A View From The Turret On Sustainability

The New Normal in Sustainability.

I tend to read a lot. Being a CEO it’s hard not to notice some of the content which arrives at your Inbox.

There have been copious amounts recently about Charity Sustainability and what’s called the New Normal.

I like IVARS definition the best which is: A complex mix of surviving cuts and finding new sources of funding. If ever there was an understatement I think that’s it.

In 25 years of working in the Charity Sector I have never seen an environment quite so tough and challenging. A few years ago, a CEO with any form of game plan could hope to bring a Charity into Sustainability within 2-3 years. My own personal view now is that the time period has been extended to 4-8, such is the upheaval not only within Local Authority Finances but with our UK wide Economy.

And unfortunately, there is no one thing or no one person that can bring about Sustainability (unless you have a multimillion-pound donor in your back pocket).

But here are some threads to think about:

  • Compile, Establish and Promote your Strategic Plan. If you haven’t got one then you need one.
  • Position and Influence Map – Work out who your key Stakeholders and Partners are or could be.
  • Demonstrate and Evidence Impact and Expertise. If you don’t know how to do this contact VIN and we can try and assist. It’s not easy but keep it simple and offer something.
  • Diversify the Income Portfolio – Easier said than done but look to nontraditional partners and new influencers as part of your organisational Effective Risk Management.
  • Identify Opportunities – Health Inequalities/ICS/Place/Poverty/CYP – There’s lots on offer but you might need to look at your original constitution and see if its still relevant for today’s world.
  • Stretch the Brand and Project Reach – The More for More Approach. Can you be more, or do more, and how?
  • Demonstrate Excellent Cost Control – Don’t be Part of the 38% (apparently it’s been identified that 38% of Charities do not have a granular understanding of their Finances).
  • Reduce the Cost of Provision – A Positive approach to Good Housekeeping. Its not a negative, it’s a way of thinking effectively about how you run your business.
  • Be true to your Mission, Vision, and Beneficiaries – The Culture War. Don’t Mission Drift and Chase Cash – it’s a recipe for disaster.
  • Lead pragmatically to intuit the Landscape – Dare to Dream. Think about what good looks like and chase it.

Another definition of Sustainability is Perseverance, and we are all going to need bucketloads of this over the next 2 years. VIN is here to help smaller community-based organisations grapple with some of these issues. Remember, you are not alone. If it keeps you awake at night, it will be keeping someone else awake too…..

A View from the Turret On The Future Of Infrastructure Support

The Future of Infrastructure Support

Voluntary Impact Northamptonshire, South Northants Volunteer Bureau and Daventry Volunteers have been in discussion with West Northamptonshire Council about the future of Infrastructure Support for the sector.Like most other areas of community-related work, a new contract will be open for Expressions of Interest in March of 2024, and again, like most other areas of VSCE support it’s likely to be financially less than is needed.This means that the way in which Infrastructure Support is delivered will probably need to change.The key areas of focus are:Ensuring that the Local Infrastructure Organisations remain a credible and reliable conduit of Representation and Voice for the sector.Ensuring that Local Infrastructure focuses on the support needs of micro and smaller organisations.Ensuring that Infrastructure focuses on Funding and Fundraising for micro and smaller organisations.Ensuring that Placed Based Volunteering remains a viable option for individuals.Whilst we at VIN have yet to think through the full ramifications of these changes, it does mean that we will focus all of our efforts on supporting the Power of Small Network that we began last year. And here’s the rub, on the funding available supporting an entire sector is nigh on impossible.Our training and resources will have to focus on Funding and Fundraising, and there is likely to be less subject choice available within our programme.It also means that the traditional form of Face to Face training might be replaced with Webinars and Podcasts, for viewing when smaller organisations have the time. VIN is aware of the capacity and resource issues faced by micro or smaller groups, so this might not necessarily be a negative change-point.And on volunteering, we will continue to broker as best as we can, but our emphasis will be on Local Area Partnerships and the Volunteering issues which derive from Place Based Solutions.VIN is entering into its next Strategic Planning Phase, simply because we have to. In these rapidly changing times, no organisation can afford to sit on its laurels. We are engaging with as many stakeholders as possible about how we can best support our sector, so please take 10 minutes to complete our survey which you can access byclicking here

A View from the Turret – Its Christmas 2023

It’s about 10 days to Christmas, and can I take this opportunity to wish you all well. I hope you are all looking forward to a well-earned rest over the festivities.

