1.3 A Diverse Sector
Being such a diverse sector creates particular challenges. It is often difficult for the Voluntary and Community Sector to have a powerful and united voice when negotiating with national or local government bodies about funding, policy or practice.
Whilst a local infrastructure group can take on a consultation, negotiation and partnership role, it is impossible for them to represent the needs of all their constituents. Some voluntary and community groups will be able to take on board “the larger picture” and understand the needs of the wider community, while other groups may be very insular and reluctant to change.
Many groups can face particular barriers, which hampers their development. A self-help group of users of mental health services may find it difficult “to negotiate” with health authorities to gain more consistent services because they lack the necessary skills and the jargon to argue effectively. Black and minority ethnic groups may face language and cultural barriers and lack “the right networks” to have their views considered.
There is also an imbalance of power within the VCS itself with larger groups tied into prestigious networks, having the skills, contacts and experience to gain influence and funding whilst smaller groups struggle to keep going. Reading some of the national VCS (Third Sector) magazines, discussing investing funds and charities with turnovers of several million pounds, can seem like another world to small, purely voluntary “kitchen table” organisations.
In a year 2000 survey, in one rural county it was estimated that over two thirds of VCS groups there did not employ paid staff. There can also be imbalances of power within groups themselves, particularly if a national or regional organisation has local branches. Sometimes tensions exist when the national or regional body is trying to impose changes and these are resisted at a local level. It is important as trustees that you make yourselves aware of the outside world and have appropriate knowledge of what is going on in the wider community – locally, county-wide, regionally and nationally.
Information Technology (IT) is another subject area where there is an imbalance of knowledge, aptitude, skills and resources. In developing this course we are aware that there will be some groups unable to access it because they lack the IT knowledge and resources to participate. Whilst younger generations have been born into a technological age, older generations have embraced IT with varying degrees of success and motivation.
Groups with no knowledge of IT are being left behind, particularly as more funding information can only be accessed via websites and downloads. As trustees, it is important to ensure that your group is IT literate and has the necessary IT resources. Regulators such as the Charity Commission are increasingly looking for all communication with them to be in an electronic format. Communicating exclusively in hard copy leads to delays. For trustees who would like to develop better IT skills, visit Home | Learn My Way .
For an example of how much technology is used in communicating information and for form-filling, see below. This provides an indication of the variety of services and forms the Charity Commission provides online. It also demonstrates how the Commission tries very hard to make it easy for non-experienced IT users to learn the processes of uploading information and filling out forms online.
Using Charity Commission online services
If you are your charity’s main administrative contact, you will need to visit the Charity Commission website to complete your annual return every year. Depending on your charity’s size you may also need to:
- upload your charity’s accounts as a PDF file
- upload you trustees’ annual report as a PDF file.
You can get guidance on completing the annual return and uploading PDFs from the Charity Commission website:
- find out information your charity needs to send – click on ‘Charity Requirements and Guidance’ from the top menu and choose ‘What information must trustees send us this year?’
- view the video tutorials on our website, which walk you through the annual return form.
You can complete a variety of other key tasks online:
You must have your charity’s unique online service password to use these services, if you have forgotten your password, or do not have one, you can order another password.
Being such a diverse sector also brings with it energy, imagination, passion and enthusiasm. The Voluntary and Community Sector can often get things done that no other sector could. Often its diversity is its strength, particularly when its passion and professionalism work in harmony. This is often true of groups and trustee boards that collectively have diverse skills and experience that reflect the users they serve.
There is sometimes though a danger that a committee can become a “clique” of friends and like-minded people. Research demonstrates that one of the most common trustee recruitment methods is “word of mouth” – people ask their friends to join the Board. Basing your recruitment practices on the skills, knowledge and aptitude that the organisation needs is usually far more effective than recruiting someone simply because they are “your friend”. Later on in this Module we discuss issues such as skills audits and we return to the subject of board diversity in later modules.
The diversity of the sector is therefore reflected in a wide range of areas, such as:
- size of group – large, medium or small – employing staff or purely voluntary
- geographical area covered by a group – community, town ward or village, town, district area or city, county, regional, national or international
- focus or remit of group – health issues, social care, family and children, elderly, community etc.
- services a group provides
- expertise and professionalism of the group
- amount and type of funding the group receives – service delivery contracts, funding projects, own fundraising
- partnership working either with other organisations in the sector or with statutory partners.
|Trustee Discussion Points
A Vital Sector
The important lesson to glean from this section is that, taken as a whole, the Voluntary and Community Sector plays a vital role in this country’s everyday life. We are all part of this sector – many organisations share the same opportunities and encounter the same problems. It is indeed very rare that one organisation has a totally unique problem – most organisations suffer from a lack of secure funding, not enough volunteers, not enough trustee or management committee members etc. etc. It is important to share our concerns, our resources, our knowledge and expertise with others.
On this course, for example, you will find references to policies and procedures which good practice may suggest you should have. Why reinvent the wheel when a similar group down the road from you has the policy you need? Borrow a copy and adapt it to your needs.
Imagine that the Voluntary and Community Sector and all volunteers went on strike for one day and refused to do any work. Take a piece of paper and write down all the activities and services that would not happen in your local town or village as a result. Think about what the consequences would be.
See below to compare your ideas with our list.
Optional Exercise 2: Understanding the VCS Impact
|No meals on wheels service for the elderly||Some people would go hungry or not have a hot meal|
|No community transport service||Elderly people or people with disabilities may be stuck in their homes and not be able to go shopping, visit friends or get to the doctors|
|No carer services||Vulnerable people would be left without home care help|
|Playgroups and children’s activities would not happen||Parents may have to take time off work to look after their children|
|After-school activities such as sports clubs would have to be cancelled||Children would be upset!|
|No first aid cover at events||Events may have to be cancelled|
|No day care services||Elderly and vulnerable people may not get out of their houses for their one social activity of the week|
|No charity shops would be open||A significant proportion of shops in the High St would be closed; probably a reduction in the number of shoppers within the town or village|
|Several trustee board meetings would be cancelled||Some people might remark: “what a good thing!”|
Your list may be much longer than ours. The chances are though that a significant proportion of the town or village’s population would be affected by the strike. A lot of services that people take for granted would no longer happen!