“Give us a shift”

It sounds like the title of an industrial relations best- seller.

It isn’t, but it could be a clarion call to the voluntary sector across Cambridgeshire to engage with business.

Let me explain…

I read the Support Cambridgeshire State of the Sector Survey for 2017 with some interest. For the first time, it asked the voluntary sector about the support they received form business, and what the nature of such support looked like. The voluntary sector includes charities, community organisations and Friends of Groups, of which there are many.

There’s life out there:

volunteer-1326758_1280We all know that local business lives and works in local communities. My own personal view is that  it’s in businesses best interests to work with the voluntary sector and its communities, not out of pure altruism, or because their Corporate and Social Responsibility Policy requires them to do so, but because it opens that business to new perspectives and new markets. It personally develops staff, and enables business to share their learning experiences.

I was heartened to see that 36% of those community organisations surveyed said that had received some support from local business, and that most of that support had been given face to face by the business concerned.  So no shortage of direct interaction there then..!!

I was more concerned about the following statistic: Of those community organisations that had received support from local business, 42% (almost half) felt they needed no further assistance.

The one shot deal:

I have been contacted by numerous large companies over the past 12 months seeking a team building day, dredging ponds or clearing shrub. Whilst these days are undoubtedly useful for the voluntary sector, they can be limiting (not every community organisation has a pond to dredge after all) and can require a great deal of planning and resource on behalf of the community organisation concerned. Could this be a reason for that statistic?

Or could it simply be that the voluntary sector has yet to grasp the nettle in understanding the importance of on-going support from local business, and that we still fail to talk each other’s language.

So my first resolution on the back of these survey results is to find out.

I need some help:

Of those organisations that had never received any support from business, 79% said they wanted some. Top of their hit list was assistance in marketing and fundraising. Not surprising really.

The voluntary sector is becoming increasingly more competitive, and funding ever harder to achieve and sustain. Funders want more bang for their buck, with more demonstrable evidence of impact for the money given. Finding other forms of income, above and beyond achieving grant funding is becoming essential for the sector, and good quality marketing can give organisations an edge over their competitors. I guess a marketer would call that a USP (the Unique Selling Proposition).

Raising income through fundraising activities is an ever useful weapon in the armoury of community organisations: Time-banking is a great example of that, with successful local events and crowd-funders seen as integral to the way they operate.

To broker or not to broker:

I have read a lot over the past 12 months about how to engage with business. Every commentator believes that business working with communities has to be the way forward, yet most of the schemes I have seen which try to broker a relationship between business and communities appears to be struggling. Evidence suggests that community groups face considerable barriers when approaching business for help and support, and brokerage is seen as key to overcoming these. I am not convinced. Having struggled to broker relationships with business across Cambridgeshire over the past 12 months, there could be another, more simpler way of bringing two or more parties together.

Perhaps we should take a different view. Maybe community groups should simply be trained to make the ask of business, and so called brokers should monitor the results. This is what infrastructure organisations do really well. We train, support and advise, and monitor the impact.

It seems to me that some of our community organisations have got on with the business of engaging with business without any brokerage whatsoever, so perhaps we can learn from them.

I feel a second resolution coming on: I will talk to these groups and get them together in a best practice masterclass on how they did what they did. Others can then learn from the experience, and training needs can be identified. Once again, this is what Infrastructure organisations do really well, bringing people together to talk and share learning, skills and challenges.

Give us a shift:

I guess that’s the clarion call really. Confident and passionate community organisations, trained and capable of asking support from business when they need it.

We all know that relationships are crucial in any walk of life, and this is no different. One small thing can lead to larger others: The call to Give us a shift could lead to donations, good-will gifts, the transfer of knowledge and skill and ultimately, better relations (beyond the world of Corporate and Social Responsibility Policy documents) – and who doesn’t want that.  

The role of infrastructure is to harness the energy that already exists, and make sure people know about it in order to replicate it. Looks like I have some planning to do….???

A personal viewpoint from Russell Rolph, Development Manager of Support Cambridgeshire, commenting on the results of the Annual State of the Sector Survey 2017.

August 2017


“Good things come in small parcels”

“Good things come in small parcels”

I am not sure where this quote comes from so I will attribute it to my Mum (who was small), who used it every Christmas when someone (usually me) complained that they didn’t have any big presents.

And you know what my Mum was obviously very wise!

The Glue that binds


Every day here at CCVS we work with groups that are doing amazing things, and many of those are doing that with very little funding and little or no paid staff time. In fact, this year 58% of those groups who responded to our annual survey had an income below £50,000 a year; 69% had 5 or less staff, and 35% had no staff.

These groups are at the core of what makes the communities in which we live ‘good places to live’. These small groups bring people together. These small groups provide services to fellow community members. These small groups, unfortunately, replace underfunded statutory services. If I look at the village where I live there are groups doing all these things and more. The archaeology society has brought people together through its programme of digging test pits across the village, its local talks, and now its work with local schools. The local Baptist Church runs a mother and baby/toddler group that allows parents to come together, make friends, and provides activities for the children. The local infant school PTA raised over £20,000 to provide the children with new IT, exciting learning opportunities and additional resources.

Robert Putnam said that we are now bowling alone and the latest national survey shows that volunteer numbers have reduced and that people volunteer for shorter periods. But I wonder if the small groups working in communities and the volunteers they have simply fly so far beneath the radar that few, outside their communities, know they are there. We know that some groups are struggling to get volunteers. We know that volunteering patterns are changing. We know that people work more hours for more years. Whilst these problems are real, and groups need help recruiting and retaining volunteers and developing volunteering opportunities that fit with people’s other commitments, I am always astounded by what people do and what the groups and organisations they give time to do. Last weekend alone me and 12,405 other people across the UK volunteered at Parkrun and Junior Parkrun events; 116,928 people finished the events. People were connected, active, healthy, and doing something in and for their communities.