I find this period is nearly always about reflection: Looking back on the year to date with three months after as everyone moves towards their financial year end.

Once again, it’s been a tough and challenging year. I dare say I am not alone in that.

The financial landscape in which we are part of is unsettling, and 2024/25 is likely to be equally so.

Despite this, the VCSE is extremely resilient and capable, and some of the transformation pieces within Unitary Development and the Integrated Care System offer a raft of opportunity.

I think my ultimate Christmas message is about Partnership. The VCSE talks about this all the time, and we know that the practice of Partnership varies wildly from the Theoretical. We also know that Partnership is an easy term to use, but not so easy to deliver.

Partnerships work best with organisations that have a Trustee Board willing to change, have synergy with likeminded organisations and a complementary Governance and Delivery Programme.

Part of the issue around Partnership stems from the piecemeal funding which the VCSE receives in Northamptonshire. But in reality, we are not alone in this. Speaking to CEO colleagues beyond our boundaries reveals a mixed picture of funding and sustainability. Some Places fund their VCSE extremely well and capably, and as a result their communities and community organisations are more resolute and more able to Partner.

In other places not so. Partnerships are harder to build with little funding. A lack of funding increases territoriality and a culture of mine not ours.

And my final thoughts on Partnership comes from our Power of Small Conference in October 2023. There, some 50 smaller VCSE organisations stated that Partnerships could be key to their survival, but the Practice and Governance of Partnership and how it works best is a skill which needs to be nurtured and developed.

I am therefore committed to supporting smaller organisations through 2024/2025, if I can and have the funding to do so. My driver will be Partnerships, and how VIN can best help achieve them.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my Trustees, Staff and Volunteers for their commitment to the cause which has been unwavering in difficult circumstances.

I merely steer the ship, the Trustees, Staff and Volunteers provide the engine room.

Have a Great Christmas everyone..!!!

A View From The Turret On VINs AGM

VINs Annual General Meeting 2023

VINs Annual General Meeting took place on the 9th of November 2023.

The AGM PowerPoint can be seen here

The AGM Minutes can be seen here

Our Annual Snapshot can be seen here

Our certified Accounts will be posted in due course

So why you ask is an Annual General Meeting worthy of a view from the Turret: Simply that on 5 separate occasions the word challenging, VIN and our future direction was mentioned: All these comments are based on a stark reality. Every year VIN (like hundreds of other charities) forecasts its deficit and works tirelessly to reduce that deficit against a landscape of short-term grants and reducing contracts.  We know it’s a tough world for Local Authorities, under pressure from Central Government and with a w hole host of transformational pieces of work to conclude.

 

I would still class VIN as a smaller organisation in the grand scheme of things: We recently held a Roundtable for small and micro VCSE organisations. Nearly all agreed that partnering up and sharing resources was the future, in recognition of a reality that collaboratives and coalitions are best able to flex and bid for funding streams in a new world. However, there is always this inbuilt assumption that the mechanics of Partnering, from how it works to what implications it has on Governance Models, Mission Positions and Delivery Provision is somehow self-taught. These skills must be acquired, and Infrastructure has the ability when well-funded to provide this. I do not know of any other existing mechanism that does or could.

What impressed me and scared me in equal measure was the amount of work these smaller organisations undertake. Many are on the precipice. If they close, communities will be so much the poorer, but the future for many looks dim.

These organisations are going to be vital in working to the Local Area Partnership Agenda on local health inequality: They are going to be vital in engaging with communities over the wider determinants of health (a principal plank of any Integrated Care System) and crucial in finding local preventative solutions to long standing health inequality issues. To give them a chance requires giving Infrastructure a chance: Fund Infrastructure to a suitable level and there’s every possibility that more organisations can join the party. The best parties are where the audience is mixed and varied.

A View from the Turret On The Future Of Volunteering

The case for volunteering

I was recently directed to this article by a member of staff.

Is Volunteering Dying? – Dominic Pinkney’s World of Volunteering

In it, the writer cites that whilst volunteering is far from dead, its injured. He then defines why it’s injured, and what people can do to resuscitate it. It’s worth a read.

