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What does succession planning mean, and how can you become ‘successor ready’?

This series shares some of the challenges 12 long-term leaders have been exploring together over the past 18 months, in regular sessions facilitated by our co-founder Director (and long-term leader himself) Ben Cairns. Convened by Pears Foundation, most of the group have been in their senior leadership post for 10 years or more, and many are also founders, or were instrumental to the founding of, their organisation.

 

The group started meeting before the Covid-19 pandemic, and then continued remotely, so their discussions spanned both pre- and post-Covid contexts. And while this series explores questions that were raised by long-term leaders, we believe that many of their considerations will resonate with all social sector leaders and professionals.

 

This blog series forms part of our work on Leading in uncertainty.

What does succession planning mean, and how can you become ‘successor ready’?

 

 

Experiences of succession planning amongst our group ranged from fears of the Board ‘catastrophising’ the Director leaving (‘so, the only way I could leave would be to literally throw myself under a bus’), to having open and explicit conversations with trustees about future plans for the organisation, and encouraging them to question ‘how can we wean the outside world off the Director?’.

 

 

Being intentional, deliberate and purposeful about becoming an organisation that could flourish and thrive without its founder/long-term leader is a critical ingredient of becoming ‘successor ready’. A ‘succession plan is about a succession culture’, so what is passed down (beginning at the recruitment and induction stage for new staff) is the ‘spine of the organisation, its essence’, with the aim of organisation not being dependent on its leader for sustaining the culture.

 

 

Elements of building a succession culture might include:

 

  • Opening up Board meetings to staff members (as part of an acculturation process) – although, for some, this raised concerns about unintended consequences: ‘how much should we expose staff to the financial security of the organisation?’.

     

  • Encouraging staff to work at multiple levels and be intentionally exposed to different elements of the organisation’s ways of working. Those with more positive experiences of ‘dealing with the challenges of long-term leadershiphighlighted the importance of an ‘enabling Board that is not terrified of change.

     

  • The Chair’s role is critical – they can choose to encourage and enable, or avoid and deter conversations and actions around succession.

 

Succession planning during Covid-19

 

The pandemic has thrown everyone’s plans into disarray, and disrupted some leaders’ hopes of reducing their hours: ‘pre-Covid I was thinking about whether I needed to leave. The pandemic has created so much uncertainty … I’m at peace that I’ll need to stay for five years to get us through this patch and to leave a legacy in this thing I’ve created’.

 

 

Covid has also altered our perspectives on many different aspects of work, and succession planning is no exception. Despite it being ‘hard to judge in current circumstances’, some have ‘enjoyed the space away from everyone to think about it’. And the benefits of co-leadership have emerged clearly in response to emergency: ‘dividing roles, all pulling from the front, lifting that weight’­. Ultimately, though, ‘leaders still play this nodal role in organisations – we carry that burden in a way probably no one else does’, and actually there can be a sense of ‘satisfaction to be in it for the long haul’.

Are you leading in uncertainty?








Join us for some time to pause, reflect and share, connecting with other charity leaders who are adapting to and coping with prolonged uncertainty.

 

We provide  free and facilitated peer support sessions for voluntary and community sector leaders to share what’s front of mind in the current context of sustained uncertainty. During these online sessions, we are listening – so we can learn about and make sense of the live challenges leaders are facing, and help funders to understand how they can best respond.

 

Find out more

How do I know if I’m staying too long?

This series shares some of the challenges 12 long-term leaders have been exploring together over the past 18 months, in regular sessions facilitated by our co-founder Director (and long-term leader himself) Ben Cairns. Convened by Pears Foundation, most of the group have been in their senior leadership post for 10 years or more, and many are also founders, or were instrumental to the founding of, their organisation.

The group started meeting before the Covid-19 pandemic, and then continued remotely, so their discussions spanned both pre- and post-Covid contexts. And while this series explores questions that were raised by long-term leaders, we believe that many of their considerations will resonate with all social sector leaders and professionals.

This blog series forms part of our work on Leading in uncertainty

How do I know if I’m staying too long?

