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Charity Finance has published this month (March 2012) the article (Measuring Up) that Ruth Lesirge and I have written on balanced scorecard. The article is designed for those with no previous experience of using the balanced scorecard but will also be helpful to more experienced practitioners. We focus on how the balanced scorecard can be useful to Boards of charities and third sector organisations, not least in developing and overseeing strategy. If you would like a copy of the article, please email me at

Ben's picture


As the clocks went back yesterday, and as 8.7 million people in the UK have never used the web (missing out on loads of ways to make their lives easier and more enjoyable)...

An hour is long enough to give everyone a taste of the web, so if you know someone offline you could make a real difference. Or if no one you know needs your help, you could volunteer.

Pledge your hour here ( to find out how, get handy resources, local help and to show your support for this big campaign!

My email address is

Hello, I'm looking for advice on the above. I've been asked to act as advocate but I'm out of touch with latest policies. Would anybody know of free services to people with disabilities who are looking for a free advocate who can guide them in finding a supported living accommodation or independent living...?

Thank you for your assistance, Marnie

My thought piece on localism and its significance and implications for the third sector can be accessed on the Cass CCE website at,JATE,3O1D62,1KK4F,1 Naturally, I'd welcome feedback.

I-SEE is the Institute for Social Entrepreneurship and Equity at the College of Graduate Studies, University College of the Caribbean in Kingston, Jamaica. It is a subsidiary of the Agency for Inner-city Renewal (AIR) that operates in Trench Town, famous home of the Reggae original: Bob Marley, and many other artistes.

I-SEE's approach is different. Social Entrepreneurship organizations use business methods to resolve complex social problems. Some seek donations for this purpose and then engage in irrigation and improved rural production work. Some generate income (e.g. a bakery) and then use the surplus to carry out important social and/or environmental activities.

But I-SEE is training MBA graduate students to gain income neither from a business operated on the side, nor from charitable donations. Instead, I-SEE MBA grads will be selling business development services directly to micro- and small-entrepreneurs all over Jamaica and soon, the Caribbean. They will be paid from business loans to the entrepreneurs after these are received from credit unions. The MBA grads will help those entrepreneurs develop business plans (including loan proposals). They will also show the entrepreneurs how to improve their businesses. And they will help entrepreneurs form business associations for cost savings on inputs, and for improved marketing and negotiation with government. Grads will earn a good living by selling services to a number of entrepreneurs at the Base of the Pyramid.

I-SEE is inventing new ways to do well by doing good. It's new because I-SEE MBA Grads are dependent on the micro- and small-entrepreneurs, not on donors

We invite you to exchange information and ideas with us. Contact us at Updated: Sep. 04, 2011

Jemma's picture


Guest Specialist

Of the 17,000 organisations that make up the BME voluntary and community sector (VCS), 53% receive their funding from statutory sources (central government (49%); local government (26%); health authority (16%); and EU (9%)). This dependence on Government funding for many organisations means that the impact of public sector cuts is likely to be significant for the BME VCS (see Bridge the Gap: What is known about the BME Third Sector in England, 2007, Voice4Change England).

Research by MiNet, (The Economic Downturn and the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Third Sector) focusing on London, found that funding cuts have already been widespread across the VCS as a result of the recession and that this has impacted significantly on London’s specialist services. The report found ‘widespread concern that even if funding is maintained for the third sector it will not reach local BAME groups and will be received by larger organisations that are not connected with the needs of London’s BAME communities’. In addition BME voluntary and community organisations (VCOs) may find themselves responding to the fallout of public service spending cuts if cuts reduce access to services or create a new need for services amongst the communities they work with. MiNet’s research found that despite cuts in funding, BME VCOs were experiencing high increases in the need for their services and that organisations were having to introduce new areas of work such as unemployment counselling and jobs skills training.

The impact of public spending costs is likely to lead to an increased number of BME VCOs closing down. Some may continue to function on a reduced basis, depending on volunteer support. Others may disappear completely. With reduced budgets, Local Authorities may try and improve efficiency by awarding contracts to larger providers that can demonstrate ‘value for money’. This will disadvantage the smaller, more specialised providers that characterise the BME VCS.

