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Rethinking accountability in philanthropy

How accountable are you to the individuals and groups that you are set up to support? Not very, according to Power and Trust, recently published by Grant Givers’ Movement, which found that ‘foundations are most accountable to their board, and least accountable to end beneficiaries’. And what does it mean to factor accountability into the way in which grants and grant programmes are designed and implemented? These are questions that are frequently asked of funders, and that funders are increasingly asking of themselves.


I spoke to Jo Wells, Director of The Blagrave Trust, to understand more about their approach to remaining responsive and accountable to the needs of those that they are set up to serve – in their case, young people between 14 and 25.  Jo described three key ways in which Blagrave have tried to shift accountability to young people, building on the approach described in Changing the Story, and ‘driven by the strong values we hold: inclusive, collaborative, progressive’. This evolution began with conversations with young people themselves, ‘who are challenging the very notion of charity as paternalistic and deficit based: that’s one reason we started to invest directly in young people themselves’. And, at its core, is a belief that accountability must cut across everything that you do – what you fund, your governance and the way in which you deliver your grant programmes: ‘it cannot be about just one of these things at one point in time. It’s about a different culture, and an intentional shift that acknowledges this is a different way of working and that means we have to be willing to go in new and different directions, with young people involved at every stage, in every process’.


  1. Through reforming Blagrave’s governance and leadership.


Specific reforms have included putting young people with lived experience of the issues Blagrave funds directly on the Board (‘we have four trustees under 25 now, plus a fairly young chair [34] and finance trustee [32]’). This inclusivity has supported a move away from having a more formal Board: ‘formality doesn’t always lend itself to an open and honest conversation’. Board members are not all experts in a given field, and five are first time trustees; rather, ‘they are coming to solve problems and learn together alongside the staff team’. Blagrave also uses its influence to encourage changes to Board composition in the wider sector through the Young Trustees Movement. Other practical steps to reform approaches to decision-making include setting up a new youth-led fund, ‘Challenge and Change’, and continuing to actively grow their own direct network of young people from whom they learn.


  1. Through what Blagrave funds


The Opportunity Fund, and Challenge and Change are both new initiatives to fund young people directly, ‘enabling them to lead change – surely the most direct way to express accountability for our mission’. This work builds on The Listening Fund, which supports the youth sector to listen and act upon what young people have to say about their own needs and ideas for support. And their focus and design ‘establishes a direct line of accountability between young people and ourselves as a funder, removing the role of charities as their gate keepers’. Blagrave’s blog series of provocations on power, voice and listening gives a flavour of some of the myriad of factors that relate to young people’s stake in decision making processes, including the need to really listen to the voices of different groups of young people with varied experiences, needs and interests: ‘young people are not a homogenous group’. In the words of Hot Chocolate Trust, a Listening Fund Scotland partner in Dundee, ‘listening is at the heart of what we do. “Who are you? What are your stories? What are your hopes? fears? needs? ambitions? What do you want to do? What can we build together?”  These questions continue to be the bedrock of the work we do. We firmly believe that the young people are the experts of their own experiences, and that their voices must be at the very heart of both our everyday, and strategic, practice.’


  1. Through how Blagrave works


Since 2015, Blagrave’s application process has been stripped back in order to not consume organisational time demonstrating accountability to Blagrave, but rather to focus on social mission.  Applicants are asked one question relating to how they involve young people in their work, and are accountable to them. Young people themselves are paid as ‘Young Advisors’ to shape the design of Challenge and Change, and are currently shortlisting and making the final funding decisions. The next phase of The Listening Fund will recruit 10-12 further Young Advisors to shape the work over three years and to help hold the funders to account.  Where necessary, Blagrave works with other organisations, like the Centre for Knowledge Equity, ‘to help facilitate our programmes so that we are one step further removed from power and influence and really embedding principles of equity and inclusivity in how we work’. And, at all stages of their process, there is a commitment to feedback – gathering it anonymously then publishing it on their website; as well as providing it to all applicants, including those organisations or individuals that they don’t fund. In the case of the Challenge and Change fund, those young people whose projects are not funded will still be invited to be part of the Challenge and Change network and provided with network development opportunities.


