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Relighting the fire in the voluntary sector

At a glance

  • How can Community and Social Organisations get volunteers to deliver services that have previously been provided by the local council?

Actions, they say, speak louder than words and this is exactly what Community and Social Organisations need to remember as they struggle to contend with the range of economic and political circumstances that have conspired so heavily against them.

On the face of it, the UK is a generous, compassionate nation and many people like the idea of giving something back and getting involved in voluntary and charitable work.

However, the truth of the matter is that many find it difficult to do so in the sort of structured way that allows Community and Social Organisations to actually manage community assets or services.

This is a real problem when it comes to the creation of the so-called Big Society and getting people to participate with community organisations to deliver services that have previously been provided by the local council.

Indeed, in research carried out, Zurich discovered that over 60% of people would be unlikely to lend their time to this sort of activity, and this creates a huge resource headache for Community and Social Organisations across the country.

Challenges in managing existing commitments

To make matters worse, just under 50% of those questioned said they felt it was actually a bad idea for voluntary or charitable organisations to be getting into the business of running public services at all.

Major risks facing community and social organisations:

  • Loss of funding. The ongoing effects of the economic downturn on fundraising and commissioning could leave many charities – and especially smaller ones – struggling to cope in the short term and may even threaten their long-term survival.
  • Reputation and brand management. Every business knows the value of a good reputation – and the risk of a bad one. Charities are no exception. Instant and irreparable harm can be done to a reputation that has been built up over years or decades, by an unforeseen event or crisis. Since the list of risks is virtually endless, the issue for most CEOs is how to predict them and keep any exposure to a minimum before real damage is done.
  • Skills shortages in key areas. Many charities can be held back by problems with recruiting and retaining people with the right skills, particularly in key competencies such as fundraising and strategic planning. Many also struggle to attract quality trustees.
  • Stakeholder management. The Third Sector’s ‘State of the Sector’ survey, 2010, identified that “there has been a marked change for the worse in stakeholder management. Liaising with and engaging trustees is where many charities struggle most, with the quality of relationships with national government also worsening”.
  • Commissioning shift. Many charities find themselves failing to take up or win opportunities. This could be because they are not engaging in a strong dialogue with larger public sector partners, because they are now competing with other charities or because they don’t have the necessary skills to cope with the change from grants to tendering.
  • Compliance with law and regulation. For example, breach of trust law, employment law and regulatory requirements of particular activities such as fundraising or the running of care facilities.
  • Negative policy shifts in key areas at both a local and national level, which place an extra burden on medium to small charities in particular.
  • Governance challenges. These will often be unique to the charity concerned but include board/CEO relationship issues as well as board competency and performance management issues.
  • Community risk in terms of increased demand and, in some cases, being frustrated in your attempts to deliver good service – or the services required – by poor commissioning.
  • Crisis and business continuity events such as staffing issues, property access, IT reliance and adverse weather can affect charities and those in the voluntary sector as much as they would any other organisation.

It seems that the main hurdles for people to overcome are their existing work commitments and having other things to do with their spare time. Given the busy lives that most of us lead this is understandable, but helping people over these hurdles is essential for the voluntary sector, especially in the current environment.

As budget cuts take effect and funding streams dry up, many organisations are struggling to keep paid-for positions open and are actually looking to cut back on numbers.

In the first instance, this creates issues around workforce remodelling and those heading up these organisations need a well thought out approach to communicating redundancies, assessing and defending cases that may go to tribunal, and marshalling morale among those that are left.

For brokers working with these organisations, it is important to give their clients advice, guidance and up to date legislative information to help them make informed decisions and manage their way through any workforce remodelling with the least severe impact on their organisation and the service it delivers.

Zurich has a huge library of literature and associated tools to help organisations through this minefield, which are easily accessible to both you and your clients.

Indeed Zurich’s exclusive research paper, Tough Choices: Different perspectives on long term risks facing the public sector and wider civil society, covers many of the issues at stake and is just one example of how the company is trying to provide practical help to you and your clients.

However, there is not just the challenge of managing budget cuts and reduced income streams, but there is also the growing need this creates to recruit volunteers at a time when the individuals in question are finding it difficult to make the sort of commitment required.

The Community and Social Organisations sector therefore has a massive challenge on its hands to inform people and persuade them to get involved where needed.

Seeing the difference inspires actions

People need to have a very clear idea of just what they can do and understand exactly how their actions will make a difference. Once they see where they can participate and get a feeling for the positive impact their efforts have, then they are much more likely to engage in a way that is really effective.

Similarly, despite the hard work that volunteering entails, the rewards it generates are massive and not only for those receiving the services in question. Giving time and undertaking voluntary work is a hugely positive experience and this is something that many people have lost sight of. Reminding people of this is again going to be a key ingredient in attracting volunteers back in numbers.

Zurich has an extensive base of expertise in working with community and social organisations and we have a deep well of experience to draw upon when it comes to helping them engage with their supporters.

Working together with you and the organisations you represent, Zurich can help attract new volunteers and re-engage those that might have become sidetracked by other commitments and get them back on board.

There is no doubt that community and social organisations are going through a period of flux and that they are being adversely affected as they try to both cut costs and maintain the level of services they provide.

However, by presenting a well-informed front to these challenges it should be possible to overcome them and this is exactly what Zurich would like to help you do for your clients in this sector.

Image © Getty

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