However Voice4Change England research (Stories of Resilience) has also identified that faced with public spending cuts, BME VCOs have developed resilience by: improving efficiency, reducing waste, re-structuring staffing, and increasing the engagement of volunteers. Others have formed consortia and partnerships to spread risks and resources and to benefit from economies of scale. There has also been a trend for community led initiatives, with a greater focus on re-cycling and drawing income streams from trading in existing and new markets.

Further reading: see Policy Studies Institute and Voice4Change England research on Cohesion in Bradford: disadvantage, solidarity and recession and Voice4Change England’s briefing on the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review.

The Sector does not have a tremendous record of making proper use of the tax laws. This consultancy has a permanent mission to promote, teach and encourage charities to understand what is in the art of the possible

The consultancy is currently completing a survey of the charities based in and around hospitals to evaluate how effective they are individually and corporately.

It´s surprising that the discussion about this subject is almost inexistent.

The secondhand market has always been an important part of the book trade, and suddenly it is at risk of disappearing in the digital enviroment, to the detriment of the readers. But it has not to be that way mandatorily.

First, there's a distinction that has to be made: digital "products", digital books in this case, are no objects (physical nor "virtual") but information "packages", so they cannot be considered as "used" after being read, but they definitively can be considered as "second hand" products if transferred from user to user -just like a physical book that, even if sealed and not read, is sold or passed by the original buyer (costumer/potential reader) to another person.

Now, a copy of an ebook is another thing. (The book is specifically propitious to copy, since virtuality is part of its nature. I can copy a novel by hand, word by word, and the result will be the same novel, no less, no more.I can copy a PDF book in RTF format, and the textuality at least will be the same, and the reading experience will be the same. Xerox copies are of common use since decades ago).

Just like the music industry years ago, the editorial industry is suffering a panic attack that the shift to a digital enviroment entails. "Will the readers share their readings without benefit to us?" "will the writer become his own publisher without benefit to us?" Yes, of course, this is happening, and will continue to happen no matter what efforts are made by the industry to prevent it. People will copy cultural goods whenever is cheaper and faster and better copying them than buying it.

Why, whitout the print, store and delivery costs, is an ebook almost equal in price than a physical book? Why, being technologically easier to share it is so difficult legally? Because, when in pannic, persons and companies act stupidly. They are mistaking the reader for an enemy, when he's not. He´s a costumer (that is to say, a kind of partner), a friend, but not a silly one. He will go where he can find the best choice, the best buy, and if he can get the same for free, he will go for it. Because, as the song goes, "information want to be free".

The current regulations prevent the existence of second hand ebooks, not only by sale/purchase, but by loan or donation also. It is not forbidden (yet) but is, indeed, constrained. If a physical book can be read by an unlimited number of "users", due to technical and legal (that are not technological or ethical) limitations, an ebook cannot. So, the mere idea of secondhand books is quashed by design.

As a margin note: what about libaries (public, semi-public and private)? There are now experiments (limited in scope an reach) that, despite their shyness, demonstrates that a demand niche exists, more social that commercial.

Books, always, have been read mainly when access is provided. What I mean is: 1) the purchase of a book, is only one -and never the principal- in many ways to "get" a book. And it will continue this way. and 2) just as the gutemberg press provoked at its time a social change that went far further that a simply "printing and reading" revolution, the digital publishing can, and will, and has already spark cultural shifts that will develop with or without the involvement of the editorial industry.

Music and media industries has focused their efforts in prosecution and "re-education" of the public to "teach" them (by exemplary lessons) that sharing is a crime. But they´ll never succeed because the people know that it is a crime without victims (except, of course, of the copyright holders), and there is no real harm nor guilt in that.

Editorial industry will do wrong following the steps of music and media industry (altought we all know they are part of the same conglomerates). Among other reasons, because it has few aggregate bussines opportunities: no live concerts, no merchandising, no franchises.

The industry, in order to survive, has to adapt itself to the new realities, instead of trying to adapt the new realities to their interests. A new model of businnes is needed, and it has to include -technically and comercially- the possibility of re-circulation. Is the reader who has the power to invent it and demand it.

Publishing companies can ride the wave or stay at the shore.

In the South West, inequality between different areas is a real problem, but can be difficult to measure. Standard measures of deprivation (such as the government’s Indices of Multiple Deprivation) do not work very well for rural areas. This is because deprivation in rural areas is much more dispersed, with very poor people living in areas with very rich people. In urban areas poverty tends to be more visible and focussed on certain geographical areas.

