How would you describe what is meant by “the Voluntary and Community Sector”?
The Voluntary and Community Sector covers groups that are “not for profit” and operate to benefit the community / wider society. It covers a very broad range of organisations, once neatly described as covering concerns from before the cradle to beyond the grave. The sector can deal with all manner of subject areas including:
- health and social care
- young people and families, older people, people with disabilities
- the environment, animals, birds and wildlife
- international causes
- local causes, resident associations
- arts and sports.
Voluntary and community organisations may employ staff or be purely voluntary.
The Sector is known by a number of names:
- Voluntary and Community Sector
- The Third Sector (to differentiate it from the Private and Public Sectors)
- The Civil Society
and the title seems to change depending on which government is in power. After taking a straw poll in our office the authors have decided, for the purpose of this e-learning programme, that we will use the term: the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS). Opinions vary though as to the definitions and differences between a voluntary group and a community group.
The difference often cited is that a voluntary group deals with a particular issue on a national, regional, county or local level (such as a medical condition, an environmental issue, an interest activity such as a local stamp club, drama society). National voluntary organisations may also have local branches (e.g. RSPCA or MENCAP) and some organisations may also work overseas such as Oxfam and the Red Cross.
A community group however deals with a variety of issues common to a localised community (e.g. a residents association, a particular area allotments group). You will find other definitions and often it is a question of semantics or different people’s opinions.
You will still sometimes hear the VCS called The Third Sector, as mentioned previously, to differentiate it from the business (private) and statutory (public) sectors. Within the VCS or Third Sector there are a wide range of constituted bodies including:
- voluntary and community groups who have governing documents but are not registered charities
- unincorporated registered charities (registered with the Charity Commission)
- incorporated charities (that are companies limited by guarantee, or charitable incorporated organisations, and are registered with the Charity Commission)
- social enterprises (such as industrial and provident societies like the Co-operative which have charitable objectives, but are not allowed to register with the Charity Commission)
- charitable interest companies (which have charitable objectives, but are not allowed to register with the Charity Commission).
Just to confuse matters further, there are also, of course, volunteers “working” within statutory organisations. Justices of the Peace and school governors are just two examples of roles where people volunteer, but are not necessarily connected with a specific voluntary or community group.
Many organisations, depending on their legal structure, will be accountable to particular national bodies. In order to become a registered charity, for example, the organisation has to register with the Charity Commission that acts as the regulator of registered charities in England and Wales, ensuring that charities comply with relevant legislation and act lawfully and openly.
If you are an incorporated charity registered as a company limited by guarantee, you will be accountable to both the Charity Commission and Companies House. In late 2012, however, legislation came into effect creating a new form of incorporated charity: the Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) which only requires accountability to the Charity Commission.
In later modules we discuss the benefits and potential pitfalls of different legal structures. The areas that voluntary groups work in:
The areas that voluntary groups work in:
Where does your group sit on this chart? If you are not sure, your Constitution or Governing Document will make this clear.
It is important not to assume that because an organisation is national it must be very big. Whilst most people have heard of Oxfam, St John’s Ambulance, RSPCA and Scope, for some rare medical conditions, for example, there may be just one small national support group, purely voluntary or employing one or two part time members of staff.
Some national organisations may have regional branches and local support groups. Some of these translate the national plans and provide services in the local area, whereas other branches may focus on local needs and gaps in services – the possible permutations are numerous.
What often links the Sector together though is the fact that we share common aims and objectives and are often affected by current developments and similar problems. In our different ways:
- we are all striving to improve the lives of the people around us, our service users or the environment or our cultural heritage or our sporting achievements.
- we feel to varying degrees the effects of government legislation, increasing regulation, the health of the economy etc.
- we are trying to survive or expand in a world where our future funding is uncertain and we often have to rely on short-term funding contracts.
- we constantly need to measure the impact of our services, both to satisfy funding criteria and, as good practice, to ensure that we strive for continuous improvement.
- we sometimes have to fight to get our voices heard, to lobby for sufficient resources, for funding, for making people aware of what we are trying to achieve.
How organisations start their existence probably deserves a module in itself. Sometimes community groups, for example, start with support from the local council. Council officers may help to run a residents association and then, after a while, loosen the reins so that the local people on the estate take over the running of the group. In many cases it may be just one individual, as in the following case study.
|Case Study 2: From Little Acorns …
A woman in her early 40s became a widow when her husband suddenly died. She joined her local bereavement club but found that she was the youngest member by about 25 years with very little in common with the other club members. Searching the internet she could not find any local bereavement club for people of her age and so she decided to set up her own group.
With the help of the local infrastructure network she sorted out a constitution, developed her publicity and within six months had 20 members who devised an active social programme including ten pin bowling, visits to the cinema and evenings at local pubs. She then began to get enquiries from people living in other towns and within a year there were clubs in three towns, each with its own steering group and a central committee who organised the events, ran a website and co-ordinated activities.
Case Study Reflection: Many organisations are formed because of the inspiration and hard work of an individual or a small band of individuals. It is often what makes the Voluntary and Community Sector special – the ability to see a need, respond to it and make things happen.
If you can, find out how your organisation started – was it founded because of the perception of a need, and the drive and enthusiasm of a small group of people?
One important type of organisation that you should familiarise yourself with, particularly if you are a small group, is your local infrastructure organisation. They may be a county, district, borough, city or large town organisation. They may be called an Association of Voluntary Groups, a forum, a network or, more commonly, a CVS (Council for Voluntary Services) or a CVA (Council for Voluntary Action).
Infrastructure organisations have been set up to provide support for voluntary groups within their area and their services can range from acting as a consultation body to sharing template policies and procedures, organising voluntary sector training in a wide range of subjects to offering a disclosure and barring checking service. Often they have developed information services about legislation and current funding sources. They can be particularly useful at times when a group has a crisis because of financial or personnel problems.
|Trustee Discussion Point
Discuss with your trustees whether your group is in touch with your local infrastructure group. What services do they provide? Are you, as a group, taking full advantage of their services? What other ways could you benefit from your local infrastructure group?
|Exercise 1 – Do You Have the Bigger Picture?
Try this exercise, which is based on recent national research. Here you will find ten statements about the Voluntary and Community Sector and those who work or volunteer in the sector – eight of them are true, two of them false. Can you identify the TWO FALSE statements? Don’t worry if you are only guessing.
Statistics are taken from the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) UK Civil Society Almanac 2021.
Click on ‘Read More‘ below to view our suggested answers.