For Blagrave, ‘it’s important to stay humble, acknowledge that you won’t always get it right and that there is always more to do’. Jo and her team see their approach to accountability as akin to movement building – actively seeking out and collaborating with others who support their ethos, while at the same time recognising the scale of the task: ‘it requires an iterative process of trial and error. And you need to continue to sit, listen and learn’.



How can we – as funders – help communities to deal with the pandemic?

Over the past 15 months, we’ve been supporting grassroots, community-based grant-making in each of the four home nations through Comic Relief’s UK Intermediary Funders initiative¹. Learning has been key to our approach as we want to understand how we as funders can share and shift power to people in communities through ‘lived experience’ and community-led approaches, both in the grant-making process and the grants themselves. Now, in the midst of a pandemic that is deepening inequalities and creating an environment of prolonged uncertainty, how can we continue to do that? What are we learning as a group of funders that we can hold onto as we move into recovery and renewal?

Through this blog, we wanted to share some of the questions being discussed amongst our grassroots intermediary funders.

Emergency vs the longer term

Most charities are really anxious about funding – they may have some money now for emergency work, but with no fundraising and limited grant-making for non-emergency work, there will be a gap very soon. We are really conscious of this, and know there is a role for us, our partners and other foundations in protecting charities for the future.

However, this comes with a set of challenging considerations: 

  • Should we stall some emergency funding, in case there is a second ‘lockdown’ in the autumn and winter? Or should we hope that we will be able to meet future needs through additional fundraising?
  • How can we work to ensure that emergency funding is accessible to those who need it and supports organisations on the frontline to deliver crisis support whilst sustaining them so they are able to provide in the medium and long term? What’s on the horizon?
  • We can’t yet predict when something vaguely resembling normal life will resume, and what exactly that will look like. What does that mean for the timing and focus of our support, and our expectations of charities in relation to plans and activities? When should we seek to shift from emergency to recovery?
  • We do know that the pandemic is exposing and deepening inequalities, and that both the charity and funding sector will need to adapt – to both changing needs in communities and shifting priorities. What will that mean for future grant-making processes? What can we do to retain the flexibility and collaboration that has emerged between many funders over the last few months?
  • Many organisations are providing emergency support beyond their particular area of experience – like mental health support or working with women affected by domestic abuse. Can or should this work be sustained over the long term, ensuring those intervening in such complex issues have a ‘do no harm’ approach as a starting point? This will ensure those doing this work have the proper expertise to deal with the issues responsibly and effectively.
  • Many emergency funds ignore so-called ‘nice to have’ things in the community, like cultural arts, theatre and sports – in the long run, how is this going to impact on people’s lives and social values, especially young people’s education and mental health?

What will the role of unconstituted community groups be?


New community groups have formed across the UK in response to Covid-19, and they aren’t waiting for funding – they’re just getting on with it, driven by empathy and with little ambition to be constituted organisations. Some of us have funded residents’ groups even though, in the past, we would have preferred something more structured; others are looking at whether this could continue beyond emergency: ‘I don’t think there is anything stopping us, it is us that strangle ourselves’. How do we support these groups as drivers of community change? And will they want to continue or disband after the pandemic? ‘In a time of crisis and chaos, there has been a new order established around shifting the power which has communities and their responses at the heart’.


As funders, while appreciating the myriad of amazing community responses, we need to be mindful of the groups that already exist doing responsive work. We must not forget them, and we must remain alert to the possibility of duplication – between longer-standing activities and newer, emergency responses: for example, established food banks working on ending food poverty, alongside newer groups doing similar work, could lead to an over or under supply of food.


Doing the right thing – ask funded partners or potential funded partners to help us think about the future


Communities have shown tremendous power in leading from the front, reacting first often ahead of both established charity and statutory organisations’ responses and support. They are becoming first responders by asking for feedback from people on the ground to understand local needs. As funders, we must find ways to support and embed this shift in power right down to the local community level. And we must also be conscious to proactively reach out to those groups who are disproportionately affected, may not be well represented in broader community responses, or may not have the means and avenues to be able to directly ask for help? (For example: BAME communities, LGBTQ+ communities, young carers, and people dealing with loss and grief.)