We all know that the nature of volunteering has changed exponentially over the past 5 years. Even before COVID19, people were looking to volunteer in a different way, and for a whole host of new and differing reasons. The pandemic gave rise to an immediate concern, an immediate cause for help, and people responded in their thousands. Where the sector wholly failed was in not marshalling this enthusiasm and using it to build new bridges with a whole host of people who had never volunteered before: But there should be no surprise in that. Volunteering as a viable income stream for organisations has been reduced year on year to the point where volunteering bureaus can no longer stand by volunteering alone. Many have become hybrid, delivering front line projects as a way of surviving and supplementing their income. Pinkney is right in that National Infrastructure Organisations have singularly failed in convincing Government that volunteering is a worthwhile and valuable end game in its own right, much in the way that Infrastructure per see is poorly funded across much of the UK, including here in Northamptonshire. Government across the piece is consistently looking for quick fixes or sticking plaster solutions to problems, and volunteering is simply not that. What volunteering does do though is build individuals, empower communities, and connect society. It’s almost a defining rod of where we stand as a civic society. So, what’s the future?

Its unclear. There will still be volunteers who want to access roles in a traditional manner, and there will be others who want to micro volunteer or volunteer where its pressingly urgent. All the voluntary sector can do is make sure that volunteering is a worthwhile pursuit for the individual to undertake, and wherever possible extol the virtues of volunteering and report on it accordingly. As Pinkney suggests, its not dead just injured.

A Christmas Message from the Turret

I would like to take this opportunity to wish everybody a festive Christmas and a peaceful and bright 2023.
It’s been another year of dramatic change across the UK and in Northamptonshire, but I don’t want to focus on COVID, the cost of living crisis or the sustainability of the sector, all of which we know much about – and you don’t need to hear it again from me.
This message is to reinforce on a very human level the fantastic individuals and organisations I come across every day. One of the privileges of being an Infrastructure CEO is I get to scan the horizon and talk to lots of different people – and the breadth and depth of the sector is amazing.
It seems to me that in difficult times, our projects and programmes become more inventive, and that’s a testament to the quality of the people within the sector, their drive and determination.
Whilst 2023 might be another year of change and transformation, keep heart in the work the sector does and its impact on communities. Every piece of support, however small or seemingly imperfect makes a difference.
As Vince Lombardi once said:
Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.

A View from the Turret On VIN’s Lifetime Achievement Award

Northamptonshire Community Foundation – Lifetime Achievement

I had the good fortune to attend the Northamptonshire Community Foundation Annual Awards Ceremony on the 8th of December 2022. Voluntary Impact Northamptonshire won a Lifetime Achievement Award, which I was honoured to accept on behalf of my staff team and the volunteers who support the organisation, including our capable Trustee Board. VIN has been around for 30 years, which is hardly a lifetime, but in terms of Infrastructure Support in Northamptonshire it shows a certain longevity against a backcloth of austerity and sporadic funding from our Local Authority Partners. I have said this on many occasions previously, but I will say it again: There is a direct link between Infrastructure and resilient VCSE organisations and communities. It is no surprise that where Infrastructure is well funded, VCSE organisations derive the benefit: Where these organisations derive the benefit, so do communities.

The Ceremony itself was fantastic. It was amazing to see the depth and breadth of our sector, and the work that people do. It seems to continue despite COVID and a Cost-of-Living Crisis, and if anything, projects are becoming more insightful and inventive: But, and there is a but, people cannot do this forever without support or capacity, and the grant programmes that the Foundation give are in many cases a lifeline. VIN has worked with the Foundation for many years, and I thank them for their past and future support: It has helped us to deliver projects and support communities.

Its nearly Christmas, and despite what’s going on in the external landscape, last night opened my eyes once again to the quality that exists within our sector. That motivates us at VIN to continue to advocate and represent where we can. The sector will be needed more than ever over the next few years, and my pledge to that sector is to continue to work, challenge and support for the best deal possible.

A view from the Turret on Connections

The Simplest of Connections are often the best

 This week I have seen examples of how the simplest of connections often provide the most value to individuals within communities. The first was a trip to Northamptonshire MINDs new hub – a great space packed with passionate and skilled staff and volunteers. They talked to me about their various projects, and how they were keen to connect individuals to services, largely around the subject of health and wellbeing but not exclusively. And boy is it needed….

