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Chasing against time

This fourteenth briefing shares the experiences of 33 charities through online peer support sessions, between 4 December 2020 and 20 January 2021.  

Summary


Three things remain front of mind for VCSE leaders:

  1. Sustaining their teams during more uncertainty:A lot of the time we feel like we’re not doing enough, but right now ”good enough” is enough.’
  2. Funding beyond March 2021: ‘The funding system is making it harder for us to plan, yet it wants us to plan. But instinct says I shouldn’t plan too much and need to be flexible.’
  3. Planning for the future beyond the crisis: ‘As an organisation, I’m struggling to imagine what we’ll be doing next year – what’s blended and where should we be. I’ve got settled with this virtual side of stuff – adding the face-to-face back is scary for me.’ 


Our recent discussions reinforce the value that funders can deliver if they:

  1. Provide long-term, unrestricted funding – we repeat this call because VCSE organisations identify it as the single most powerful thing that funders can do to support them.
  2. Adopt simple and flexible practices that accommodate the ongoing unpredictability caused by Covid-19 and respect the intense strain under which everyone is working.
  3. Share the risk. During the emergency many funders have adopted less onerous approaches to due diligence and shown greater trust in VCSE organisations themselves to make the best use of funds. A commitment to sustaining this approach for the foreseeable future powerfully demonstrates empathy with, and support for, the sector.


You can read more about how other funders are working towards more open and trusting grant-making, and join our community of practice, at www.ivar.org.uk/flexible-funding

Read the full series of Covid-19 briefings here

Steadfast endurance

This thirteenth briefing shares the experiences of 23 leaders participating in online peer support sessions between 11th and 30th November, and our reflections on the questions and opportunities for funders that they raise.

Summary

 

Three concerns stand out as front of mind for VCSE leaders:

  1. The limitations of online: ‘We’re an organisation that’s based on human relationships, warmth and layers of communication that don’t happen remotely but face-to-face. Everyone has English as a second language, so phone calls are more difficult.’
  2. Sustaining their teams: ‘I’m finding it emotional. We’re not machines.’
  3. Thinking about ‘what next’: ‘At our board away day the focus was deliberately to not think about the here and now, but to focus on the future. Everyone found that very refreshing.’


In terms of support from funders, VCSE leaders’ needs remain much the same. We can highlight three ways to offer meaningful and practical support:

  1. Long-term, unrestricted funding has never been more vital: ‘I’m saying to funders: “the numbers are down but this is what we have done for these particular clients”; and they’ve focused on quality, not numbers.
  2. ‘We are not machines’: ‘You somehow have to prove that you are desperate enough for the money but also that you’re still functioning and you’re not a liability’.
  3. The VCSE sector needs champions: ‘When people lose their jobs, have poor mental health, people will come to us, but we may not be able to support them if we are not supported. The sector is in trouble.’

 

Read the full series of briefings here

Complicated and messy

This twelfth briefing shares the experiences of 43 leaders participating in online peer support sessions between 15th October and 4th November, and our reflections on the questions and opportunities for funders that they raise.

Summary

 

Three issues remain at the forefront of leaders’ minds:

  1. Protecting the welfare of their staff and of themselves: ‘Get some time out from the digital and get some thinking time. It’s important to pace yourself so pace doesn’t run you out.’
  2. Remaining mission-focused: ‘We could have folded and decided to all go on furlough, but we decided to stay. We wanted to plant ourselves in the memory of local people that we’ve been there when people needed us. We’re here to do a service. We have the resources to do these services, so we decided to take a bold approach.’
  3. Balancing the need to plan with the imperative to remain highly flexible: ‘Everything is reversible at any moment, so now we don’t put a date on things but expectations are still there.’


In terms of support from funders, VCSE leaders’ needs remain much the same:

  1. Proportionate and relational funding practices: ‘It can take as long to produce a report for a funder who has given £500, as it can for a funder who has given £5,000.’
  2. Longer-term, core funding: ‘Core funding gives us sustainability and the ability to retain good staff.’
  3. Realistic measures of ‘success’: Funders will need to understand that they will ‘receive applications that cost the same but with fewer numbers of people being served.’
  4. Recognise the contribution and diversity of the VCSE sector: ‘Infrastructure is desperately needed to bring attention to, and help to amplify, the voice of the sector.’


Read the full series of briefings here

The certainty of uncertainty

This eleventh briefing shares the experiences of 44 leaders participating in online peer support sessions in September, and our reflections on the questions and opportunities for funders that they raise.


Summary

 

Three issues remain at the forefront of leaders’ minds:

  1. Risk management: ‘I haven’t been managing a charity, I’ve been managing risk. It’s about Covid-19 risk management full stop’. 
  2. Balancing the advantages and disadvantages of face-to-face vs online‘When we shared an office, people could say “I’ve got so much on” and someone else would help … that doesn’t happen now.’
  3. Planning in uncertainty‘Every time you plan, it then changes – constantly. So, it takes up a lot of mental capacity and it is really frustrating.’

In terms of support from funders, VCSE leaders’ needs remain much the same:

  1. Adopt realistic, fair and transparent application deadlines
  2. Set realistic expectations about what can be delivered in the current context, as well as the associated costs
  3. Provide longer-term, non-emergency grants, as well as more proportionate application processes for shorter-term funding
  4. Adopt processes, practices and funding structures that align with principles of trust-based grant-making (e.g. unrestricted funding)
  5. Standardise reporting practices to reduce the burden of reporting
  6. Recognise, and take account of, the diversity of the sector
  7. Provide reassurance about the mid to long-term funding strategies that will help protect the sustainability of the VCSE sector in the future

 

Read the full series of briefings here

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