Grassroots organisations are already thinking of ways they could deal with the challenges lockdown has thrown up, for the longer term. Things like mental health, isolation, increased inequalities and child poverty, and domestic abuse. After the pandemic, how can this surge of community action help us to understand what is needed and how can we support this community response for resilience and rebuilding?




Like many funders, we have adapted our processes and made them simpler; we have been flexible in our grant-making; and we have set up emergency funds quickly in response to Covid-19. But it feels like we’re at the start of a period of sustained evolution and adaptation. We hope to work closely with people, communities and other funders as we face the future together.


Please do share your thoughts in the comments below.


[1] The four intermediary funders are The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, Corra Foundation in Scotland, Wales Council for Voluntary Action and Groundwork in England.

Covid-19: The diary of a small funder

The Sir George Martin Trust is based in Harrogate, North Yorkshire and was established in 1956 by my father-in-law’s uncle who was a prominent Leeds businessman and the Lord Mayor of Leeds. In recent years our grant-making has been focused on capital and core grants to registered charities and churches working in West and North Yorkshire to help improve the lives of mainly vulnerable and disadvantaged local people.


I am also the Co-ordinator of the Yorkshire Funders Forum (YFF) and a trustee of the Leeds Building Society Foundation. This blog gives a snapshot of my experiences during the first weeks of the UK Covid-19 crisis from a small funder’s point of view.


11 March


The number of coronavirus cases is really starting to ramp up in London, but in Yorkshire all seems calm and everyone is carrying on as normal. My trustees encourage me to do as many visits to applicants as possible and today I visited a primary school in inner city Leeds who are part of a music programme.


However, the stock market is plummeting and my trustees are fearful of how much lower our fund’s value may drop and how much we should give out in grants at the March meeting and beyond.


18 March


The situation has changed so drastically in seven days. I’ve always worked at home for the Trust, so no big change there, but my trustees have asked me not to make any further charity visits in order to protect mine and the charities’ health. Having driven around Yorkshire for the past seven years, meeting the most inspiring and dedicated charity workers, I find this difficult to comprehend and feel that surely this will only be for a few weeks?


The YFF steering committee and I have made the difficult decision to postpone our 20 May Spring Conference which is a real blow as these events have happened twice a year, every year since 1992.


It also dawns on me that our cheque payment method for grants is going to cause some real challenges for our grant holders. Luckily our Relationship Manager at the bank agrees to increasing our daily online payment limit within minutes when this would have usually taken weeks to agree and hours of form-filling. Every cloud has a silver lining.


25 March


Lockdown has started and it’s awful to hear about the number of UK deaths and how many lives Covid-19 is destroying.  Our March trustees’ meeting is this week but we’re not able to meet in person so what is the best way for the eight of us to communicate for the meeting? I’ve heard of Zoom but am not convinced that my two trustees in their 80s will be able use this, so decide to set up a good old-fashioned BT conference call account which works well.


The trustees decide that as there are very few ‘normal’ enquiries and applications coming in, for the next few weeks we should give out small £500 Fast Grants to charities and churches in West Yorkshire that are helping on the frontline by delivering food and continuing to support the most vulnerable to get through the crisis. It’s also agreed that we need to ‘meet’ monthly for the short term, as opposed to our usual three times a year, to make sure our grant-making matches up with local charities’ changing needs during the crisis.


1 April


The Fast Grant telephone and email enquiries are coming in nice and steadily. The Fast Grant sub-committee of trustees are doing a brilliant job reviewing the applications I put forward within 24 hours, and then I’m informing the successful applicants and making the grant payments the next day.


8 April


The Fast Grant enquiries and applications are coming in thick and fast now, but it’s just about manageable and being able to provide immediate support, even in a small way, really makes me feel that our Trust is doing our bit to help those most in need.


