed and passionate about our vision. I can’t teach that, I can teach a bit of charity law, or finance or strategic planning.
Hello! It’s Amy here. I’d like to talk to you about the online Coffee Mornings and the Walk and Talk that I assist Ellie with as part of my volunteering with CCVS. Myself and Ellie decided to organise both of these as an opportunity for people who may be interested in volunteering to meet and talk to people from organisations who recruit volunteers. This is a good way to find out what volunteering opportunities are out there which you may wish to look into further.
Some people feel more comfortable to meet online (which is where the coffee mornings come in). They’re on Zoom and we usually start with an introduction and a brief chat. Then someone from an organisation does a presentation and participants have a chance to ask questions (perhaps to find out more about volunteering there) or general questions about the organisation. For example, we’ve had speakers from Kettle’s Yard, Safe Soulmates and the Red Hen.
These online coffee mornings are good because they give people the chance to find out what’s out there in terms of volunteering opportunities (as well as getting a general feel of what’s out there in the community) and can be done in an environment where they feel comfortable. They can also be a good opportunity for people within organisations to connect with each other (if they want to).
It’s always interesting to hear about what each organisation does and what volunteering opportunities they have. We’ve heard from lots of different organisations in the last year and there’s so much that could have been overlooked if they hadn’t taken the time to talk to us. It also gives the participants a chance to talk about their experience of volunteering as well as finding out what opportunities are out there.
The idea of the Walk and Talk events are similar to the online coffee mornings (but more active and in the great outdoors) and gives potential volunteers a chance to meet others (including people from organisations who recruit volunteers) face to face. It’s just chat and a chance to talk about your interests in terms of volunteering (rather than a presentation as such). It’s not as structured as the online coffee mornings and always weather permitting!
These walks are different each time and sometimes we get a small group and sometimes big ones. We’ve heard lots of interesting things from both participants and people from organisations (including Cambridge University Museum, Fight Bladder Cancer and more). It’s good when people feel relaxed and want to chat about lots of things (their experiences as volunteers, their goals and aspirations, mental and physical health for example). Of course, it’s up to people themselves what they want to talk about, though.
If you would like to join us for our walk and talk and/or coffee mornings, get in touch with Ellie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07840989719. We are looking forward to seeing you!
Our thanks to Neil Thompson of Romsey Mill for this write up.
Romsey Mill is a Cambridge-based charity that has been engaging with disadvantaged young people, children and families, and helping to grow community, since 1980.
The charity’s vision is for a transformed society where everyone can fully belong, positively contribute and thrive.
Romsey Mill works to making this vision a reality by creating opportunities with young people, children and families to overcome disadvantage, promote inclusion and develop personal, social and spiritual wellbeing.
This vision for the future and purpose in the present is inspired by beliefs and values that are rooted in the Christian faith.
Romsey Mill engages with over 2,000 local young people, children and families, and also provides facilities for community use at Romsey Mill Centre, as well as managing two other local community centres on behalf of the City Council.
We have a team of 50 employees, working part and full-time engaged in programme delivery and administrative support. Over 100 volunteers help in a wide variety of ways.
For many years, the Trustees and Management Team of Romsey Mill have committed to paying the Real Living Wage to all of its employees, including sessional workers.
Earlier this year, we took the decision to apply for accreditation as a Real Living Wage employer.
We did this because we wanted to make public our commitment to paying the Real Living Wage. We also wanted to join with others in promoting this as the right thing for all employers to do, particularly in Cambridge, the most unequal city in the UK, according to recent studies by the Centre for Cities.
The accreditation process was relatively straight forward, with excellent support and training from Cambridge Council for Voluntary Service.
We have now completed the application process and received our accreditation, and our commitment to paying the Real Living Wage can be made more public, re-enforcing our commitment to being alongside and working with local people overcome disadvantage.
We would now encourage other organisations in Cambridge to do the same. Particularly those who have already been paying all their staff the Real Living Wage. Gaining accreditation is a small administrative and financial price for organisations to pay for helping to overcome disadvantage and inequality in our city.
Sally Page, Development Worker at CCVS says:“CCVS are delighted that Romsey Mill have become an accredited Living Wage Employer and are proud to be working with Cambridge City Council to administrate grants, available to cover the initial Living Wage Foundation accreditation cost for Cambridge based voluntary organisations.