As Stephen Wright of the South West ACRE Network reported at our anti-poverty conference earlier this year, twenty-five per cent of people receiving benefit in the South West live in rural areas. However, if you measure poverty by the Index of Deprivation, only 4% of the most deprived areas in our region are rural. This shows that the Index of Deprivation does not work well for rural areas (and for our region). This is due to the fact that the Index of Deprivation was developed based on an urban model.

Inequality and invisible poverty has major implications for people’s lives. One of the most critical issues for the South West is the shortage of affordable housing. House prices have been pushed up to unsustainable levels by people on high incomes (often in jobs outside the local area) buying properties. This has made it practically impossible for people on average incomes for the area to afford homes.

Inequality has been on this increase for several years and we see no signs of this changing. Indeed the government’s ‘austerity budget’ is likely to increase inequality further. Cuts to public services are likely to hit rural areas harder as many depend on public sector funding for both public and private sector jobs. For example, 38% of small firms in the region rely on public service contracts.

What does this mean for voluntary and community organisations?

• Voluntary organisations working with people living in poverty will continue to see an increase in demand for their services.

• Organisations that work across urban and rural areas need to make sure that rural communities are not excluded from their support, and that their services are designed around both rural and urban needs. See NCVO’s ‘rural proofing’ resource for more on this.

• Organisations in the South West can join South West Stakeholders, which is speaking up for the region and ensuring that the South West’s deprived people and communities are not overlooked.

Our work began in 1996 with a call for an alternative economic paradigm which could propagate with the opportunity provided by the dawning information age.

In 2004 we introduced this cause driven business model to the UK as a software development business. This funded our subsequent work which led in 2006 to a strategy paper for microeconomic development in Ukraine. In that paper we re-iterate the point about the web offering opportunity for social change.

"Ukraine is in urgent need of nationwide high-speed Internet at an affordable cost. This does not exist in Ukraine at this time. Availability of affordable, modern day Internet access is crucial to any nation’s economic development. This is by now a truism and does not need much elaboration. It is enough to understand that nothing whatsoever can happen in terms of social, economic, civic, and political development without communication. To the extent that communication is limited or completely absent, development is equally limited. If demonstration of this is needed, each reader is invited to do the following. For the next week, do not speak, do not write, do not read, do not listen to or access any form of communication in any way. With those restrictions, it might still be possible to survive for a week. Extend the same restrictions indefinitely, and basic survival will be at risk. It is almost impossible to imagine life without communications of any kind.

"In most of Ukraine, citizens have about the same degree of connection to the modern world. Information is usually one-way, receive only, by way of television, radio, and newspapers.

"The needs for drastically improved communication infrastructure in Ukraine are manifold. We see a democratic political movement in its infancy that will have difficulty in advancing without the same basic and affordable communication infrastructure available in each and every democratic nation in the world. Ukraine does not have this.

"We see a nation staggering under the crushing burden of widespread poverty, the extent of which no one is sure but which most people assessing the situation realistically is at least twenty five percent of the population. We understand that communication – particularly high-speed Internet communication at a cost that is affordable to half the population and all businesses – is essential for economic growth and development so that poverty can be reduced.

"We see a staggering array of social problems arising directly from poverty, including but not limited to tens of thousands of children in orphanages or other state care; crime; disrespect for civil government because government cannot be felt or seen as civil for anyone left to suffer in poverty; young people prostituting themselves on the street; drug abuse to alleviate the aches and pains of the suffering that arises from poverty and misery; HIV/AIDS spreading like a plague amidst prostitution, unprotected sex, and drug abuse; more children being born into this mix and ending up in state care at further cost to the state; criminals coming from poverty backgrounds, ending up as bandits, returning to communities after prison, with few options except further criminal activity. These are all part and parcel of the vicious negative cycle of poverty, and this threatens to destroy Ukraine, if Ukraine is defined in terms of people rather than mere geographic boundaries. Overall, population is steadily declining; families have not sufficient confidence in tomorrow to reproduce more than 1.2 children on average per couple."

Our work described as People-Centered Economic Development advocates for the replication of localised people-centered economics on a global basis. In 1999 this had begun in Russia by sourcing a development initiative in the city of Tomsk which would leverage a community bank and establish 10,000 micro businesses within the next 5 years.