15 April


We’re getting so many Fast Grant enquires and it’s proving more difficult for the trustees to decide on who to support. We’re now realising this is a bit more complicated than we first thought, and now that the trustees can see the current bank balance on the statement for online payment purposes, this is putting each applicant’s financial position in a whole different light and making it harder for the trustees to agree. It is also felt that some charities are tailoring their requests to fit with our criteria and this isn’t sitting well with some trustees. Who said giving away money was easy?


22 April


The Fast Grant enquires have slowed down and we have another trustee call where it is agreed that the focus of our grant-making from May should shift towards unrestricted Resilience Funding for local charities in order to help them get through the crisis and come out the other side.


After the mad scramble to provide emergency support, it has become clear that what small charities will need for the medium-long term are friendly, flexible funders to turn to who can provide grants to pay for running costs. The Sir George Martin Trust has been here supporting Yorkshire charities for the past 64 years and we are determined that we will play our part in ensuring as many local not-for-profits continue their excellent work for many decades to come.

From disused bus stop to community hub

Stainsacre is a Yorkshire village 2 miles from Whitby where transport via bus has stopped due to cutbacks. This has had a big impact on the people living there causing some to relocate. As a Totally Socially Development Worker and Stainsacre resident, I wanted to get the community talking about solutions to the transport issue, but where could we meet when there was no obvious place? If I tell you that we first met at a bus stop, surely you would be intrigued to know how this came about and where we are now.

Why a bus stop?

I was walking my dog and walked past a disused stone-built bus shelter. It occurred to me what a great little space it was and made me wonder if people would meet me there to discuss our local transport issues. I asked my mum (and fellow Stainsacre villager) to come along for moral support to help me start a meet-up. We started by cleaning out the bus shelter to make it a place that one wouldn’t mind passing an hour or too. We added cushions, chairs, stools, fairy lights and a trolley full of tea, coffee, cake and biscuits. Then we made a basic leaflet and spent three hours walking around the village talking to people about our intentions and posting the leaflet through doors.

At the first meet-up, 20 people arrived. In fact, they came early and left late! People discussed how the lack of transport had effected them and people they knew – some of who were now stuck in the village or facing a long walk (often pushing a wheel chair) down unsuitable paths or roads. It was a really happy event and we decided to do it all again and meet once a month.

Unexpected results

In terms of progress in dealing with the transport issues, many solutions have come out the meet-ups – not just the one! For example, small pockets of people have begun to share taxis, a conversation with the local community transport organisation was held and an offer made, and some neighbours help each other out by giving lifts to town or doctor’s appointments.

Our monthly meet-ups have become more than a way to solve local transport issues now. Parish Councillors have made a good connection with the group and are now a huge part of running it. It’s used as a way to feedback from council meetings to people who were unable to attend and to ensure that people are able to have their say and their views are taken back to the parish council meeting. Organisations focussing on health and security, such as the Fire Service, have also shown an interest in attending. It is seen as a great way to access the views of a group of local people and get knowledge to them.

The community has become generally more connected – people now know each other and, in some cases, by their actual name not just “the egg lady”! At the meet-ups, those attending talk about many things such as the history of the village and their past. They swap vegetables and books. Some of the elderly people have begun to mix with people they didn’t before and it’s become a gathering to look forward to. As people began to know one another, they decided to host in their own homes (not just the bus shelter) and assisted those who might struggle to do this. In one instance, a meeting host struggled to walk, so his neighbours made the tea and helped him to set up. What is great is that people from nearby villages have also started attending, often with a view to setting up something themselves or to feedback to the group because of their own community connections.

As a result of the unexpected popularity and success of the group – now known as the ‘Stainsacre Social’ – the reason for meeting up has widened to not just be about finding a permanent solution to transport, it now aims to connect people in order to form their own solutions to wider local issues. Looking forward, the group would like to formalise and work on other things like running a village hosted event. Who knows where the Stainsacre Social will go next!

