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More data is not the answer

This briefing shares the experiences of the 20 staff participating in our Evaluation Roundtable Community of Practice sessions during September 2020. These sessions saw a renewed focus on many familiar questions about effective learning – “how can we create an environment where we hear what went badly not just what went well?”; “how can we judge the totality of our contribution not just one programme or intervention?’” “how can we keep learning at the heart of how we do things day-to-day?” – and helpful debate on when, how and why these questions help learning and evaluation staff to bring value to the challenging decisions facing both funders and the VCSE organisations they support.

As well as sharing their experiences, we also offer our reflections on the questions and opportunities for funders that they raise.

Community of Practice sessions are open to all foundation staff leading on evaluation and learning. Our aim is to create a space where they can share challenges and dilemmas, and learn from each other’s experiences in their efforts to put learning at the heart of their foundations’ response going forward.

Looking for more stability

This tenth briefing shares the experiences of 24 leaders participating in online peer support sessions between 28th July and 21st August, and our reflections on the questions and opportunities for funders that they raise. 


Summary

 

Three issues remain at the forefront of leaders’ minds:

  1. Staff and personal welfare: ‘Everyone is going through their own pandemic… two staff have had Covid, one has had a child … we can all be vulnerable during this time.’  
  2. Supporting the most vulnerable: ‘The local authority is trying to work out whether they are illegally or legally housing them. We’re just sitting and waiting for them to make a decision on this.’
  3. Adapting within a context of uncertainty: ‘I feel in a state of limbo and we’ll have to “suck it and see”.’

VCSE leaders need:

  1. Trust and flexibility: ‘[What is helpful is] funders really trusting your track record. When you’ve been doing good work for a long time, we need funders to rely on that’.
  2. Realism about what is possible in the current context: ‘Funders may assume digital services are cheaper, but they need to take into consideration planning time, and that it will mean the organisation has to run multiple small groups rather than one large group’
  3. Access to peer support: ‘It makes me want to be creative. It has drawn me out of my cloud of uncertainty’.

 

From very early in this crisis, we have heard a drumbeat of consistent and emphatic messages from VCSE leaders – ‘be flexible’, ‘trust us’, ‘understand the pressure we are under and reflect this in how you work’, Unrestricted funding, lighter touch reporting, and radically streamlined application processes are within the gift of most – if not all – funders. As we enter the autumn, with a long road ahead on the implications and impact of Covid-19, and a planning environment that is subject to so many variables outside all of our control, VCSE organisations need the funders who have embraced these changes to hold their nerve. And for many others to join them. 


Read the full series of briefings here

Between a rock and a hard place

This ninth briefing shares the experiences of 36 leaders participating in online peer support sessions between 14th and 31st July, and our reflections on the questions and opportunities for funders that they raise. 

 

Summary

 

It’s time to move on from short-term funding. The idea of linear progression in funding from emergency to recovery and then to renewal is becoming unhelpful as restrictions are tightened in virus hot spots, a difficult winter is predicted, and medical solutions to Covid-19 have not yet been found. However, both funders and VCSE organisations desperately need to move on from the demands of applying for and distributing six-month grants. The challenge now is to move back to more conventional cycles of one, three and even five-year funding, without losing the urgency and lightness of touch that has characterised the immediate response by so many. For the foreseeable future, all funders are emergency funders. 

 

Three things are at the forefront of VCSE leaders’ minds:

  1. Staff and personal welfare: Our clients are really suffering at the moment, which means staff are hearing difficult stories and clients are becoming harder to help – they are starting to take their frustrations out on our staff more, which is very hard’.
  2. Navigating the easing of lockdown: ‘Like many others, we’ve come out of the crisis phase and we’ve survived it. But planning for increasing capacity with physical distancing, infection prevention and having control measures in place is going to make our services very, very limited’.
  3. Long-term strategy: The support that clients will need in six months will not be what they normally need. We are having to rethink our strategy for the long term’.

 

VCSE leaders need:

  1. Access to peer support: ‘I am able to share things that I can’t share with my Chair or staff’.
  2. Supportive funding structures:Trust us. We will do right by our communities/service users and your money’.
  3. Collaboration and cross-sector engagement: This is a unique and key opportunity to bring organisations across sectors together to develop a multi-agency plan’.

 

As well as moving on from short-term funding, we’re calling for funders to develop and prioritise:

  • Trust – select organisations whose values and ambitions align with your own and then back their knowledge, experience and skills.
  • Flexible funding – trust is best expressed through genuinely unrestricted funding, which grantees can use as they see fit in response to changing circumstances.
  • Support – respect organisations’ own analysis of their needs and circumstances. Fund them to create the capacity to engage with and use support; and give them the freedom to decline it, if the timing or focus isn’t right for them. 