In 2004 we introduced this to the UK with a proposal for seed funding social enterprise at the community level with a 'community interest' approach to rural broadband deployment which would render profit to CDFIs

We moved on later in 2004 to put these concepts into the context of national scale deployment of microeconomic development and social enterprise in Ukraine.

As yet, there has been no opportunity to engage with UK government on this.

Abi's picture


Talking to colleagues in the voluntary sector in our region, there is a mixed reaction to ‘Big Society’. To be honest, there is mostly a negative reaction. Some of the common things I’m hearing are:

  • “It’s a good fig leaf for the funding cuts”
  • “He’s [David Cameron] coming a bit late to the game – some of us have been working for a big society for decades”
  • “Why should we jump to change, just because a new buzz word has come into fashion?”

And, perhaps most commonly of all:

  • “I’m already giving all I can to society”

There’s a bit of a feeling of offense with the last one, as if people feel that their hard work to date has been ignored and they are just being asked for even more.

The IPPR in conjunction with Pricewaterhouse Cooper published a report on some research into what motivates people to get involved in their communities. Many people were interested in getting involved in specific areas of policing, education and community work, but a huge 90% felt that the state should remain primarily responsible for providing most key public services. 94% believe that national or local government or public service providers should be mainly responsible for providing health care.

Although most people seem to agree that ‘Big Society’, even with all its faults, is generally premised on things that we can all get behind, in some parts of the voluntary and community sector there is a rejection of the underlying principles of the ideology. Perhaps this comes down to personal views: how should the balance between state and individual responsibility be apportioned? To what extent is it appropriate for the state to provide public services, or on the other hand to what extent is it appropriate for them to stand back from any responsibility in this area? Some parts of the sector are hesitating about whether to make a stand based on their rejection of the whole concept – such action could have huge implications.

The report mentioned above highlighted the key barriers people face to participation: lack of confidence, time and skills, as well as bureaucracy and red tape. 36% of respondents in the research indicated that a key barrier for them was time – only 6% lacked the inclination. In an increasingly high pressured society, with demands on time from securing sufficient income, building family and caring for those in your immediate circle, and achieving ‘success’ it is clear that time is often the biggest limiting factor. That, and energy, arguably!

For voluntary and community sector organisations I think there is a clear learning point coming from this report. It suggests that although many felt time was a restriction to involvement, when specific opportunities were provided people nevertheless felt able to find the time to get involved. Creating and publicising specific, bounded roles and opportunities for volunteering in local communities may be more likely to attract busy people than a general appeal for help.

Liz's picture


After all the bustle of yesterday’s news, including the announcement of the Protection of Freedoms Bill and the results of the reviews of the criminal records (CRB) regime and Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) I though this summary might be helpful for members.

Set against a government committment to reduce the impact of regulation on the voluntary sector there will still inevitably be much uncertainty about best practice in safeguarding whilst the new Vetting and Disclosure Scheme is being developed for launch in 2013. Indeed a number of the other drivers will contribute to the sense of uncertainty.

I would be very interested to hear reactions to the proposed changes and the wider implications for your organisation.

Paul 's picture


Third Sector Foresight

We still have plenty of copies of the Future Focus booklets to give away to infrastructure and umbrella organisations. If you are interested get in touch

Meg's picture


Following pronouncements made in December 2010 by Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State, Department of the Olympics, Culture Media and Sport on the potential of legacy giving as a key revenue source for the arts, Arts Quarter and Legacy Foresight have published the findings from their first survey on levels of legacy fundraising within the sector. This latest AQ/LF Report highlights not only opportunities for significant growth but also a fundamental need for capacity building if the aspirations of the Coalition Government are to be realised. For more information, or a copy of the report, contact Meg Abdy at

Megan 's picture


Third Sector Foresight

I've just uploaded some new sources of further information in the 'want to know more?' section of this driver - happy reading!

This week, Steve Tobak on shared 20 truisms that can change your life (in business). I agreed with half of the list and mostly laughed at the rest, but Steve is quick to point out that this is not meant to be read as an instruction manual.

But his list did get me thinking about my dealings with various charities, social enterprises and voluntary bodies this year. Consequently, I thought I would compile my own 2010 truisms and include what they suggest we should consider doing differently in the future to not just survive but hopefully to thrive in tougher times.

