Tweet about this on Twitter Email this to someone Share on LinkedIn

The STAGE Project

Changing Lives has commissioned IVAR to work with the STAGE Project partnership to look at what can be learnt from its approach to partnership within this project. The STAGE Project partnership consists of six organisations – A Way Out, Basis, Changing Lives, GROW, Women’s Centre, Together Women Partnership – providing trauma-informed support for women in the North East and Yorkshire, who have been groomed by groups of men for sexual exploitation.

For more information about this project please get in touch with the team.


Open OD | Inspiring radically better organisational development

Open OD is an enquiry into what works and what needs to work better in the field of nonprofit sector organisational development. It is delivered by a partnership of charities: SHIFT, NPC, IVAR and NCVO, and funded by Lloyds Bank Foundation and The National Lottery Community Fund.


Research suggests that organisational development in the sector tends to be inconsistent, intermittent, fragmented and under-resourced. For small and medium-sized charities, personalised support is dependent on the nature of funder grants, and often the approaches of individual grant-makers and organisational development practitioners. It’s difficult for charities of all sizes to know how to do organisational development well and access the right support at the right time.


Given the rapid shifts non-profit organisations are currently having to make, it’s never been more vital that support for organisational change is responsive, integrated and helps build a resilient sector and, thus, resilient communities.   


We have been consulting extensively with VCSEs, consultants, providers and funders to gather intelligence and insight, and are now co-designing outputs that we hope will contribute to sustained and supportive organisational development for VCSEs.

Follow the journey and what we’re learning on this blog.

Valuing the VCSE Sector in East Sussex

East Sussex County Council has commissioned IVAR to carry out research on the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector’s social, economic and environmental value and impact across East Sussex. The research will build on prior work carried out by ESCC and partners in 2011, which has since been used to inform policy, partnership working and service development. The research will also capture the effects COVID-19 is having on the sector, drawing on insights generated from IVAR’s COVID-19 support work for voluntary sector leaders and their funders.


The aim of the work will be to:


  1. Identify and present the scale, scope, impact and positive contribution – economic, social and environmental – the VCSE sector has on the lives of people and communities across the county every day;


  2. Gather views from the VCSE organisations on how they see the sector’s future and what needs to change, in the context of collaboration, service/activity delivery, funding, and governance; and the COVID-19 crisis.


  3. Enable the VCSE sector within East Sussex to clearly articulate key information on the present state and future aspirations of the local VCSE to funders, private and public sector leaders, and government departments.


  4. Present information in a way that makes sense at the county level, District and Borough level.


Evaluation of the Tech for Good Programme

The Tech for Good programme started in 2016 and aimed at ‘enabling not-for-profits in the UK to make the best use of digital technologies to deliver more effective, sustainable and scalable services’. Now, in its fourth year of funding, the programme funders Comic Relief and Paul Hamlyn Foundation have commissioned IVAR to review progress so far, in order to understand the extent to which it is achieving its aims, and provide recommendations to inform future programme refinement. The evaluation will look at the contribution of the programme, including progress and outcomes for individual grantees, as well as influence on the culture of funding and support for social tech.

If you have any questions or for further information please contact

Small Voluntary Organisations’ adoption and use of tech: Phase Two

The purpose of a second phase of this research is to enhance and improve support and funding practices for the use of tech by small voluntary organisations (SVOs). In partnership with CAST, this follow-up piece of work will build on Start Somewhere. We are researching the key moments in the process of adoption and use of tech within SVOs.


Covid-19 has accelerated the need and necessity for voluntary organisations of all sizes to engage with tech. CAST and IVAR are hosting a series of digital support sessions with SVOs. These peer-to-peer learning sessions aim to support, reassure and inspire individuals within SVOs. We will gather ideas and stories of how SVOs are responding to change and practical examples of how they are embracing digital. We are interested in how SVOs’ adoption and use of tech has progressed in light of Covid-19, and we are hoping to learn about emergency responses that have specifically encompassed tech, as well as what’s helped or hindered progress in relation to external support and funding.


We will also be hosting separate sessions with digital support providers and funders. These sessions will explore:


  • What has the current situation taught us about the needs of SVOs with regards to digital support?


  • In what ways has the digital ecosystem responded and evolved?


  • What does it tell us about the kind of digital support the sector will need in six months/ 1 year’s time?


  • What are the implications for funding tech?


  • What elements of this support can be transferred to non-emergency settings (e.g. funder activity and behaviour that may have led to new tech initiatives within funded organisations)?


IVAR and CAST with develop collective messages for SVOs and funders about the current state of the digital ecosystem and longer term recovery.

If you have any questions or for further information please contact

Legacy of the Big Lunch

Eden Project Communities recently appointed IVAR to carry out research that explores the long-term impact of The Big Lunch on both individuals and communities.


The research will learn about the transformative effect of The Big Lunch programme and the range of factors that contribute to making this impact possible. We will also explore the role of The Big Lunch as a facilitator of long-term social and environmental impact during the remainder of the Big Lunch programme and beyond.


We will adopt a mixed method approach – including a desk-based review, qualitative interviews, facilitated workshops, an online survey and a selection of in-depth case studies across the four countries.

Covid-19 Response Work

Are you a VCSE leader?

We’re running 90 minute peer support sessions to share and explore the challenges you are currently facing. These are for up to 12 leaders at a time, and you can sign up here.


Do you fund or support VCSE organisations?


We are producing regular briefings on the challenges faced by VCSE organisations, and what support they need. The first was published on 9 April 2020.