I have said this hundreds of times over the past 3 months but it’s worth saying again. COVID19 has exacerbated an already frightening story of mental ill – health: 21.3% of adults over the age of 18 have clinical signs of psychological distress. Depression amongst adults has nearly doubled over the past 24 months, and with a cost-of-living precipice around the corner these statistics will worsen. The current economic crisis is an inconvenience for the affluent, it’s a worry for those who work and its frightening for the most vulnerable and disconnected. The hub that MIND have will enable those individuals to seek support and solace over a cup of tea, and I have committed to supporting them with volunteering advice and signposting moving forward. I wish them every success. From these small connections I am hopeful that individuals within our communities can gain back some self-esteem and aspiration.

In a similar vein, VINs veterans’ coffee morning brought together those with an armed forces background: One story stuck in my head: Two veterans sat next to each other over a cup of tea and realised that not do they live in the same building, but on the same floor, yet have never spoken or passed the time of day. They now plan to visit and support each other on a regular basis.

Simple connections are what the VCSE is excellent at forging: It will be a fundamental part of the new Integrated Care System that such small connections continue and grow to help arrest some of the health inequalities we currently face: It goes beyond copious pages of strategic development and policy formulation which communities often struggle to understand and engage with.

Never underestimate the power of small.

 And if you are interested in volunteering for MIND they have several opportunities, from Peer Support Volunteers through to Volunteer Counsellors. If you are interested, please contact enquiries@northamptonshiremind.org.uk

As they say, whether you have 2 hours or 10 hours per week to spare, they would love to hear from you.

 

A View from the Turret on Bank Accounts

So you want to open a bank account?

That seems like a simple thing that most charities would want to do at some point in their organisational journey. You would think that the banking industry would welcome charities with open arms (large and small) as it provides good business, makes perfect and logical sense and is potentially philanthropic by its very nature and the connections it could create. How wrong could you be?

Everyday I hear of the struggles which charities are experiencing in both opening and maintaining a working bank account. This applies across the UK as equally as it does in Northamptonshire.

NAVCA, NCVO and others have been surveying community-based organisations about their banking experience and have highlighted four key themes which I recognise only too well.

Services that charities need are increasingly unavailable.

Services that are available are not suited to the way that charities operate.

Charities often encounter poor customer service.

Online banking is not designed for or accessible to charities.

Speaking from VINs own personal experience of the last two years, we have made at least 4 complaints against our well know high street bank for poor systems and shocking customer care. Whilst we have received compensation on nearly every occasion, they don’t seem to improve or even appear to want to.

If any organisations in Northamptonshire are struggling to open or maintain a working bank account, please let us know at info@voluntaryimpact.org.uk placing Banking in the subject line. We will forward your concerns to NAVCA as they open negotiations and debate with the banking industry.

A view from the turret on the ICS

A way in which the ICS and the VCSE may come together?

Sitting largely in West Northamptonshire as VIN does, I am watching with interest the many and various developments within the ICS.

West Northamptonshire has taken 600 pages of NHS and Government Guidance and kindly distilled these into 10 workable ambitions. The North are likely to follow suit, with some sovereign differences.

The West Northamptonshire strap line is Live Your Best Life, and the high-level ambitions are these:

  • Thriving Childhood
  • Access to the best available education and learning
  • Opportunity to be fit, well and independent
  • Employment that keeps them and their families out of poverty
  • Housing that is affordable, safe, and sustainable in places which are clean and green
  • To feel safe in their homes and when out and about
  • Connected to their families and friends
  • The chance for a fresh start when things go wrong
  • Access to health and social care when they need it
  • To be accepted and valued simply for who they are.

It strikes me that within these 10 high level ambitions could be the key for how the VCSE will embed and work with the ICS. These ambitions are Thematic in nature, but they will allow for the VCSE voice to be connected to service delivery in its widest sense, at both a Locality (or Local Area Partnership Level) and at the point of Sub Place. The Assembly already works along some of these Thematic lines, and these Thematic areas could be expanded to ensure more VCSE organisations can help influence the decision-making process. Not every VCSE organisation will sit at every table. That is frankly impossible and unworkable. But there could be a clear rationale based upon these ambitions which allows for the right VCSE representation, in the right place and at the right time. VIN is applying for Health Equality Grant Funding which will help broker who sits where and why.

And I also have a plea: If you are not part of an Assembly Thematic Group join one. Beyond the Collaboratives it’s the best way of remaining connected and understanding the impacts of the ICS. Contact Kerri Marshall – Duckett at kerri@vcseassembly.org.uk for more information on the Thematic Groups and how you can join.