So, based on my experience from 2010 I’ve written a top 20 but wanted to share the first five with you to see if you agree and what you would add. We’ll publish the rest of the list and indeed any other great suggestions I receive, in the New Year.

1. Charities who think that hiring Trust and Corporate fundraisers alone will protect them from the current financial pressures are missing the point.

  • The increasing number of job adverts I’ve seen in 2010 for these roles seems to be born out of the fact that corporates and Trusts generate larger single donations than individuals. Of course they do! But how many of these donations do charities think are out there?
    • Hiring more specialist fundraisers does not automatically mean they will all attract huge corporate or Trust/Foundation donations. A more sustainable approach has to be to maintain the right balance (for each organisation) across a broader mix of fundraising activities. Not putting all our eggs in one basket sounds about right.
    • 2. There will be very little money from central government grants going into 2011 compared to levels enjoyed over the last few years.

      • Like it or not, charities will need to be more entrepreneurial. In the immediate term, this doesn’t mean selling our souls but it should mean operating more efficiently and changing processes that ‘have always been done that way’ if we can think of a better way to do them in the future. That means encouraging AND LISTENING to ideas from all team members and volunteers far more than at present.
        • It also means developing services that people value so highly they will be prepared to pay or at least contribute towards their cost. In the longer term, develop products and merchandising sold through trading arms to support the community benefits offered. Social enterprises and community interest companies are probably the role-models here.

          3. More charities and third sector organisations will have to cooperate and collaborate in 2011 to be successful.

          • How much more quickly could we cure cancer if we all supported just one organisation who then threw every penny raised at research?

            4. It’s a cliché but the most effective charity people are those who are passionate about the cause.

            • That means looking at everything we do as part of the recruitment process. Our activities and their outcomes are the best job adverts around so we should be shouting about them in general. More specifically, we should be using them appropriately to attract passionate candidates.
              • Consider recruiting first from your volunteer pool and make allowances for specific skills that might be missing but which can be learned relatively quickly. The cost of training could be paid from the recruitment cost saving!
                • Engaging in social media conversations as an integral part of your communications mix will actually support your recruitment needs, particularly for younger people looking for the right organisation to begin their career with and commit their energies to.
                  • In terms of current staff and volunteers, I think charities should really look to develop refresher programmes to help people ‘fall back in love with the cause’. Like any relationship, we can get a bit jaded and setting out time for people to be involved at the sharp end of what a charity or organisation does is a great way to rekindle their passion.

                    5. Not all Trustees are in it for themselves and many contribute a huge amount of funds, contacts, skills and experience to the causes they support.

                    • Moving forwards, organisations need to work these ‘assets’ even harder without fear or guilt.
                      • In the short term, creation of specific role profiles and objectives for Trustees helps so that each knows exactly what is expected and what support they will receive to help them achieve their objectives. It might sound uncomfortable but Trustees must also be held to account for delivering these objectives.
                        • This means recruiting individuals with the right skills as well as the passion to contribute. Charities also need to look to a more diverse range of people from society to ensure the team is both representative and competent. I’m not talking about quotas, but the team should be able to think and speak on behalf of the people the charity represents, supports and communicates with.
                          • In line with Charity Commission rules, seriously consider paying Trustees if it will help attract and retain the best and most appropriate people to help achieve your objectives.
                              What would you add from your experience of 2010?
Abi's picture


COVER regularly produces a ‘Summary on a Page’ of a recently published document. The choice of documents to summarise has been burgeoning in the last few months, as the race to state positions and secure roles in the newly emerging political, economic and social landscapes continues. In October however, there was little competition for the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s triennial report “How fair is Britain?”, partly because the coalition government’s championing of the concept of ‘fairness’ has heightened the debate about what ‘fair’ should look like. Our summary of the EHRC report is here.

In all of the indicator areas referenced in the report, there are substantial areas of unfairness still to address.

The idea of fairness is central to the voluntary and community sector. Many organisations were established and still continue because of their desire to help reduce the barriers faced by the marginalised and disenfranchised, and champion their concerns. For some, it isn’t really about fairness, but it’s about basic rights – it doesn’t really matter how wealthy a certain proportion of society is, if everyone experiences a decent quality of life and access to services.

The ideology of ‘Big Society’ should allow us to go further with making society more fair, as it requires a change in mental attitude from individuals and communities. The burden of responsibility for fairness is apparently being transferred to people, rather than structures, although whether that happens in reality remains to be seen.

