State of the sector survey takeaways

 

Chris Freed, VAL’s Chair, reflects on what we can take away from our recent snapshot State of the sector survey

 

The results of our State of the sector survey carried out in June this year are hardly unexpected. Surveys carried out both on a national and local scale have yielded similar findings. The Lewisham context is particular to us, but it may be a strange comfort to know that our experiences feed into a wider picture of what’s happening across the country.

So, what can we learn from the survey? Here are three things that stood out to me:

 

1. Lewisham charities are working in collaboration, but still need support

The council’s message around the need for greater collaboration within the sector - more recently around co-working and sharing premises – is not lost on the sector. From our survey we see that Lewisham VCSE organisations have been working collaboratively to share resources and that many are keen to explore further options for sharing premises for office space, meetings or service delivery. ​

A number of organisations have also told us they would like further support around understanding collaboration and partnerships and facilitating connections that could lead to collaborative bids. Much of our work will focus on supporting organisations to work better together, creating space to enable this.

 

2. Lewisham charities have a diverse funding base, and are seeking alternative sources of funding

While Lewisham VCSE groups are diversifying and looking to alternative sources of income, there is still a reliance on LBL funding as the main source of income for 26 per cent of respondents. We welcome the council’s support to help funded organisations plan for resources and make connections, as well as finding alternative options for resourcing the sector. We will continue to offer practical support in financial and business planning, as well as fundraising support.

It’s important for charities to diversify and innovate, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of our values. A key strand of our Show your impact work in the coming year will be around helping trustees and managers of projects to keep in mind the beneficiaries and values of the organisation when setting strategy.

Strategic investment on the part of funders in the short term can play a big role in helping small and medium sized organisations to make this transition. This segues nicely to my next point:

 

3. Small and medium sized charities are at risk, and need to be ‘sheltered’ to ensure a diversity of provision

NCVO’s Almanac 2016 shows that smaller and medium sized charities (which make up the VCSE sector in Lewisham) are particularly disadvantaged when it comes to public sector contracts and collaborative bids. They often lack the resources or connections to take advantage of new opportunities.  VAL will continue to identify opportunities and support the sector to engage in these opportunities, as and when they arise.

There is a definite reticence about taking on public sector contracts, which may have to do with this disadvantage. One respondent remarked that Lewisham’s tender process does not favour small organisations and another described the bureaucracy as ‘crippling’. More could and should be done to make this process more accessible, perhaps in consultation with the VCSE sector.

We would also welcome the opportunity to support Lewisham Council to ‘steward the market place’ as Charity Finance Group puts it, to ensure a diversity of provision by working with partners and investing targeted resources now that could ensure the sustainability of small and medium sized charities in the longer term.
 

Image: Flickr, Yann

VAL will use the results of this survey and others to inform the direction of our work in the year ahead, and as we speak to funders and local policy makers.

For an infographic of the results click here