Taking a risk and not having an initial ‘outcome’ has been liberating. It is very much the Totally Socially way! People create their own aims and form their own solutions based on the knowledge and skills they already have. They have their own strengths and ideas and they should be allowed to try these out and, if necessary, fail and learn for next time. Being part of the Stainsacre Social has been great on so many levels. As a resident I now know many more people, some well enough to offer a lift to the local shops. On a professional level, it’s great to see that people only need the seed of something new in order to mould it into something far better themselves.

The Totally Socially project is funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and run by Coast and Vale Community Action. For more details, please check out Totally Socially on Facebook or

The power of reporting by film: Three things to think about

Vita Terry (IVAR Senior Researcher) reflects on using film to document the process and progress of an intergenerational dance project and shares three things to consider when using film as a research method or for reporting to funders.

Why film?

Recently, there has been a rising recognition of the advantages of using film as a research method and, in addition to this, from some funders on the benefits of using film in grant reporting (see our recent blog Freedom to report visually). Voluntary and community organisations are required by their funders to demonstrate the value and impact of the projects they deliver. However, for some projects where personal stories, emotion, and relationships play a large part (like Growing Together described below), it is arguable whether written reports or end of project evaluations are the best way to capture these things. This is where film can become a powerful tool.

Capturing the process

From March to July 2019, the intergenerational dance project, Growing Together brought together pupils (from Redbridge Primary School) and older people with early stages of dementia (from Remember to Dance) to take part in weekly dance workshops led by Green Candle Dance Company.

An accessible film production team (comprised of myself, Kate Dangerfield and Joe Mannion) filmed the process and progress of the Growing Together workshops. The project was delivered through workshops over 16-weeks and film was identified as a useful method to track these over time. We were interested in exploring how dance can be used as a tool to address social issues and to illustrate the development of relationships between the children and older people. By capturing key moments, spaces, and interactions of the developing relationships, film provided the opportunity to learn and reflect on this experience.

My experience, in the role of producer, highlighted some issues and learning which I share below for others considering using film as a research method or for project reporting:


1) Be clear about the reason for using film

It is important to think about the purpose of using film. Is it to create a ‘polished’ film to promote the project to wider stakeholders? Or to use film as a tool to unpack the experiences and process involved? These two things are not always aligned. The latter might involve filming scenes that are not visually ‘attractive’ or that don’t have a clear narrative, and to capture an unfolding process is often more time-consuming.


2) Be creative and experimental

Be aware that not everyone is used to being in front of a camera, which can create unease for some individuals. To make the experience enjoyable for all, particularly for those that are more marginalised, the film team should be thoughtful and creative (throughout the process). For example, when working with children using activities and visual methods can make the experience of film more accessible.  


3) Be aware of time and resources required

Using film, as a research method or as part of reporting, can be more time and resource consuming than traditional methods. Experimenting on how to explore the process using film, equipment, audio, and editing can be an added cost to a project. However, it is arguable that the benefits outweigh these concerns. For filming projects to be performed in a meaningful way, more funders need to give funded organisations the confidence to include these costings into evaluations, rather than being viewed as an add on.


If you are interested in knowing more about the opportunities and challenges of using film in practice, please get in touch or read our paper Participatory filmmaking in voluntary sector research: innovative or problematic? 

You can watch the video from the intergenerational dance project – Growing Together – here.

Managing our community asset in an era of austerity

Katherine Low Settlement (KLS) is a multi-purpose charity in Battersea, South West London, which provides services to build stronger communities and enable people to challenge poverty and isolation. We have 32 paid staff, 8 trustees, and around 230 volunteers involved in delivering services for children and families, older people and refugee communities.


Who we are: ‘Collaboration, participation, care and kindness’


KLS was established in 1924 in memory of Katherine Low who is believed to have been a suffragette and philanthropist (no one knows for certain) who tackled issues around poverty in South East London. When she died, her friends used philanthropic funds to buy the settlement in Battersea – an area with rising levels of poverty and social inequality from the era of industrialisation.

‘[Our values of] collaboration, participation, care and kindness are the same, but the services that we offer have changed to reflect the needs of the local communities we work with.’