For the voluntary and community sector, there are many implications. Organisations should make decisions about what they are working to address in a strategic way, looking beyond immediate sticking plaster activity to address deeper social issues. We must be careful not to unintentionally support the idea that organisations and structures carry the responsibility for looking after those who face ‘unfairness’ on a day to day basis, but that these inequalities are a corporate and individual responsibility to challenge and change.

And perhaps most importantly, the advocacy role of voluntary and community sector organisations who intimately know their communities and beneficiaries should be protected, enhanced and championed. We need to keep on hearing about inequalities that continue to exist, and prod the social conscience to do something about them.

Rob's picture


First off, I think there needs to be a clear distinction made between professionalising volunteering and professionalising the management of volunteers. The two are not the same thing.

The professionalisation of volunteer management and leadership can be a good thing. I say 'can' because too often what people talk about in this respect is making it more formalised like HR/paid staff management. To me, this isn't professional volunteer management, it is applying the concepts of managing paid staff to managing volunteers. This so called work-place model of volunteer management has some value but fundamentally fails to recognise the differences between volunteering and paid work. It seeks equal treatment of employees and volunteers rather than striving for a parity of esteem that seeks to ensure fair treatment whilst recognising that the two are fundamentally different.

Good professional volunteer management acknowledge that volunteers are different from employees and seeks to lead and manage them differently. For example, whilst employees may be prepared to put up with bureaucracy in their work, volunteers may not. So professional volunteer managers seek to apply the necessary bureaucracy and keep volunteers away from that which is less important. In fact, the principles of such professional volunteer management and leadership are the essence of effective employee management, as Kouzes and Posner clearly assert in the introduction to their book The Leadership Challenge.

The professionalisation volunteering, however, is about volunteering becoming more like paid work in its responsibilities, commitments & nature etc.. There is a big (but not new) debate that arises from this, especially in light of the Big Society and the potential for more to be done locally by volunteers that might previously have been done by paid workers.

And this leads me to my final point, that in all off this we must be clear why we are using the term professional. In many instances it is used to imply competence - professional vs amateur for example. It is therefore critical to understand that volunteers can be as competent/professional as paid employees, if not more so. Just because they don't get paid does not mean they are less competent/professional.

Abi's picture


As a historically ‘regional’ organisation, recent changes in the structure of how national government connects and interacts with local communities have affected us. Some areas of regional working have decreased, for example our work to influence regional level governance and policy making is no longer needed. One thing that has become clearer is that the engagement needs to be local. As a high level infrastructure organisation this is something that we at COVER are increasingly being called upon to provide advice and insight about. This is something of a new departure in our region!

At this local level, across the East of England, voluntary and community sector organisations receive advice, support and training opportunities from their local Council for Voluntary Service (CVS) or equivalent. These organisations are themselves often very small, and face a very uncertain funding future. Some have already had to close their doors. They are however a crucial cog (if unrecognised) in the newly designed social machine – much of the voluntary and community sector relies heavily on their services. Our experience suggests that among the fifty or so CVSs in our region, there is a wide spectrum in terms of quality and breadth of service offered.

The emergence of ‘Local Plus’ and its challenges

There’s a two fold challenge for us, and for other ex-‘regional’ organisations. As we rebrand ourselves as ‘Local Plus’ or its equivalent, how can we balance supporting and enhancing the activities of these critically important local organisations, with complementing the services they provide appropriately with our ‘Local Plus’ services.

One particular area of work which meets both these objectives is the provision of knowledge, intelligence and insight services. In fact, this isn’t so far removed from what we have already been doing. But the challenge for us is that now we have no funding for this type of work.

Local organisations rarely have the capacity to trawl through government and national websites, picking out the news and information that is relevant to them and their members, and digesting it into a useful format. At the current pace of publication of consultations, white papers, research and opinion pieces it is difficult not to be entirely overwhelmed in the flood of information. Local organisations find it valuable to receive regular digests and analysis of information from a trusted source, which they are free to circulate among their membership.

In an increasingly information thirsty age, I believe this type of service will be increasingly vital.

The points made in this post definitely apply to community centres and similar organisations. The vast majority of them work with older people – our annual survey of members indicated that about 85% of them list older people as one of their main user groups. The rising numbers of older people, the health implications for living longer than ever before – for example, the rising numbers of people living with dementia – and the flurry of policy interventions around the aging population are all things that present opportunities and challenges to community centres.