 

This question (and the associated ‘Who will tell me if I’m staying too long?) is one that many of us can identify with. But the flipside – ‘Why is there a sense of apology for being in the same role for over 10 years?’ – is more specific to long-term leadership.

 

For long-term leaders, it’s important to ‘continue to think expansively and innovatively about your organisation and your role’. The trouble is, the opportunity to do this – in a safe space, without undue pressure on the answer (i.e. the binary choice of staying or going) – is limited. Moreover, it may not be as simple as deciding whether to ‘stay or go’ – there could be a middle path that feels right to you.

 

So, with 12 long-term leaders coming together for the first time, it’s no surprise that this was the question on their minds. In exploring possible answers, we drew out some features of long-term leadership that may help with working out what’s right for your situation. They are both reasons for staying (assets which bring value to the organisation) and reasons for going (habits and dynamics that can hold others back).

 

Some features of long-term leadership

 

  1. Institutional memory: ‘Knowing the intimate nuts and bolts of the machine helps you as a leader and as a decision maker’. However, this can hamper the ability of newer team members to be ambitious in their roles: it seems important to step back and allow people to find their own voice and perspective.

 

  1. Risk-taking: Does a long-standing leader’s deep knowledge of the organisation enable or inhibit its ability and drive to take greater risks: ‘I don’t want it to go bust on my watch’. The dangers of using ‘risk-taking’ as a ‘strategy to keep you motivated’ were also discussed: ‘A strategy that’s driven more by your own needs rather than the organisation’s needs’.

 

  1. Sustained relationships: ‘Building stronger, deeper, more authentic relationships over the long-term’, both internally and externally. Trusting relationships are often strengthened over time and ‘come into their own in challenging times of crisis … I can pick up the phone’. However, there are conflicting ‘push and pull factors’ and possible disadvantages in relying on length of service within an organisation, such as being overly dependent on one channel of relationships: ‘How can benefit from this longevity but without the organisation being overly reliant on one individual?’.

 

What might help?

 

What might help to mitigate the negative potential of these features, and enhance their benefits?

 

An exercise that has helped some leaders to stay motivated and conscious of an exit plan is to ‘spend time identifying your own drivers and long-term career aspirations and then, from this, relate it to your current organisation. This helps to create an exit strategy … framed by what does success look like to me in this role and when will it then be time to move on?’. Another approach is to be open to both the risks and virtues of being a long-term leader and engage openly and regularly with the staff and board about this: ‘whatever your plan ends up being, this thing needs naming and bringing out of the shadows’.

 

Are you leading in uncertainty?















Join us for some time to pause, reflect and share, connecting with other charity leaders who are adapting to and coping with prolonged uncertainty. 

We provide  free and facilitated peer support sessions for voluntary and community sector leaders to share what’s front of mind in the current context of sustained uncertainty. During these online sessions, we are listening – so we can learn about and make sense of the live challenges leaders are facing, and help funders to understand how they can best respond. 

Find out more

Communities need flexible funders to influence the public sector

Over the last three weeks, I’ve met 32 leaders of small and medium voluntary organisations at four online peer support sessions. I have been inspired by their dedication and creativity: by hook or by crook, they have made it possible for services to reach people in dire need. Used to a turbulent environment and light on bureaucracy, their organisations moved remarkably quickly in response to the immediate crisis of lockdown, and have proved remarkably adaptable and resilient throughout the twists and turns that followed. Children with learning disabilities; undocumented young migrants; families of prisoners; housebound older people – all, and many more, have been supported by local organisations.

But the duration of the crisis, and the extreme levels of uncertainty, have stretched many close to their limits. And now, as we emerge out of an extended period of restrictions into a period of unpredictability, leaders are faced with harsh realities. On the one hand, demand for services is growing, from people with increasingly complex needs; on the other, staff are exhausted and funding is precarious.  

Our recent conversations – like with charity CEOs we met through our Leading in Uncertainty peer support sessions   echo much of what we heard in our 2012 study of social welfare voluntary organisations and their experiences of navigating their way through the recession. Then, as now, we heard stories of resilience and determination, as well as anxiety and despair.