These briefings are based on the challenges raised in the peer support sessions we are running. So far, these have been attended by over 180 leaders representing 17 fields and based across the UK.


Sustaining simplified funding beyond the Covid-19 crisis

Over the last decade there has been much talk of funders – particularly trusts and foundations – trying to become less burdensome, more straightforward and quicker in their dealings with applicants and grantees. The coronavirus pandemic has turbocharged this effort demonstrating what is possible when we are all forced to ‘step outside the normal’. The early days of the emergency saw unprecedented levels of responsiveness and flexibility from many funders, who showed themselves to be ready to streamline applications; make decisions at speed; collaborate with others; give unrestricted funding; broker access to expertise, and radically reduce reporting requirements.


Although the shock of the early months of the pandemic is waning, it is replaced by a growing awareness of how long the road ahead may be. Voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations and funders alike face an extended period of uncertainty, anxiety and complexity that will not allow any of us to slip back with relief into ‘business as usual.’ We hope this will enable a permanent transformation in the relationship between the funder and the funded, reflecting a culture of mutuality, of shared endeavour towards the common good.


IVAR has launched a learning review in partnership with London Funders and a small group of UK foundations and charities who are ambitious for change. We recognise that the moment demands it. Not just the need for a simpler philanthropy, one that can reflect and accommodate the uncertainty of action to achieve change in complexity. But also a respectful philanthropy, one that recognises that applicants and grantees have assets – activities, services, reach, trust, legitimacy, practice, knowledge, expertise, energy and passion – that have intrinsic value and significance. And an inclusive philanthropy, one that is resolved to rise to the challenge of breaking down the systemic barriers that exclude and disadvantage so many.


IVAR’s learning review is one part of a growing effort to build a new culture of respect and trust between foundations and VCSE organisations and to embed this culture firmly in day to day practice. The learning review has several strands of activity and will continue to evolve and iterate as new needs emerge. 

Open and trusting grant-making

While it may be too soon for definitive answers on long-term strategy, there is a real opportunity for a more collaborative approach to rethinking the future and, in particular, funding practices, many of which may no longer be fit for purpose. In partnership with a group of funders and small charities from across the UK, we have developed eight commitments to open and trusting grant-making and are now asking funders to sign up and join our community of practice. 



Applications and assessments

We know that the changes some foundations made in their immediate responses to the pandemic have been received by organisations applying for funding very positively. Our call for open and trusting grant-making captures many of the changes which charities and funders want to hold onto. There remain, however, areas that need deeper exploration and concerted effort. So, alongside our call to action, we are exploring together what a genuine culture change – towards a culture of respect and trust – needs to look like in practice for applications and assessment processes, drawing on examples from funders and listening to the needs and experiences of charities.


Core funding

IVAR’s 2013 report ‘Thinking about Core Funding” addressed the case for core funding; the challenges of doing so; and making it work. Eight years on, in the midst of a pandemic with massive social and economic consequences now and to come, VSOs face a much more radical uncertainty – of demand, resources, the ecology of organisations and support within which they work; and potential waves of disruption and restrictions.  All these magnify the  importance of core funding; what charities need most is flexible (ideally unrestricted) core funding so they can direct money quickly to where it is most needed, and adapt as situations change. Building on Thinking about… core funding, we will engage with funders who have adopted core funding and those who have not – to find out what obstacles the latter perceive in offering core funding, and how those might be overcome.

This work is in partnership with: 

Logo Board - Learning Review

Learning Partner to the Test, Learn & Review Initiative – exploring voluntary and faith sector relationships with Primary Care Networks (PCNs) in neighbourhoods

IVAR will work as a Learning Partner to the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care System, alongside voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise sector (VCFSE) partners and Primary Care Networks (PCNs) in five areas, namely Central Lancashire, Pennine, Blackpool Wyre & Fylde, West Lancashire and Morecombe Bay/South Cumbria to facilitate emerging learning across a range of partners as part of the Test, Learn & Review initiative.


This initiative aims to look at ways to harness the leadership, power and capacity of communities to improve their own health and wellbeing. This in the context of the changing role of commissioning with a more community centred focus, in a future Integrated Care System (ICS).


This will involve two main areas of work:


  • Facilitate a learning process amongst this group of VCFSE partners, PCNs and Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS around topics of common interest to the group. IVAR will provide bespoke learning support to the five areas to help them embed this initiative.


  • Share learning from this experience of the five neighbourhoods and show case it for all other primary care networks in the Lancashire and South Cumbria footprint

Evaluation and Learning Partner to the Community Leadership Academy

Local Trust has funded Just Ideas and IVAR to work alongside the new three year Community Leadership Academy in a collaborative and creative way throughout its lifetime. The Community Leadership Academy provides a unique mix of support, training and personal development to Big Local residents making their neighbourhoods better places to live.


Just Ideas and IVAR will together undertake the role of Evaluation and Learning Support Partner throughout this programme. We will help Local Trust learn how best to develop leadership within Big Local and use creative methods to reflect on the process and track change.  


Created by Local Trust in partnership with Koreo, the Young Foundation and Northern Soul, the Community Leadership Academy provides structured support for community-led change as part of the Big Local programme and aims to increase understanding and investment in community leadership skills.


The Community Leadership Academy consists of a range of individual and group sessions, including personal coaching, to work on their own strengths and leadership style, develop leadership in others and set strategy.


Running from 2020-21 it is designed to identify and support local residents so they are equipped to shape the future of their communities.


The Community Leadership Academy is a Big Local support offer. Providing at least £1m to each of 150 communities in England,  Big Local is funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and managed by Local Trust.