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Planning in uncertainty

We’ve spent over a year reporting on leadership during the uncertainty of the pandemic, capturing the experiences of voluntary and community leaders to inform and encourage flexible responses from their funders. As we transition to a ‘new normal’, we wonder – more than ever – how can organisations be agile in the face of an unpredictable future, and could their funders better support them on this journey?

 


In June and July, we facilitated three online peer support sessions for 23 voluntary and community leaders. They were from organisations funded by the Children, Young People and Families Early Intervention Fund and Adult Learning and Empowering Communities Fund (CYPFEIF & ALEC Fund), administered and coordinated by the Corra Foundation – one of our flexible funders committed to demonstrating more open and trusting practices.

 


We recently published a briefing to share leaders’ experiences and our recommendations for planning in uncertainty and this quick-read summarises our outputs. Our hope is that these can be used to support organisations, and their funders, take small steps forward in thinking about and being agile.

 


Leaders’ experiences

 


Understandably, people emphasised their exhaustion from navigating the fall-out of the pandemic. They are not alone in their weariness, as over a thousand voluntary and community leaders have shared similar sentiments with us over the last year.

 


This period has been a relentless slog: a physical, mental and financial drain on organisations.

 


Despite their fatigue, leaders are proud of their achievements and efforts. The sector has demonstrated its unique value by meeting high demand and complex needs with unwavering commitment.

 


Many have used this opportunity to be more creative, agile and emergent in their work: ‘We are living more comfortably with risk, not allowing it to stop us doing something, just doing it differently’. 

 




The lifting of restrictions has helped us move toward ‘something resembling normal’ but voluntary sector leaders are under no illusion it is back to business as usual, with difficult choices to be made on everything from blended working, delivery methods to funding.

 


During the sessions we listened and learnt from leaders’ experiences and what they felt was needed in order to plan effectively during uncertainty.

 


In their own words, two sector leaders – whose thoughts resonated with the group – summarise the importance and value of the contributions made by the third sector during the pandemic, and what it will take for them to keep delivering that value.

 


Click on their pictures to read more.


quote

We must rethink this hand-to-mouth approach to funding which can feel disrespectful, debilitating, and demeaning for voluntary organisations.

Marguerite Hunter Blair, Chief Executive of Play Scotland

quote

This is the moment for leaders across the third sector to be big, bold and brave – it’s time to put the #ThirdSectorFirst.”

Eddie McConnell, Chief Executive of Down's Syndrome Scotland

Recommendations

 

It is clear that leaders, and their organisations, will need to continue to tap into their creativity as we move forward, as will their funders. We’ve highlighted starting points for voluntary sector leaders and their funders.

Voluntary sector leaders













1. Know your value: 

Exercise agency over current circumstances by knowing your unique value: who you are, why you are here, and what your contribution could be. 

2. Plan flexibly
Uncertainty is here to stay. This transition will require organisations to move from detailed project plans and outcomes to being responsive and flexible in how charitable objects are met. 

3. Focus on wellbeing
Voluntary organisations will need healthy and motivated workforces to move through uncertainty, so make a serious commitment to wellbeing. 

4. Connection 
A premium will need to be placed on open and generous communicaiton and behaviours. Both internally to ensure organsiationsl alignement and externally to benefit from peers and the sector. 

Leading in uncertainty

Are you a leader interested in peer support? We provide frequent, free and facilitated peer support sessions for voluntary and community sector leaders to share what’s front of mind and anonymised learning to the sector. 

Find out more

Funders

















1. Collaborate

Changes to funder practices will be needed to demonstrate more open and trusting behaviours which privilege collaboration over competition among voluntary organisations.

2. Plan flexibly
In order for voluntary organisations to continue to be imaginative and ingenious to meeting community needs and continue vital services, they will need funders to move away from hand-to-mouth approaches to grants and toward more flexible and sustained support. 

Open and trusting grant-making

Are you a funder committed to supporting the sector? Join a community of 80 #FlexibleFunders who are working toward, and demonstrating, eight commitments to being more open and trusting in their grant-making. 