‘I found the lack of recognition of our sector during the pandemic difficult… it was often forgotten that charities were still open and providing essential services too.’

At the same time, through both the recession and the pandemic, we have been reminded of the disproportionately important role that trusts and foundations play in supporting these organisations. Since March 2020, their flexibility has offered a lifeline, ensuring the continuation of essential services and activities.

In particular, the emergency has shown us that lighter, more flexible, more trusting funding practices are possible.  And hopes are now high that trusts and foundations will ‘keep the faith’ through the period of prolonged upheaval and uncertainty that lies ahead. This is the driver behind the open and trusting grant-making campaign , with its commitment to sustain and build on progressive practices for the future.

In 2012, we heard a plea for trusts and foundations to step into an advocacy role, using their influence to stimulate and facilitate debate and action about the adverse effect of public sector funding cuts and the decimation of public services. The response was, largely, to remain silent. For some, taking on this role felt like a step too far away from independence and into ‘campaigning’. For others, there was a concern that sweeping statements would ignore the constraints faced by public agencies, and might ‘tar everyone with the same brush and ignore the pockets of flexible public sector practice’.

However, almost ten years later – faced with similar difficulties around government funding, and in ‘the foothills of the economic shock’, the need for someone to speak out remains urgent:

‘We have put in a massive shift. Often unheralded, or taken for granted. Our work is vital, but it can’t just happen on a wing and a prayer. And it’s not just about one tweak here, and one tweak there. We need the whole system to change.’

‘If reporting deadlines on one grant shift, or processes for another become easier, that’s great. But unless that becomes standard practice across the board, the stress and the burden are still there.’

‘Our vital contribution isn’t really understood by statutory authorities. But without the support of these bigger players, we will not be here to make the system work: reaching minoritised communities, interpreting the benefits system, plugging gaps and mopping up mess.’

Trusts and foundations – with their prize assets of independence and leverage – are perfectly placed to step up and argue for greater consistency and flexibility in how the work of voluntary organisations is funded, both within their own sector, as well across all levels of government. This is not the moment to be bashful. For, without vocal and concerted effort, there is a genuine risk that vital organisations providing essential services will buckle under the strain.

What good looks like: Example of cross-sector working in Pennine

In Lancashire and South Cumbria, Pennine Lancashire is often cited as an example of good practice in cross-sector working in the design and delivery of health and care services. It is a health and care improvement programme led by health, public sector and voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise sector (VCFSE) colleagues to improve the health and care system in Pennine Lancashire. Here we reflect on what we have learnt from our experiences of collaborating on this programme, in particular around the social prescribing agenda. We recognise that we haven’t got everything right yet, and much work is still to be done, but we hope that by sharing our experience it will contribute to wider discussions about what it means to develop meaningful cross-sector collaboration.

Over time, VCFSE and health sector colleagues in East Lancashire have developed a way of working that shows how being well positioned in the community and having good relationships enables a strong foundation. This has been highlighted in our social prescribing approach that supports people to make changes that improve their own health. The key enablers have been:

1. History of shared working

Our relationships have been solid for a long time and are well embedded. In order to be effective, local structures – e.g. Neighbourhood Teams – and programmes of work – e.g. The Better Care Fund and Community Safety Partnerships – required good partnership working. In such collaborations the voluntary sector feels like an equal partner and, while there is variation from region to region, overall, the sector feels they are sitting at the right tables. This has created a movement of cross-sector partnerships to support the health and social care agenda. We see the VCFSE sector as strong, thriving, flexible, open and passionate about local people and supporting them.

2. Motivation to form relationships

It comes down to our sheer determination not to be left behind. For us in the VCFSE sector, it has always been about the determination to deliver. ‘If we say we’ll do it, no matter the blood, sweat and tears, we’ll make sure it is done so that nobody can come back and say you didn’t do what you said you’d do’.

