Support services for the VCS

Underpinning the sector

Full report available here

Good leadership of the sector is integral to the development of strong organisations and a more robust sector

Infrastucture organisations are vulnerable to playing a poor second to the front line.

In March 2012, London Funders brought together funders from across the capital to challenge a breadth of attitudes and remind funders of the range of support services which the sector needs.

A harsh reality 
Alison Blackwood Head of Policy, London Voluntary Service Council (LVSC), explored the harsh reality of funding cuts to support services in London (see her presentation). Not only have ChangeUp and Basis funding been lost (some transition funding remains in the latter programme) but London Councils, in its first round of recent cuts to its budget, made significant cuts to infrastructure work: 25% of its funding of this part of the sector was cut and a further 12% in its support of volunteering, as well as reductions in some advocacy support.

Sakthi Suriyaprakasam, Consultant for the Value of Infrastructure Programme (VIP), NCVO, explained how VIP started (see Sakthi’s presentation), with the development of a description of what support organisations do – producing a functions map based  on connecting, influencing and development activity. Sakthi emphasised how much broader these functions are than “capacity-building”. As she said, when voluntary organisations first thought of the need for infrastructure agencies, they did so in order to create a voice for themselves –a reminder that voluntary sector infrastructure is not a separate entity but “right at the heart of the sector”.

Transforming Local Infrastructure
Increased demand and a palpable shift of funding away from support services are speeding up rethinking of how services are delivered. The government’s Transforming Local Infrastructure programme is putting almost £6 million into London in the next 18 months to create change and experiment with new ways in which support organisations can collaborate in developing new approaches to their service delivery that is intended to support sustainability.

Alice Wallace, Third Sector Development Manager, London Borough of Tower Hamlets and Khadiru Mahdi, CEO of Tower Hamlets CVS presented Tower Hamlets’ successful bid for this funding, in a project designed to develop a broader partnership to co-ordinate services for a more effective front line in the borough. The bid’s success gives the voluntary sector partners more clout in their relationship with the Council. See their presentation here.

Building trust and capabilities
There was some discussion about the process by which trust can be built between organisations to allow them to work confidently together and the point was made that infrastructure organisations need to model good practice for the front line to observe.

Success of TLI is however thought to hinge not be so much on the consolidation of organisations but in a newly entrepreneurial approach in the sector, with new markets developed.

Alison Rowe, Senior Head of Region, London, Big Lottery Fund introduced BIG’s discussion paper, Building capabilities for impact and legacy addressed especially to VCS and social enterprise managers working in frontline and infrastructure organisations. It sets out BIG’s approach to building capabilities within voluntary organisations and offers an opportunity to influence this approach. BIG wants to be more purposeful in its investment so that there is a measureable impact from it as a legacy in the VCS. There is a lot of change in public policy and delivery and this needs to be reflected in the way the VCS operates. The discussion paper aims to show how BIG’s funded organisations could be more sustainable and entrepreneurial, have greater impact (and demonstrate this) and get help with self-identified needs. The discussion paper is now closed to responses, more information and a final version of the paper can be viewed here.

Support of volunteering
To close the presentations, London Funders invited Justin Davis Smith, CEO of Volunteering England, to offer a strategic overview of the reality of supporting organisations that use volunteers, in the current policy and funding climate (see his full speech). The context for him is one where volunteers have never been more needed, nor more feted by politicians, and yet seem to have fallen out of favour with policy makers and, to an extent, funders.

For every £1 spent on volunteering the return to an organisation is around £7

In discussion participants fed back key reflections:

We need better analysis of the skills currently deficient in the VCS so that support organisations can direct their help to where it is urgently needed

A reminder that funders increasingly recognise that they are funding services and not organisations

Encourage consortium working and improve infrastructure organisations’ confidence to innovate

Second tier organisations need to be much better at showing what they know and how they apply their knowledge (this is perhaps especially true at national and regional level).

The need for a change of culture in the support sector – an increase in entrepreneurial behaviour, more sharing of assets and a reduced dependency on external support

Useful resources and links

NCVO-Value of Infrastructure Programme
Tools to help all kinds of infrastructure organisationsto better assess, improve and communicate their impact.