Find out more

Briefing papers:

Planning in uncertainty


Download the briefing

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.

Summary of new briefing: Birds in a hurricane

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, we have spoken to over 1,000 voluntary organisations across our portfolio of research. In every conversation, whatever the focus, we have heard about how small charities, social enterprises and community groups have been coping and adapting.

 

Along the way, we have been capturing snapshots of the live situation through our regular briefing series, drawing specifically from our peer support sessions for voluntary sector leaders. We have been inspired by individuals, holding their teams and organisations together in the toughest of times. And we have reflected on how funders, in particular, could best support their efforts.

 

This latest briefing, however, draws material from a wider range of projects – most of which began before the pandemic hit. In early 2020, we were facilitating local, cross-sector health partnerships, and looking at how small charities were using technology, not knowing just how vital these already important and interesting fields would become.

 

We decided to explore how organisations have survived – and in some cases even thrived – since the pandemic began. And we share the things that we believe will help both voluntary organisations, and those who support them, to sustain and develop their contribution for the longer term.

Summary

 

Leading a small VCSE organisation is a tough job at the best of times: ‘As a CEO, you’re the HR department, the marketing department, the finance department, the operational manager and so on. It’s difficult managing all this and the staff’. But Covid-19 has turned the volume up right across the spectrum: ‘I feel like a bird in a hurricane!’.

 

Core Funding

1/6

Key pressures organisations have faced

 

  • Funding

  • Increasing/changing demand

  • Going online

  • Taking care of their teams

  • Leadership

Core Funding

2/6

Funding. Many funders worked hard to provide emergency funding that supported rapid responses, and to take a light-touch approach; but the pipeline for longer-term applications remains seriously disrupted. 

Core Funding

3/6

Increasing/changing demand. Many organisations uncovered new needs. Some transformed their services; others went into a holding pattern, providing what support they could from afar. The sense of never being able to do enough was profound: ‘People in need are falling off the radar’, ‘Our users don’t always cope well with change’. 

Core Funding

4/6

Going online. The shortcomings of ‘communicating on squares’ have become clear – from the loss of informal spaces, through to trying to support vulnerable service users, or even mediate conflict, virtually.

Core Funding

5/6

Taking care of their teams. The welfare of staff and volunteers has been a pressing concern. To begin with, staff often ‘threw their all into it’, but, as the weeks turned into months, leaders wondered how long staff could ‘survive this intensity’ and keep going.

Core Funding

6/6

Leadership. Leaders have had to make ‘tough decisions with no perfect answers’, like whether to develop, flex or close services. There have been multiple balancing acts, for example between the welfare of users and that of staff.

The past year has been a ‘story of extraordinary resilience and adaptation’; a rare, shared period of experimentation and taking risks; and a time when new possibilities and options have sprung up: ‘Learning from the crisis will stand us well in the future’.

 

So, what has helped VCSE organisations to stay afloat in a period of adversity?

 

Core Funding

1/7

What has it taken to keep going?

 

  • Collaboration

  • Taking care of staff and volunteers

  • Discovering new ways to connect

  • Responsible, supportive funders

  • Financial cushions

  • A space to share

Core Funding

2/7

Collaboration. The need for joined-up thinking’ was pressing. The sense of urgency and shared purpose dissolved many common obstacles. VCSE organisations worked together to share data and enable cross-referral; they felt valued in partnerships for their distinctive reach and contribution; and they found and used a stronger voice.

Core Funding

3/7

Taking care of staff and volunteers. From coffee mornings to candle making, leaders found ways to support their teams, and provide spaces for people to unload. Some used furlough funding in a supportive way to respond to individual circumstances; while others benefitted from experienced volunteers on furlough.

Core Funding

4/7

Discovering new ways to connect. Going online provided unexpected benefits for many – reaching new people, enabling new conversations, and hearing more diverse voices.

Core Funding

5/7

Responsible, supportive funders. Many funders shared risks, relaxed targets and reporting requirements and were active partners, saying: ‘We want you to be responsive to your community needs’.