3. Strong local infrastructure

Structures like Primary Care Neighbourhoods (PCNs) and Integrated Neighbourhood Teams (INTs) have been key. They support integration and provide a space for the VCFSE to demonstrate what they can deliver, as well as reversing the challenge of primary care not knowing or understanding what the sector delivers. The PCNs and INTs were also key to making sure the voices of both large and small organisations were heard. There was a conscious decision to use the word ‘neighbourhoods’ as it conveys a ‘network plus’ approach, meaning it goes beyond just a network to involve communities and neighbourhoods in health and care conversations. Operationally, VCFSE partners are embedded in those structures, enabling the sector to have a strategic voice.

4. Having a common goal

We have tried to move toward being a whole system rather than individual organisations with separate goals. We also recognise that it is important to allow space for different roles within the common goal, and for each person to see how they fit together in the mosaic of things. For example, the VCFSE sector is better placed to engage with communities and understand their priorities, while the PCNs provide structures for better communication. However, everyone must also have sight of the bigger picture and understand how these different roles fit together.

5. Open and flexible commissioning

We have seen what happens when commissioning is open and flexible. Our ambition is to grow this approach, allowing the sector to do what it does best, without being heavy-handed and prescriptive. Two factors that have enabled this way of commissioning are:

  • Involving the VCFSE at a strategic level: Political leadership has supported decisions to involve the VCFSE sector in strategic decision-making.

  • Honest communication: Being transparent and sharing challenges; for example, the potential impact of cuts to public funding. 

6. Getting the relationship right with Primary Care Neighbourhoods (PCNs): 

While the above enablers have helped, when we started working with PCNs, VCFSE colleagues didn’t always feel their voice was represented. However, we were able to build on existing relationships with the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and local authority, and the appointment of Social Prescribing Link Workers has enabled better links into services that can provide support. As the PCNs and partnership working has grown, Clinicians and PCN Clinical Directors are also visibly more involved than they were at the start, and this provides a focus to our relationships and a central contact point in a PCN (that avoids us trying to contact many busy GPs). These relationships feed into the Primary Care Neighbourhood structures, making the connections easier and communication more efficient.

Next steps

The picture is positive, but there is always room for improvement and more that still needs to be done to enable our partnerships to do more. Having made progress, we now need to ensure that the following areas of progress are maintained and strengthened:

  • Continuing to involve VCFSE colleagues at an earlier stage: We’d like to continue to see VCFSE colleagues brought in right at the beginning of the local programme or issue that we’re seeking to respond to, rather than partway through.

  • Increased understanding of breadth and quality of activities delivered by the VCFSE: There remains a risk that the VCFSE sector is seen only as delivering ‘lower level’ activities when there are many high-end services they deliver for vulnerable people and those with complex needs.

  • Increased representation for smaller organisations: With different models in place across the area and small organisations delivering high-end services for vulnerable communities, social prescribing is central to joining up health priorities with the voluntary sector. Social prescribing makes sure that smaller organisations are brought into discussions and there is equity at the table. It is important to ensure better resources are included for them in strategic level discussions. Having a good structure in place will help with engagement, making sure the voices of small organisations are heard.   

  • Continuing to make the best use of the VCFSE role at PCN meetings: It is important, more now than ever, to think about a way of partnership working that sees collaboration between the health and VCFSE sector within prevailing structures in the system is more involved. This way can demonstrate what the VCFSE sector can deliver so that those acting as sector representatives are supported more proactively, and can use these places and forums well to maximise the opportunity.

  • Maintaining a shared vision: With the PCNs taking a role in decision making around priorities, action planning and partnership development, it is important to have a shared vision of what success looks like in communities.

What good looks like

What good looks like 1.
What good looks like 2.



Bringing together VCFSEs and PCNs 

In Lancashire and South Cumbria, statutory and voluntary sector professionals have been working together to design, test and deliver improved health outcomes for local people. IVAR, as a Learning Partner, have supported the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care System to create and sustain meaningful connections in hyper-local, cross-sector partnerships within the Integrated Care System (ICS), as a part of the Test, Learn & Review initiative. Read more about the work and access resources, here. [add link – http://www.ivar.org.uk/vcfse-pcn-together-for-local-health/  when Live] 



Authors

This blog was authored by the following individuals in the Healthier Pennine Lancashire partnership. Please contact them for more information about their work.  

