Challenges for the UK voluntary sector

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8th Jun 2012

Both speakers at a recent event run by MDN (consultants working with voluntary sector organisations in the UK) emphasized the huge shift in the environment for non-profits in the UK. While they both started from the fact that the funding landscape is changing radically, they then followed different trains of thought – one looking at technology and the other at ‘bottom-up’ resources.

The starting point is that the funding cuts “are not a bump in the road”. This is a permanent new world that the voluntary sector must adapt to. According to Karl Wilding, NCVO’s head of Policy and Research, 40p in the £ of all charity funding in the UK comes from government sources of one kind of another. Most cuts to this funding haven’t started yet and will total £1.3bn by the end of this Parliament.  According to the labour force survey there has already been a drop of 70,000 people employed in the voluntary sector in the last couple of years. Contracts are replacing grants, especially at the local level, which favours larger businesses over smaller non-profits.

Karl argued that the voluntary sector is not responding effectively to these challenges. Instead of looking to government for all the solutions, we should be doing more to enable communities to do things for themselves. Technology is not used strategically, for example in the area of opening up to scrutiny, sharing data, and transparency – in fact the the government is ahead in this area, and the voluntary sector is no long the ‘gold standard’ of openness. We are also not using technology effectively to reduce costs – for example through ‘collaborative consumption’.

Ambreen Shah, Deputy Director for England at the Big Lottery picked up on the theme of ’empowering communities’ saying that BL grant holders need to find the resources within their communities and look for new ways of connecting existing services rather than setting up new ones. For her, the prospect of many organisations closing was a normal part of a cycle of renewal. Her vision of a future successful voluntary service organisation would involve more private sector and other partnerships, more volunteerism, and better demonstration of the difference they make.

In the discussion around the presentations, most people accepted that there are major challenges to be faced up to. Consultants working with the voluntary sector need  to help organisations through big changes and keep their clients thinking ahead. Although participants challenged the statement that the closure of many small organisations would not hurt communities, the working groups spoke volumes: helping boards to manage mergers, and building resilience in organisations.

Karl Wilding recommended Lucy Bernholz – Disrupting Philanthropy Manifesto

Ambreen Shah recommended: Tessy Britton‘s Community Lovers Guides



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