Core Funding

6/7

Financial cushions. Where they had them, reasonable reserves or unrestricted income gave leaders some assurance as they regrouped.

Core Funding

7/7

A space to share. Leaders often talked about the isolation of their position. They valued opportunities to reflect, whether that was with their chair, trustees, an external coach (although most were reluctant to spend on support for themselves), or through peer support sessions.

It is clear that the pandemic has both stimulated new thinking and demonstrated the value and workability of approaches to funding and collaboration that VCSE organisations have been advocating for years. The intensity and visibility of need during Covid-19 has accelerated the pace of change, but its foundations feel fragile.

 

Core Funding

1/6

What next? 

 

We end with reflections on some key questions and challenges that both VCSE organisations and those who support them will need to consider if the transformative capacity of the voluntary sector is to be strengthened and developed to help meet the challenges ahead.

Core Funding

2/6

Judging progress. We will all need to learn how to work well with uncertainty – having the confidence to act on the basis of ‘what we think we know right now’, then to look critically at how that went and try to do better.

 

Embedding joined-up working. Can the collaboration, networks and the trust that have been established survive in the face of new challenges, lack of capacity, resumption of conventional roles and fierce competition for tight budgets?

Core Funding

3/6

Blended services and ways of working. We have learnt about the ways technology can help us to work more flexibly, but also about its limits. We will need to take a mixed approach – to how we work, collaborate, and provide services.

 

Making digital inclusion a reality. Many small VCSE organisations now have both the relationships and practical skills to reach communities so often left behind – but digital exclusion is a problem that needs to be tackled nationally.

Core Funding

4/6

New thinking about unrestricted funding and income diversification. Many small VCSE organisations had turned to trading and donations to achieve flexibility – but both have been hit hard by the pandemic. A greater shift to unrestricted funding is urgently needed. VCSE organisations can then focus on listening to their communities and implementing solutions based on what they need. 

Core Funding

5/6

Embedding a more responsive, agile, proportionate and trusting approach to funding. Anything that funders can do to lighten the fundraising and reporting load and to share the burden of risk makes an immediate and tangible difference to small VCSE organisations.

 

Organisational health and wellbeing. When resources are tight and demand is pressing, it can be hard to create time and space to ‘look after our people’. The pandemic has shown just how vital this time is.

Core Funding

6/6

Mutual aid. Many small VCSE organisations benefitted from the surge in community spirit at the outset of the pandemic. How can they retain volunteers and maintain good safeguards, while also avoiding disproportionate red tape, regulation and formalisation?

 

User voice. Small and medium-sized VCSE organisations have a distinctive and vital contribution to make to the debate over ‘what next?’. How can they best be supported in giving voice to their users? And how can their own contribution be kept in the public eye?  

We have all been affected by the pandemic. It has upended our lives, both at home and at work. Across our families and our organisations, we see exhausted and anxious faces. And the uncertainty isn’t over. At such a moment, there needs to be a premium on patience and kindness, and a concerted effort to bring imagination and empathy to our work. If the last year has taught us anything, it is that voluntary organisations have these qualities in abundance; and that if they are trusted and respected, they will deliver for those they exist to serve.

 

Click here to read the full briefing, Birds in a hurricane

 

Photo by Fer Nando on Unsplash.

Birds in a hurricane

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, we have spoken to over 1,000 voluntary organisations across our portfolio of research. In every conversation, whatever the focus, we have heard about how small charities, social enterprises and community groups have been coping and adapting.

 

Along the way, we have been capturing snapshots of the live situation through our regular briefing series, drawing specifically from our peer support sessions for voluntary sector leaders. We have been inspired by individuals, holding their teams and organisations together in the toughest of times. And we have reflected on how funders, in particular, could best support their efforts.

 

This latest briefing, however, draws material from a wider range of projects – most of which began before the pandemic hit. In early 2020, we were facilitating local, cross-sector health partnerships, and looking at how small charities were using technology, not knowing just how vital these already important and interesting fields would become.

 

We decided to explore how organisations have survived – and in some cases even thrived – since the pandemic began. And we share the things that we believe will help both voluntary organisations, and those who support them, to sustain and develop their contribution for the longer term.