  • Vicky Shepherd, Chief Executive, Age UK Blackburn with Darwen – Vicky.Shepherd@ageukbwd.org.uk

  • Angela Allen, CEO, Spring North – angela.allen@springnorth.org.uk 

  • Elaine Barker, Chief Officer, Hyndburn & Ribble Valley Council for Voluntary Service – Elaine.Barker@hrv-cvs.org.uk

  • Christine Blythe, NASP north West lead coordinator, Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale Council for Voluntary Service (BPRCVS)

  • Andrea Dixon, Integration & Neighbourhood Lead, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council – Andrea.Dixon@BLACKBURN.GOV.UK

  • Tim Birch, Community Support Unit Manager, Prevention, Neighbourhoods and Learning Service, Adult Services and Prevention Department, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council

This is what applying for funding feels like

IVAR_word cloud_Jun 2021_v11


Introduction from IVAR

 

Much has been written about how funders acted differently in the context of the pandemic. Funded organisations have celebrated lighter touch processes, faster turnaround of grant decisions, recognition of uncertainty and the need to adapt – even the topsy-turvy scenario of being offered funding without asking for it. There is a strong desire from all concerned to retain these practical changes. However, alongside this and with much less attention, grant applicants are still carrying the burden of rejection after rejection, often receiving little or no feedback, unable to connect with funders as they would like. The experience of applying for funding still has some way to go to ensure it’s a mutually respectful process operating on a more level playing field. 

 

This is what we heard when we asked 22 charities about their experiences of applying for funding, as part of our open and trusting grant-making initiative. Whilst almost everyone recognised the positive changes through Covid-19, many still talked about the emotional rollercoaster generated by unsuccessful applications: the stress and self-doubt, the fear and inability to understand what is really needed for success. This blog, in the words of grant applicants themselves, offers an insight into these feelings. We ended by asking ‘what would make it feel better’? Some of the answers are surprisingly simple and return to the concepts of respectful, open and trusting grant-making. 


‘Exciting’, ‘rewarding’, ‘creative’

 

As grant applicants, we are incredibly passionate about the work we do. Writing grant applications is part of the fun and challenge of our job; successfully applying for funding helps our organisations to fulfil their mission and support the communities we serve.

 

However, for every successful application we make, there are many more that have been rejected.

 


Dealing with rejection

 

We know funders receive large volumes of applications and have to make tough choices but dealing with rejection can be immensely disappointing. We feel that we’re letting our organisations down, as well as our team and colleagues. You can feel responsible for the success of the entire organisation. It’s embarrassing having to tell colleagues ‘we didn’t get it’ – people’s jobs and our work for beneficiaries is at stake.

 

One of the most frustrating things is that you rarely get any communication from funders. To put so much work into an application that you get really excited about, but not receive any feedback, is incredibly difficult. It makes you question your skills and whether that funder will ever be right for you.

 

 

Maintaining resilience and wellbeing

 

Learning how to manage rejection and build resilience is a key part of how we persevere. Having a stable team and support network is vital in helping you manage the emotions that come up when applying for funding.

 

It’s not always as simple as picking up the phone to ask why an application didn’t make it through. The power dynamics make that hard, and you don’t always know the rules. It’s like that feeling you get as a teenager, plucking up the courage to call someone you wanted to ask out. You’d dial the number but hang up at the last minute as you were scared they’d say no.

 

 

Things can change because things have changed during this pandemic

 

We have seen greater flexibility from funders, with offers of emergency or unrestricted funding, and relationships more likely to be characterised by trust and open communication.

 

Having more positive relationships has allowed us to be more honest about our struggles, and clearer about the support we need.

 

However, with things beginning to open up again and emergency funding coming to an end, we are still in a period of deep uncertainty. While we are grateful that funders showed so much compassion and flexibility during the pandemic, we are fearful that this behaviour won’t continue – things may be slowly going to back normal, but we’re not out of the woods yet!

 

 

What would make it feel better?