We’re now a ‘pillar’ in the community, offering affordable rents and providing start up support for local groups and agencies, which in turn has developed a substantial staff and volunteer base that widens our social impact in the area. By having these roots, e.g. having trustees that reside in the local area, we have established trusting relationships with our community and secured its involvement in decision-making.


How we have maintained the Settlement’s financial health in an era of austerity


Our current financial health is stable and prosperous, but we have faced periods of economic uncertainty in the past due to dependency on funding sources; feeling the impact of austerity; having full responsibility of the maintenance and upkeep of the freehold; and not, until recently, utilising the space to maximise the unrestricted funds gained. Consequently, we have had to make difficult decisions, including having to sell off other assets that were previously part of the Settlement (two buildings located nearby) to keep the charity afloat.


In recent years, we have strived to turn this around and become financially sustainable by bringing in new leadership; reassessing the use of the asset and utilising the space; and developing a healthier financial model. Three key aspects were influential in developing the Settlement’s financial health:


  1. The diversification of income
  2. Profiting from owning the freehold
  3. Reputation and values


Diversification of income: In the last six years, we have made a conscious decision to move away from being dependent on income revenue and develop an effective contingency plan to fund building maintenance by diversifying the range of income sources. We have now developed a balanced funding model, consisting of earned income and a portfolio of charitable trust grants, and worked to maximise the use of the asset, resulting in a significant shift from 26% to 80% occupancy. This shift has generated unrestricted income that we have invested back into the charity, which in turn has heightened our independence and allowed us to subsidise typically unfavourable aspects to fund. For example, core costs, maintenance and repairs, and room renovations to become multi-purpose spaces, whilst also providing affordable rent for community groups. This new funding model has also influenced a shift in practice by implementing regular monitoring of our finances; a separate finance committee; a monthly finance report; and the Director focused on fundraising.


Owning the freehold: By owning the freehold, we could access charitable trust grants, such as a Heritage Lottery grant, which fund building renovations. Owning the freehold has not only provided economic benefit, but also had an emotional impact – we have a sense of security, confidence, and autonomy. We are not operating in fear that a landlord might abruptly end our lease or increase rents. Instead, this sense of security enables our staff to invest in the Settlement, both emotionally and financially, over the last 95 years.


Reputation and values: The initial purpose of tackling issues around poverty and social inclusion continues to be a driving principle for how we use the asset, although the approach adopted depends on the needs and circumstances of local residents at that time. Our longevity has played an important role in surviving turbulent times by demonstrating a strong value base and commitment to supporting the local area. This has built long lasting, trusting relationships and a positive reputation with our community and local organisations, who in turn have then been committed to, and invested in, the running of the Settlement.


We are the pillar of the community that has been here donkeys’ years. Community work takes a lot of effort, a lot of trust, it takes a lot of time… We are that rock in the community, a community anchor. People know we are here, and people can decide when they want to use us. By having an asset, having a freehold, we can continue thinking like that and continue to be part of lives of local people because we have the asset.’


Sticking to our roots and preparing for the future


The nature of owning an historical asset means that over the years it has undergone renovations – different extensions have been built, and various repair works taken place that have not always been of a high standard. As we are now in a healthy financial situation, we’re currently striving to renovate the asset and ensure there is accessibility for all to use the building. The weight of the task could arguably justify the Settlement looking to move to new premises, however, the longevity, embedded values, and relationships built has encouraged us to stay where we are and invest in our current asset.


‘We have had discussions with trustees when looking at redeveloping the building, one of the options was to sell up and move away, to buy something that was purpose built. That would suit our needs, our current needs, but no, there was a unanimous decision our roots are here in Battersea, the trust and reputation of KLS is here, and we would have to start all over again.’ 

To find out more about the work of the Settlement, you can contact Aaron via or 020 7223 2845 

Katherine Low Settlement were one of the organisations we spoke to for our research with Sheffield Hallam, which aimed to create a national picture of community asset ownership.

5 things that help communities turn ideas into action

Totally Socially is an excellent example of how local infrastructure organisations are supporting voluntary and community groups to thrive.