 

Photo by Fer Nando on Unsplash.

Leading in uncertainty

We are running 90 minute drop-in peer support sessions for up to 10 charity leaders at a time, every week, from June 2021 – via Zoom. Attendees will have a safe space to share challenges – like increasing or changing demand, taking care of your team (and yourself!) after a difficult year, blending online and face-to-face, and managing multiple balancing acts. 

 

Join us for some time to pause and reflect, and to hear other leaders’ experiences of adapting to and coping with leading in prolonged uncertainty.  

 

‘The benefit of the IVAR sessions has been listening to how others have coped during this time, and I hope that leaders will give themselves the opportunity to reflect on what they have learned and works for them.’ 
‘It’s good for mental wellbeing and to have the opportunity to talk and share with others in similar situations’. 
‘Meeting others from a different geographical area provides the opportunity to be frank about challenges faced and therefore allows open discussion which can identify strong solutions.’
‘I found this space highly valuable to hear and empathise with other charity leaders grappling with similar challenges. I also enjoyed hearing about their unique context and specific challenges; it is great to get out of your own head and hear what is important for others; I learnt a lot about how other leaders approach their work and its pressures from these conversations. It prompted me to reflect on my own priorities and approaches.’

 

There will also be clear pathways to influence funder practices through IVAR’s Open and trusting grant-making initiative.

 

Sign up here.

 


Who is this for?

Leaders of charities, community organisations and social enterprises, based in the UK.

 

This Leading in Uncertainty initiative builds on the emergency support sessions which we have been providing since April 2020. Over 500 people have taken part so far; their organisations are active in 17 fields including the arts, criminal justice, education, equality, infrastructure and migration. For a feel for what the sessions are like, read this short blog from Patricia Kieran, Director of the Irish Institute for Catholic Studies.

What kind of space is it?

The precise focus of conversations is generated by the participants – you can shape what this needs to be, to ensure that the sessions are useful for you. 

 

‘It was really powerful to be part of one of these sessions … incredible to hear about the wide range of experiences and challenges faced by colleagues and to identify together commonality within that diversity.’

The sessions are co-facilitated by IVAR staff and associates, all of whom have been supporting charity leaders across the UK since April 2020.

When are the sessions?

The sessions take place weekly, starting in June 2021, until April 2022. The first dates until September 2021 are available now, and new dates will be added every three months.

 
How do I sign up?

By visiting calendly.com/ivar-social-change. You will be asked four questions:

  • What is your registered charity number?
  • Can you tell us in 1-2 lines how this crisis has affected you and those your charity supports (to help with the facilitation of the session)?
  • Do you have any access requirements?
  • How did you hear about this?

The facilitators

 

What does IVAR do? 

We are an independent charity that exists to strengthen the UK voluntary sector through action research, education and training. We work with very small groups that directly support the most vulnerable in their local communities, and with larger nationwide organisations – across the voluntary, public and funding sectors. We use research to develop practical responses to the challenges faced, and create opportunities for people to learn from our findings.

 

Why are you running these sessions?

 

In the current context of sustained uncertainty and unpredictability, we want to offer useful, relevant support to the amazing charity leaders who inspire us every day. We are providing safe, facilitated spaces for leaders to share what is front of mind, and to receive support. And during these sessions, we are listening – so we can learn about and make sense of the live challenges facing leaders, and help funders to understand how they can best respond. 

 

Please note:

 

The online support sessions are facilitated peer support spaces; they are not not information or advice surgeries. 

Through these sessions, we’re building our understanding of the live situation in the sector – and calling for funders to respond. So, as well as a safe space to share what’s on your mind, this is also an opportunity to influence funder practice. You can see examples of this in our briefing series and our call for open and trusting grant-making, which has been shaped by what we’ve heard from charity leaders. Rest assured that we won’t share anything without your consent.

 

We will be producing anonymised briefings to:

 

  • Inform UK-wide funders decisions about the kinds of support needed by the sector
  • Share advice for other voluntary sector leaders