So, there you are, small community organisations and volunteer led groups are the glue that binds communities together; as well as the deliverer of untold numbers of services and activities.

The growing darkness

dark moonNational research has shown that it is the smaller organisations that have been most impacted by austerity measures and changes to how national and local government fund the sector.

We have seen grants from local authorities fall in real terms for several years, and there is a real postcode lottery as to the funding a group might get dependent on where it operates. Coupled to this we have seen changes to how and what the Big Lottery will fund; and the consolidation (locally) of many corporate grants programmes into the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation.

Linked to the downturn in funding availability is the upturn in demand. As local authority and health thresholds for statutory help increase, more people are left to seek help from voluntary groups. There has been a marked increase in the use of Food banks. Many organisations working with those with mental health issues are seeing clients with increasingly complex needs and their ability to refer on to statutory or clinical services has gone down.

At the same time, there are growing pressures to get organisations of all size to meet different sets of regulations or rules. Changes in fundraising practice which came about following the failings of a number of big charities will have some knock-on effect on the small ones. Data protection will become an even bigger issue for all organisations regardless of their size. The charity commission is no longer there to support organisations but to regulate them. Whilst the impacts of all these changes may be less for smaller organisations their ability to know about them never mind implement them is a growing issue.

Organisations are run by volunteers in the form of trustees, and whilst calls to end charity such as that in the Guardian[1] are misplaced and written as ‘click bait’ the expectations and pressures are growing. Many small organisations are governed by individuals who are passionate about the work or cause; very few trustees are passionate about governance. Generally, trustees find themselves in the role after becoming a long term volunteer or by having been ‘asked’ by existing trustees in their acquaintance. It is essential that trustees are aware of all the different regulations, rules and laws that cover their work. From insurance requirements to financial management requirements and employment rights, the list is endless (or at least very long).

The light at the end of the tunnel

tunnelSo, to recap. We need small voluntary groups and charities for healthy local communities.

Healthy communities are better able to support, sustain and nurture individuals.

Small voluntary groups and charities are finding it harder to find the money they need to operate.

The trustees of the small voluntary groups and charities are being drowned under increasing regulation.

What these small groups, communities and individuals need is somewhere to turn to give them the skills, knowledge and confidence to deliver their services and stay sustainable. They also need someone who will champion their needs with statutory bodies and the wider public.

They need local infrastructure organisations like those in the Support Cambridgeshire partnership.

The Support Cambridgeshire annual survey shows the fact that organisations value their membership of both CCVS and Hunts Forum. They value the work we do to represent their needs and those of the wider sector and they appreciate the advice, support, training and communications. It is essential that this local service remains. Despite the wisdom of ages being available at the click of a Goggle search many organisations want some help in identifying the best resources, and in transferring the information into knowledge. Groups want access to local, free training that it is pitched at the right level. They want to be able to contact someone who will answer their question on all aspects of running a voluntary group. They want help identifying and applying for relevant funding pots. They don’t need consultants or long-term scrutiny; they don’t need courses in London or online.

Local infrastructure may well have fallen out of favour with many funders and with national government. Local authorities may try and squeeze it by asking for more for less. But local organisations value the service. By investing in strong and sustainable local infrastructure you are investing in a diverse and sustainable local voluntary and community sector; and therefore, in strong, resilient communities.

Local infrastructure may not impact directly on individuals lives and well-being but it does ensure that there are more groups out there that can, and do.

“It is difficult to sum up the support from CCVS in a few words! It is, quite simply, vital for organisations like ours who are small and inexperienced in many areas and also who sometimes struggle with confidence on bigger issues. It is amazing to know that there is high-quality support for us, and also such frequent and detailed updates about funding and what is going on in the sector. Thank you for all you do for us and organisations like us”

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2017/aug/08/kids-company-is-charity-worth-saving

Crowdfunding for the Third Sector

Crowdfunding has moved on a long way since the early days of JustGiving which tended to focus on small projects for good causes.

Now, crowdfunding is seen as a viable alternative to more mainstream finance streams, as investors are increasingly looking for better deals than are offered by traditional savings.  This opens up many new ways to secure funding – but beware, there are pitfalls!

Launched at the end of May, CRUCIALCrowdfunding.com helps you make the most of the crowdfunding opportunities currently available.  The website will help you to:

  • Decide which type of crowdfunding is best for you – debt or equity, donation or reward
  • Choose which of the many different platforms around is most suitable for your project
  • Plan your critical pre-campaign period so you are able to make the most of the campaign itself
  • Manage the campaign itself so you are best able to secure success

We have recently run a series of workshops to help charities and social enterprises make the most of crowdfunding opportunities.  If you would like us to run one for your organisation, get in touch.   We also run social media training to make sure your campaign fully maximises the online opportunities.

“the workshop was very engaging and informative”

“great crowdfunding worshop today! I recommend it to anyone wanting a good introduction”

We will soon be publishing a directory of crowdfunding platforms which are amongst the most suitable for the third sector.  Keep watching…

Source: Crowdfunding for the Third Sector

Free community building training event – book today to secure a place.

Hiring agreement training

As a management committee would you like to know more about hiring arrangements and licencing policies?  This could be just the course for you!

The event will enable Trustees to have a better understanding of the importance of having a strong hiring agreement for users in place and also an appreciation of licencing policies relating to their venues. This session is open to all management committee members so they will have the confidence to return to their hall/building and check they have the correct policies and procedures in place.

Topics covered by this course

  • Hire Agreements
  • Legislation affecting halls
  • Music licencing
  • Premises licencing

Spaces are limited so we are encouraging people to book early to avoid disappointment.