 

Applying for funding needs to be a mutually beneficial experience but at the moment it often feels one-sided. Current application and assessment processes can bring up feelings of dejection and failure, but in the best cases they can be incredibly rewarding. There will be no ‘one size fits all’ approach – what suits some organisations may not suit others – but we know that open and honest communication is crucial whatever the process looks like.

 

We’d like to see more of a balance between the needs of charities applying and the funders receiving applications – so that there is less of a burden on either.

 

Here are five things that funders can do to help:

 

  1. Continue the flexible, open and trusting funding practices that many adopted during the pandemic – clear criteria, core or unrestricted funding and light-touch forms all make a big difference.
  2. Be more transparent with eligibility criteria and share decision-making processes.
  3. Consider different requirements depending on the size of grant. For example, be open to different types of applications (e.g. video applications), use publicly held information (e.g. financial information from the charity commission) and only ask relevant questions.
  4. Ringfence funding to support specific groups or communities (e.g. small charities, community-led groups, ethnically diverse charities). Smaller organisations and those that support marginalised communities are often competing with larger organisations that have more resource and a paid fundraising team. Ringfencing funding could help.
  5. Create opportunities for open dialogue. Sometimes it feels like funders exist behind computers. Being able to talk honestly, even if we’re told that our application has been unsuccessful, is a sign of a good funder who we may want to develop a relationship with in the future.

A last word from IVAR

 

In the rush and sheer volume of applications received, it might be easy to forget there’s a person behind the application form and that how funders acknowledge, feedback and communicate decisions has a real impact on how applicants experience the process. Grant applicants are passionate people who care deeply about the work they do they and know that it’s not possible to develop in-depth relationships with all funders or be successful every time. But following through on some simple commitments to a more open process, where feedback is standard and relationships easier to navigate, would go a long way to level up the power imbalance. Our aim must surely be to remove words like ‘scary’, ‘frightening’ ‘stressful’ and ‘frustrating’ from people’s experience.  

 

The next stage of this research will explore how a small group of funders are trying to bring the principles of trust and respect to life in their applications and assessments processes.


 

This blog is based on the experiences of 22 charities based across the UK, including: 
Logos of charities who have co-signed the blog.

How Chilli Studios were bold and experimented with tech

Chilli Studios shared their story with us for our latest report Response to change: how small voluntary organisations are using tech. Their case study shows how they use tech to monitor and evaluate the influence of their services. 


Chilli Studios aims to improve mental health through creativity. Based in Newcastle, they deliver services to people experiencing mental health difficulties and other forms of social exclusion: ‘We’re community focused… Art is the central tool but it’s about bringing people together and creating a strong community of support through creative activities… people get to a better place and form better relationships and have hope’.

Alongside developing a podcast and a wellbeing subscription inbox during Covid-19, Chilli has continued using technology to improve how they monitor and evaluate the influence of their services. At the outset, their objective was clear: ‘We wanted to develop a sense of whether we’re making a difference in people’s lives, and to some extent prove it’. Pre-Covid, they began to consider options for gathering data on how their users were experiencing their services and programmes.

Working with an IT specialist, they developed an app for service users to record their mental health and how they experience the service. This data is then fed into their existing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database. ‘We wanted to see how well people are progressing. For example, with creative writing [classes], are they showing improvements in their wellbeing? Not just saying ‘it’s good’ or ‘bad’, but to give us a sense of the benefits and its value. Then with that data, you can consider how to improve things and measure those improvements, and articulate that to funders’.

Each service user enters data into the app which is linked to their individual membership data on the CRM database, making data collection easier. While a small number of service users may show resistance to using the app and others will take time becoming comfortable with it, they are sure the app will become part of their everyday life.

The app will make a big difference to Chilli, helping them to understand how their services make a difference in the lives of their service users. Chilli also feels more confident about the future as the app is ‘making us ready for the future and the different kinds of needs we’ll have’.

What can other SVOs learn from Chilli Studios’ experience? ‘We have lots of big ideas… We could be throwing money into something that is a waste of time. So, my advice would probably be understanding what the need really is and researching it first’; ‘Collect in a simpler and often more powerful way.’