 


Read the full series of briefings here

Finding a way forward

This eighth briefing shares the experiences of 41 leaders participating in the sessions between 17th June and 5th July, and our reflections on the questions and opportunities for funders that they raise. 

Three issues remain at the forefront of VCSE leaders’ minds: 
  1. The wellbeing of their staff and themselves
  2. The range of issues that need to be taken into consideration when planning how to safely reinstate face-to-face services and working practices
  3. Ensuring that the sector’s role and contribution is visible

Read the full series of briefings here

Acting in uncertainty

This briefing shares the experiences of the 20 staff participating in our Evaluation Roundtable Community of Practice sessions during June 2020. These sessions are open to all foundation staff leading on evaluation and learning. Our aim is to create a space where they can share challenges and dilemmas, and learn from each other’s experiences in their efforts to put learning at the heart of their foundations’ response going forward. 

As well as sharing their experiences, we also offer our reflections on the questions and opportunities for funders that they raise.

Time for flexibility

This seventh briefing shares the experiences of 34 leaders participating in the sessions between 4th June and 15th June, and our reflections on the questions and opportunities for funders that they raise. 

Three issues remain at the forefront of VCSE leaders’ minds: 

  1. Mid to long-term funding prospects.
  2. Balancing the immediate needs of staff and beneficiaries with the long-term future of their organisations.
  3. Thinking flexibly.

Read the full series of briefings here

Covid-19: The story told by 72 emergency funding applications

A Foundation gave us access to 72 funding applications made to their Covid-19 response fund in May 2020. This data provides rich insight into the challenges faced by the voluntary sector as organisations navigate their way through crisis and into recovery and renewal.

 

The applications were presented to the Foundation Board for approval; a prior sifting process had reduced the number from 445. A total of £2,272,121 was awarded to 71 organisations, with income ranging from £25,000 – £1 million. 14 of the grants related to project costs, with the significant majority being for core costs. The organisations work in a range of fields, including homelessness, criminal justice, mental health and migration. They are largely based in England, with two from Wales.

The application data offers a powerful snapshot of the reality faced by charities during the Covid-19 crisis. Six key themes in particular stand out:

 

  1. Charities are seeing a significant increase in demand for services
  2. Pressure on finances comes from lots of different directions
  3. The funding crisis is both long and short term
  4. Being organisationally robust has not protected these organisations
  5. The role of CEOs/Directors is critical but vulnerable
  6. This is a story of extraordinary resilience and adaptation

Read more about the challenges VCSE leaders face during Covid-19.

Taking some control

The sixth briefing reflects the experiences of 31 charities between 12 May and 2 June through online support sessions, and our reflections on the questions and opportunities for funders that this raises.

Four preoccupations continue to be front of mind for VCSE leaders:
 

  1. The uncertainty of future funding
  2. Staff welfare and morale
  3. Balancing the opportunities and limitations of virtual service provision
  4. The organisation’s strategic direction


Read the full series of briefings
 here

Focusing on what we can do

This fifth briefing reflects the experiences of 36 charities shared between 29 April and 11 May 2020, and our reflections on the questions and opportunities for funders that this raises.

As VCSE leaders entered weeks five and six of the Covid-19 lockdown, three main challenges remained at the front of their minds:

  1. How should they continue to adapt services and working practices in order to respond to changing/increasing beneficiary need?
  2. How can they plan at a time of huge uncertainty?
  3. How might they respond to reductions and pressures on organisational income?

Read the full series of briefings here

Piecing a story together

Covid-19 is changing the funding world like nothing before it. This briefing shares how evaluation and learning staff are supporting their foundations through the immediate crisis and with questions about what all this means for the future. 

 

Based on an approach we are using with VCSE organisations, in the last week of April, IVAR facilitated two online sessions of the Evaluation Roundtable Community of Practice, open to all foundation staff leading on evaluation and learning. Our aim is to create a space where they can share challenges and dilemmas, and learn from each other’s experiences in their efforts to put learning at the heart of their foundations’ response going forward. This briefing shares the experiences of the 20 staff participating in these first sessions and our reflections on the questions and opportunities for funders that they raise.

 

If you are interested in joining the Evaluation Roundtable, please email vanessa@ivar.org.uk

 

Read more briefings from our Covid-19 series for Trusts and Foundations here