The programme’s four dedicated outreach workers provide responsive and regular support to communities at different stages of bringing their ideas to life. They help people find solutions to the challenges their communities face, by talking and listening to people and getting to know what makes their communities tick. Most importantly, they always let the communities take the lead. 

I recently had the pleasure of carrying out a mid-term review of Totally Socially, and identified five things that help if you are supporting community groups to turn ideas into action:

      1. Relationships
      2. Starting where people are
      3. Supporting adaptation
      4. Spreading the word and sharing ideas
      5. Practical support

1. Relationships

Build strong relationships by being reliable, nimble, flexible and approachable. Nurture strengths without overstepping.

‘We could have done it on our own but it would have taken forever, we trusted [our Totally Socially worker].’

The relationship with the Totally Socially workers is central to the support provided. They have an ‘open door’ approach, they move quickly to find a way to speed things up or unblock a problem, and show how to do things without doing those things for the group or person. People were not put under pressure, but encouraged to draw on their strengths. The workers’ ability to be nimble and reliable has meant a lot to people and has built strong and lasting relationships. This dual approach of drawing out what is already there in a person or group, and complementing that with some quick wins to move things along has been very effective.


2. Starting where people are

Build on what is already happening. Take a mentoring role to reassure and build confidence.

‘It’s about helping people to help themselves – not doing it for them. So valuing their ideas with local people driving the agenda so the ideas are more likely to last’.

The support approach used by Totally Socially Workers is in itself unusual for participants. Words used to describe the worker’s approach were: ‘mentoring’, ‘coproduction’, ‘working alongside’, ‘reassuring’ and ‘building confidence’. There was a marked lack of hierarchy in the way workers thought of themselves, describing it as a peer relationship, with a two-way flow of knowledge.

3. Supporting adaptation

Remain adaptable to need and level of support.

‘They believed the ideas would work, I have the skill base to do it but not the business knowledge – having these people around with their honesty and ambition [is] very positive… They support you to fail positively through the process.’

Fundamental to the support is adaptation. This runs through everything, workers gauge the type and level of support needed, and tailor it, deciding whether to take a light-touch or hands-on approach. Three features of this support to adapt emerged, i) there will be a way, ii) keeping an eye on things, iii) failing forward.

4. Spreading the word and sharing ideas

Get out into the community and use networks to get the message out for the community groups.


‘I didn’t realise how much help they could give us and contacts to make a good event – they even helped me with a printing company for a poster to promote an event’

Totally Socially place themselves in community spaces, i.e. libraries and cafes, they talk to people on the street, in family spaces and where people live. They supported with publicity – via social media, getting groups connected and providing advertising and media coverage for organisations and groups. All have noticeably increased numbers of those interested and taking part in community activities.


5. Practical support

Don’t underestimate the value of being hands on and offering practical support.

‘Initially Totally Socially were providing refreshments and now I have the confidence to approach local cafes directly and ask them to support us’

Practical support was invaluable – helping with event refreshments, recruiting volunteers, offering advice on how to attract funding. The organisations valued how locally connected and available/on hand the workers were.

Totally Socially is run by Coast and Vale Community Action (CAVCA) and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.  You can read the full mid-term review of the programme here.

IDEAL Community Action’s experience of strategic review

Nick Bentley, co-founder of IDEAL Community Action, shares his experience of bringing in IVAR to lead a ‘strategic review’. 



What does strategy mean to you?


Having a clear understanding of – who we are as an organisation; what we want the organisation to become; what it will deliver; and how we will make that happen.



Why did you decide to have a strategic review?


IDEAL is still run by the founders of the organisation, which, although small in relation to the number of staff (2), was delivering way beyond its size in relation to numbers and results. The organisation structure was reliant on excellent partnerships and a very dedicated team of volunteers who had come through IDEAL’s project – The Domino Effect. We understood that for long-term sustainability, the organisation needed to go through a transition in order to accommodate the growth that was occurring within IDEAL’s projects. If we did not, we were placing the organisation and its projects in danger. The timing was also important as we had several new Trustees join the board, so it was the right moment to start to really establish the long-term direction of the organisation.