Response to change 

We’ve collated the findings from our report on our key insights page here, as well as links to download the full report. Visit it to find tips and advice for SVOs; more stories of SVOs embracing digital as a response to Covid; suggestions for how funders can support the use of tech, and challenges facing both SVOs and funders. 

Image credit: Meghan Schiereck on Unsplash

How Integrate UK are working towards digital inclusion

Integrate UK shared their story with us for our latest report Response to change: how small voluntary organisations are using tech. Their case study demonstrated how they have used tech to bring young people together virtually and creatively during Covid. 


Integrate is a youth-led charity based in Bristol. They aim to empower young people to actively transform the society they live in and to take an equal role in a cohesive and representative society. Topics the young people work on include racism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), sexual harassment, extremism and homophobia. Tech is embedded into their work at Integrate; ‘Tech plays a huge role in opening access… It’s using all these tools to discuss sensitive, deeply engrained topics and empowering young people’.

Lockdown exacerbated inequalities: ‘Children we work with are faced with multiple socio-economic challenges as well as other challenges’. Some of the young people they work with didn’t have access to IT equipment: ‘We managed to secure a grant for 17 digital kits so that those young people who didn’t have equipment were able to engage’. Not only did the equipment help young people with their school education, but it also opened up access to an array of resources and services that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

Knowing that young people had internet access, Integrate then offered a range of online activities. For example, weekly pastoral calls, online music recordings, adapting their school workshops to be delivered online, and online creative workshops. Integrate also launched a tutoring scheme: ‘We found university students and matched them up with young people’. One participant went from a 4 to a 9 (D to a high A*) and another went up two sets.

Integrate is seeing significant benefits from greater digital inclusion. Delivering their services online has enabled them to continue bringing young people together from different backgrounds: ‘Relationships form between the young people – from opposite ends of town, different races and backgrounds – all meeting on zoom as if they were old friends’.


A short animation by Integrate UK and their service users. It was developed over Zoom, with short, socially distanced shoots in the summer to introduce the young people before they became animated versions of themselves.

Knowing that they can overcome digital exclusion, Integrate plans to sustain the use of tech: ‘We will continue using Zoom as this means the workshops are more accessible to those who can’t come to the centre. There will now be the option of both: to join remotely or join the workshop in person. We’ve become more familiar and accustomed to using online platforms – that will never disappear’.


Response to change 

We’ve collated the findings from our report on our key insights page here, as well as links to download the full report. Visit it to find tips and advice for SVOs; more stories of SVOs embracing digital as a response to Covid; suggestions for how funders can support the use of tech, and challenges facing both SVOs and funders. 

How RASASC embraced a blended service model using tech

Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre (RASASC) North Wales shared their story with us for our latest report Response to change: how small voluntary organisations are using tech. Their case study shows how a blended service model supported their service users; they also share their plans for using digital to improve their reach.


RASASC is a support centre for victims of rape and sexual abuse. The charity offers specialist therapy, counselling and support to people who have experienced sexual abuse. The organisation has been running for over 35 years, with its main office based in Bangor and counselling outreach centres located across the whole of North Wales.

Before Covid-19, RASASC started piloting an online counselling service. North Wales is a large area with limited transport connectivity, so providing an online option helped RASASC reach more people. When Covid-19 restrictions were put in place, they continued developing their service, which included email support and online counselling. Although referral rates dropped at the beginning, it offered another access point for service users and limited possible disruptions to the therapeutic process’. RASASC sourced additional training and supervision for staff members to ensure that services could continue safely online.

Some of RASASC’s service users were initially reluctant to go online: ‘A lot of our clients deferred and wanted to wait for face-to-face again. Those who wanted to go online did and data suggests that they still experienced therapeutic benefits as those who accessed therapy face-to-face. Clients also reported that they benefitted therapeutically from our online therapeutic intervention. We then contacted those that had deferred after two months and most came back as they realised they wouldn’t be able to continue with face-to-face for some time – they also reported the positive benefits of RASASC online therapeutic intervention.’