For example, many of our members currently have contracts or grants for providing lunch clubs or similar services for older people. How will diminishing public spending and the roll out of personalised budgets affect this? Will our members have to shift from lobbying local authorities for grants or tenders for block services, to clever marketing strategies that entice individuals to contribute to a shared service?

There could also be an opportunity for really innovative inter-generational work, since a similar number of our members also work with children and/ or young people. We’re probably in a “golden age” for retirement at the moment; retirees are usually relatively fit, healthy and have valuable skills. My generation will probably go back to having to work until we’re ready to keel over! This cohort of newly retired people are often some of the wealthiest and most advantaged in some communities. How can they be engaged with giving a helping hand to young people, who face real financial and social challenges in getting started in life?

But the older people of the next couple of decades won’t be the same in many ways as most of the older people of today, and definitely not the same as the older people of the post-war years, when many of our members got started. There will obviously be more of them, which might be a good thing for keeping volunteering numbers up. But they will have very different expectations of their older years and will perhaps not embrace an “elderly” lifestyle enthusiastically. How will community centres have to change the services and leisure activities they offer to continue to attract this relatively healthy, longer-lived, often extensively educated cohort? The governance and volunteering opportunities offered by many community centres are often quite process-driven. Think of committees, with their long-term and consistent commitment. How will this play with the individualistic, consumerist baby-boomers?

Social enterprise has reached a rather cult-like status in some parts of Government and the Voluntary and Community Sector. It’s not hard to see why as it is a concept that tries to answer some of the big issues facing us in the future. How can social action find a sustainable financial model? What can replace Government grants, and shouldn’t we be asserting our independence by moving away from that anyway?

Many people have made intelligent points about the structural issues and opportunities presented by the drive towards social entrepreneurship. I’d like to pose a different set of questions about working culture and cultural attitudes to social action and the public good. These questions might seem esoteric at first but I think they have a real impact on our members’ behaviour, and relationship, to the social enterprise agenda.

The average Community Matters member is more financially independent than a typical social enterprise (as defined by the NCVO Almanac), who are far more reliant on direct or indirect public finance. And yet nowhere near as many of our members identify themselves as “social entrepreneurs”. Why might this be?

After several conversations about this matter with frontline workers the answer seems to lie in their desire to continue to be seen as a charity first and foremost. They resist going further down the road towards structuring themselves as a business because they don’t want to be perceived as such by the people they work with. For example, one member organisation has been looking at creating a ghost company. The idea would be to invoice the charity whenever it needs extraordinary external services or advice such as paying for legal services or HR support. At the moment it can’t fundraise for these things; Government and trusts, donors and foundations are only prepared to fund “frontline service delivery”, not the back office costs and management that enables them to run a professional organisation. In the end the trustees have rejected this as they felt it wasn’t transparent; however expected this kind of creative accountancy might be in other sectors, they felt it was compromising something integral to them as a charity.

So, to what extent has “social enterprise” become a way of sidestepping some of these very real issues about practice, accountability and what it means to do good in the world? Is there something innately patronising and dependent about charitable work? Or is that just about how we have come to see philanthropy in a culture that encourages us to think of ourselves as economic units entitled to a high degree independence from one another? Are we sceptical about the impact of charities, but reassured by the apparent “measurability” of business models?

And for me, the really burning issue; how can small community charities take the best of business practice without losing sight of their values and damaging the bonds of trust that voluntary groups rely on?

This seems to be one of the big tensions in the Big Society agenda, and one that we’ve yet to really see played out properly. The Government task force reviewing bureaucracy and regulation in the voluntary and community sector have been asked to review volunteering practices and examine how red tape is over-formalising volunteering by making charities more risk averse. There won’t be any easy answers to balancing the public’s expectation that risk be removed from their interactions with service or activity providers (particularly where children are concerned), with making it easier to recruit and retain volunteers.

And yet the voluntary and community sector is supposed to fill the gaps created by the roll back of the State and public financing of services, particularly discretionary ones. Will we manage to reconcile rolling back the regulation and legislation that has made volunteering so difficult to get into and keep pace with the reduction in public service staffing? Will the Government stand by its position when there is a scandal about standards or the protection of vulnerable people?

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