To what extent did the initial interview with IVAR change your view of your organisation and the challenges it was facing at the time?


The initial interview highlighted the need for us as an organisation to clarify what we were and to develop a way to clearly communicate this to the world. It also demonstrated that the vision and overall plan rested mainly in the minds of the co founders, making it hard for a board to evaluate and assist them in the delivering of the vision.



What changed in your organisation as a result of the strategic review? Did it stick?


The review (which involved staff, trustees and volunteers) provided us with a shake up, an opportunity to evaluate where we were, which was great in regards to the organisation’s achievements but also highlighted the problems of long-term sustainability due to the manner in which the organisation was structured and run being too concentrated on the co-founders.


The review provided the starting point from which the relationship between the board and staff has grown and strengthened providing a solid foundation for the organisation to grow. It resulted in a 3 year plan, with a clear overarching vision for what the organisation is seeking to become, and which is still guiding us. We have since received funding that has enabled us to employ two FTE staff, and doubled the numbers engaging with our projects and increased what we offer. The review started a process, it was up to us to continue with it. By doing so, we are managing the transition to being a larger and more sustainable organisation.



What advice would you have for another voluntary sector leader about to embark on a strategic review?


It was a difficult process as there was a lot of emotional investment, which was greatly aided by trusting the facilitator and the process. Maintaining an open mind and allowing for conflicting views was tricky but essential. Ensuring that you choose a time when you can be fully focused on the review; it was very easy to be drawn into day-to-day operational matters.

What works for setting up cross sector partnerships?

Two voluntary sector leaders taking part in our Building Health Partnerships: Self-care programme share what they think works when setting up cross-sector partnerships. 


Dr Simon D Hankins
CEO, BS3 Community Development (formerly Southville Community Development Association)


‘Patience, building trust, respect, recognising the expertise that exists within each partner organisation, identifying and working to achieve mutual benefits, stumbling across people with the appropriate mind-sets and attitudes and people that you feel that you can work with and, overlaid with a huge dose of realism are, for me, all key components in establishing partnership working between the voluntary and public sectors.

From my experience at BS3 Community Development charity, to achieve a targeted, short-lived or enduring working relationship with parts of the public sector, it takes time, lots of time; it requires patience from all involved as we get to know one-another and build trust and confidence in each other, after all, why would you work with someone you don’t know or with an organisation that you have no idea how good a quality their services are? However, the rewards can be immense for all parties and particularly the people that you are setting-out to work with, support, help or whatever it is that is being developed; so it can be worth the effort as long as the statutory sector and VCSE (Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise) sector partners approach the development of the working relationship on an equal-voice and mutual respect basis.’


Jacqui Bremner
Herefordshire Carers


‘I think true partnership working is when you know that you both work as hard for your partner to succeed in the joint venture, as you do for your own organisation, because you know that failing impacts on you both!!’

Will this completely overwhelm my time?

We asked the leaders of three organisations that we have supported with merger to share their thoughts: 


Gillian Santi
Former Chair of the Independent Adoption Service (IAS)


‘Making the decision on merger as a sustainable way forwards for our adoption service was very time-consuming.

However, the Board engaged a facilitator to ensure that time would be effectively managed through a staged process, which meant that I, as a relatively inexperienced Chair, would not have an overwhelming time commitment.’





Laurie Rackind and Neil Taylor
Chief Executive and Trustee of Jami UK


‘Yes. It will overwhelm you and you will almost certainly underestimate the time and energy required to make it happen.’ 




Joanna Holmes
Chief Executive of Barton Hill Settlement


‘There is a lot to do but some of it is very administrative, especially the due diligence work, and HR focussed if you are transferring staff.

So it depends if you have someone to delegate the bulk of this work to. It is also important to follow a good process and it’s possible to bring in someone to help manage this as there are experienced consultants who do this. I think as CEO it’s important to keep a clear overview and to be very alive to relevant developments and this is harder if you are also doing the bulk of the detailed work. So the short answer is that it need not be overwhelming but it is an important piece of work and takes months not weeks.’