At the same time, RASASC was aware of the limitations of online services. Not everyone in the region has the necessary computers and webcams at home, and some lack broadband and Wi-Fi access. There were also safeguarding issues to consider: ‘We had to stop our children’s work as it wasn’t ethical to continue working online with young children. We had to source funding to reconfigure our centre so we could continue face-to-face services with children and high-risk clients in a safe manner’.

A therapy room at RASASC North Wales.

A therapy room at RASASC North Wales.

RASASC plans to continue to offer both, with face-to-face delivery in the future: ‘We’ll be offering choice to clients moving forward, acknowledging the fact that both online and face-to-face delivery of services is of benefit for the organisation and, most importantly, our clients’. They are also challenging themselves to improve their services further by exploring online group therapy. In addition, they are looking at how they can use social media and online services to reach the hard-to-reach and marginalised survivors, such as male, LGBT and disabled clients.

Overall, RASASC has realised that digital has to go hand-in-hand with face-to-face service delivery: They have to coexist together’.


Response to change 

We’ve collated the findings from our report on our key insights page here, as well as links to download the full report. Visit it to find tips and advice for SVOs; more stories of SVOs embracing digital as a response to Covid; suggestions for how funders can support the use of tech, and challenges facing both SVOs and funders. 

Image credit: Christin Hume on Unsplash 

How Saving Lives repurposed existing tech

Saving Lives shared their story with us for our latest report Response to change: how small voluntary organisations are using tech. Their case study shows how they repurposed their existing software to cater for a new need. 


Savings Lives is a national charity based in Birmingham, with an income of less than £0.5m in 2019. The charity aims to provide easy testing for blood-borne viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis. They aim to reduce the stigma around these tests and ensure the testing process is as uncomplicated as possible; ‘Tech is short circuiting the stigma and bringing accessibility’.

Saving Lives developed a software and database system that enabled service users to request a blood test kit online which is then delivered by post. The system manages all incoming tests, processes test results and delivers the test outcome to the service user. The software provides efficient and effective end-to-end management of the testing process.

When Covid-19 emerged, Saving Lives quickly realised that their software and database system could be repurposed to manage Covid testing programmes. ‘We had created a system for requesting postal tests and then delivering the results. The laboratory we worked with deals with public health issues. We repurposed the system to deliver their Covid screening programme. They needed something quick that they knew already worked with their lab systems. We flipped and moved quickly into that size of a thing… So, we’re a sexual health and blood-borne virus charity, but in the context of the pandemic, we switched to respiratory virus work in the context of Covid. It kept us busy but, at the same time, sexual health clinics have closed so some of our clients have increased their [online] tests 10 fold’.

Saving Lives found that the system they had developed for their own needs could be adapted to become an off-the-shelf system for someone else, exceeding their expectations of the software’s usefulness. ‘Our experience demonstrates that if you build a system to do a specific thing, it’s likely it will also be helpful for other things that are similar’. For the labs, the Saving Lives product was an established solution and was effective enough to run their Covid testing programmes: ‘We didn’t build a system that only did what we wanted it to do. We built a system that could do what other people might want it to do as well. It’s not a Swiss army knife, but it can be built in a variety of shapes’.



Response to change 

We’ve collated the findings from our report on our key insights page here, as well as links to download the full report. Visit it to find tips and advice for SVOs; more stories of SVOs embracing digital as a response to Covid; suggestions for how funders can support the use of tech, and challenges facing both SVOs and funders. 

Response to change

We worked with the Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology (CAST) to explore how small voluntary organisations (SVOs) responded to change and embraced tech* through the upheaval and uncertainty of 2020.

We found that SVOs are embracing tech through experimentation and innovation. While ‘everything now includes a digital element ’, digital doesn’t yet include everyone.

Our report includes: 

  • Tips and advice for SVOs
  • Stories of four SVOs embracing digital to respond to Covid
  • Suggestions for how funders can support SVOs’ use of tech
  • Challenges facing both SVOs and funders.

*A detailed explanation of what is meant by ‘tech’ can be found in the report: Start Somewhere.