With the cost of living going up, the need to take action to enable better pay across our sector is as vital as ever. Whilst this is just one cog in the wheel, if you join us in becoming a Living Wage Employer you will be contributing towards Cambridge becoming a fairer city, and that can only be a good thing.”
No one (or at least almost no one) goes into working or volunteering for a charity or community group to do evaluation, because they love data, or they like filling in forms. But the reality is that as soon as you start delivering a service or an activity you should be thinking about how you will understand the difference it is making and how successful it is. The chances are that if you are receiving funding it is likely that whoever gave you the money will ask for a report. If you have trustees or a committee they need to know you are doing what you are supposed to be doing and will need to see the ‘proof’. Monitoring and evaluation should not just be a chore that you have to do to get funding, it should be something built into the very bones of your organisation or group. This blog gives our 6 essential tips, but if you want to know more check out the CCVS training or that offered by other local and national support bodies.
If monitoring and evaluation is simply something you do because others have ‘forced’ you then it is only ever going to be a chore and you will have missed out on important learning.
Look for ways that allow you to meet the needs of lots of different stakeholders at the same time. But also make sure the process is working for the organisation. It is your opportunity to get information that helps tell your story and to promote your successes. How much better to say that we helped groups gain £10 million in income rather than that 50 people came to our fundraising training.
If you get to the end of a project and only then think about the evaluation and monitoring it will be much harder or impossible to do.
You need to start thinking about this aspect of the project as you are planning the project. Start thinking about what you are trying to change, how you might measure this and how you will capture the data you need. If the monitoring and evaluation takes place throughout the project then there are opportunities to change how you do things to improve what you offer. Also by making sure you are taking the time to collect data as you go it will give you more to work with when you have to report.
There is also a chance that collecting feedback and data as you go will give you useful quotes etc to help tell your story, and also help you to raise additional funding by helping to answer those questions about need, about clients informing your work as well as about the difference you make. Never under estimate the value of a good quote from someone who has used your services, and more importantly never feel shy about using it at every possible opportunity.
There are some common words that you will need to get your head around so that you can be sure you are doing what will be most useful and informative for you and other stakeholders.
Once you have mastered some of the language, what you are monitoring and how you evaluate it does not have to be complicated. It is important that what you do reflects the size of the project you are doing, and that it enables you to answer the questions you need answering and show the difference you are making. For a small project it may simply be about collecting numbers of attendees and where they are from, but if you can add some feedback in the form of quotes or produce a case study this will help add depth to your report.
Sometimes it will not be possible to measure what you want to know about. Sometimes there will not be an obvious way to look at the difference you make. This does not mean you can’t evaluate your work and monitor things.
You may have to think about proxy indicators that allow you to show your difference with your time scale and budget. If you work with young people you can’t tell if your project has kept them out of prison, but you may be able to get feedback about how positive they are about their life following your activity.
Also think about how you can be creative in getting feedback in a way that is suitable for your audience. This could involve using technology or art but it does not always have to be a happy sheet or an interview. There are loads of resources on this as well as how to be more creative about how you use data.
You have to find ways to engage people and to tell a compelling story. At the same time, you may want to think about what platforms you will be sharing on and ensure that any reports or slides etc are able to work for you across different platforms and with different audiences.
It may seem obvious but how many reports are produced and then simply put on a shelf and ignored.
If you have gone to the effort of doing the monitoring and evaluation make sure you use it. This is about shouting about the difference you make. It is about looking at ways that you can improve and build on the work you are doing. It is about using what you find to demonstrate need if you want to look for extra or continuation funding. The chances are that once you have the data then it will be useful in producing your annual report and review. It will be useful to trustees to enable them to see that the charity is doing what it should. Think about how you can make the information you have work as hard as possible for you.
In this guest post from Laura White, you have a fantastic opportunity learn first had about volunteering in Berlin and gains ’em insights that you can apply in your own organisations wherever you are in the world.
Over to Laura…
It’s rare that someone gets to drop out of their normal life for twelve weeks, but thanks to Sustrans’ career break policy, that’s exactly what I was able to do between April and July this year. I put cover in place for my job for three months, packed my bags and travelled to Germany with literally zero plans, apart from to try to volunteer.
I wasn’t sure how easy it would be – I can speak a bit of German, but I wondered if volunteering opportunities might be limited by the fact that I couldn’t commit long-term. In my job looking after volunteering on Scotland’s National Cycle Network, I’ve…