2011. Vol.1, No.4, 221-229
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/sm.2011.14028
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” Volunteering,
Infrastructure and Governance
Jason L. Powell*
University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK.
Received July 19th, 2011; revised August 22nd, 2011; accepted September 27th, 2011.
This paper explores the relationship between voluntary sector and governance using England as a case study.
One of the key issues in recent times is how voluntary organizations sustain themselves. Although the spate of
studies have undoubtedly advanced the state of knowledge about voluntary organisations, we still know very
little about the internal composition and operation of volunteer organisations and even less about the way in
which internal factors interact within the external world. This research article assesses the factors such as
governance and quality, leadership, workforce, performance, partnerships and finance and funding. These
different critical success factors are part of the inter-locking infrastructure tools of voluntary organizations that
keeps them sustained.
Keywords: Volunteering; Governance; Leadership ; England
This article explores the many issues that are inherent about
infrastructure of voluntary organizations. Many of these ques-
tions concern what infrastructure services are needed, what is
provided and how it is coordinated. A word of caution however:
overall, it is fair to say that the evidence base in relation to the
success factors of Voluntary Council Services (VCS) infra-
structure is extremely scarce. What there is of an evidence base
is fragmented and dissimilar. The evidence that has been in-
cluded in this assessment tends to derive from single project
and programme evaluations of VCS interventions rather than
more comprehensive studies of infrastructure as a whole. This
also means that it is very difficult to bring evidence together in
any cumulative sense to gain an impression of the overall or
aggregate impact of VCS infrastructure. Instead the evidence
tends to emphasize the benefits of particular approaches, pro-
jects or activities. There have been scarce longitudinal research
designs, in which interventions and their (beneficial) effects can
be studied over time; or comparative research or evaluation
designs, for example where ostensibly similar interventions or
the work of comparable agencies are undertaken in different
Figures indicate the pervasiveness of voluntary sector activ-
ity in the UK. Indeed, over 75% of the UK population are in-
volved in volunteering, either through an organisation or group,
or on a more informal basis (Macmillan 2007). Research sug-
gests that some 23 million people volunteer each year, provid-
ing a workforce equivalent to 180,000 full-time volunteers. The
economic value of formal volunteering in the UK has been
estimated at more than £40 billion per year, or 7.9% of GDP.
For every £1 of public funding spent to support volunteering,
volunteers give £30 worth of work.
To look at some of these factors in terms of literature base,
the following themes are seen as success factors in the sustain-
ability of voluntary organisations.
Finance is a key issue for all VCS organisations, particularly
given the current funding climate, and the culture shift in the
way in which organisations are funded. The Charities Commis-
sion Register (2007) includes 190,541 charities and suggests
that they have combined annual income of £44.552 billion.
These illustrate the necessity to sustain an organization in terms
of its resources. Morgan (2006) suggests the long term sustain-
ability of an organisation can only be assessed through longitu-
dinal studies over many years. In practice what is likely to be
important is to be able to assess the likely sustainability of an
organisation at a particular point in time.
Provided an organisation has a long term mission, a possible
criterion would be that in order to be classed as financially
sustainable at the current time, its leadership (trustees/senior
staff) must be:
—certain (or 99% certain) that it has the resources to con-
tinue its core work for at least 12 months;
—fairly confident (at least 75% certain) that it can continue
its core work for at least 24 months.
For income to be classified as contributing to the core in this
way, it should preferably be unrestricted (See Charity Commis-
sion Web Site, 2010), or, at the very least, if restricted it must
be restricted to functions or activities which all agree are central
core functions of the organisation.
In a smaller organisation both roles may be done by the same
person, or in a very small organisation, may fall to trustees –
but the key thing is that, whatever the size, there are clearly
identified people with the relevant skills (Morgan, 2006). These
importance of these aspects of financial management are clearly
documented in various works of voluntary sector finance and
accounting but is it interesting that such texts rarely use the
term “sustainability”. Rather, the focus of financial manage-
ment is presented mainly in terms of stewardship and account-
ability for charitable funds, or broader notions of voluntary
However, Morgan (2006) suggests that financial manage-
ment is not simply an operational issue. To be financially sus-
tainable, a voluntary organisation requires appropriate ar-
rangements for financial governance so that the trustees are
properly in control of the finances, and are properly involved in
J. L. POWELL
all financial decisions. Morgan (2006) lists the following three
1) Financial oversight. Amongst other things, the trustees
need arrangements to monitor the work of finance staff to
be sure that controls are being followed and the “finance
manager” needs to have the confidence/authority to
communicate directly with the trustees and to implement
2) Appropriate financial decision making—so that trustees
will take action on the basis of financial information, in
particular to take remedial action in good time when ex-
penditure is likely to exceed income. (It is not sufficient
to do this in relation to the organisation as a
whole—decisions need to be made in relation to individ-
ual funds—especially the general fund in terms of ability
to sustain the core work.)
3) Proper financial accountability to external parties—e.g.
compliance with legal requirements on production of an-
nual reports and accounts, audit or independent examina-
tion, and filing of accounts on time.
Resources have the potential to steer organisations and how
they raise the resources they need has a strong influence on
what an organisation is and what it can be. From a sustainnabil-
ity perspective, reducing resource vulnerability through the
diversification of funding sources is recognised as an important
task; 69% of survey respondents felt that organisations which
do not have a diverse range of funding streams are at risk of
sacrificing their independence. But voluntary organisations are
vulnerable in another way as well. Strategic choices in terms of
resources have implications beyond their reliability, they affect
what the organisation stands for, which equates to a second task
of protecting its mission and identity (Hailey & James, 2004)
—a key role of the board of trustees (Charity Commission,
Many aspects of the role of intermediary or infrastructure in-
terventions encompass what Osborne (2002) has described as a
“catalytic approach” to supporting voluntary and community
action. By undertaking one piece of work (such as helping a
local group put together a successful funding bid) it contributes
to another objective also (such as building the capacity of
community groups to make such funding bids in their own right
in the future) (Osborne, et al., 2002: p. 29).
An example of multiple benefits being realised at different
levels from the same programme is provided by a fundraising
training project in the BME voluntary and community sector in
London. The final evaluation report (LDA 2005) looks at “im-
pacts” at three levels: for training participants, for participating
organisations, and for the sector as a whole.
1) Impact on participants, such as enhanced understanding of
fundraising in context; increased confidence, improved access
to networks and enhanced status.
In the first place, the project did a great deal more than equip
participants with knowledge and skills; it enabled them “to look
at fundraising in a new light”. They had gained a better under-
standing of the process of fundraising, of the environment in
which it took place and of the relationship of fundraising ac-
tiveties to wider issues of organisational effectiveness. There
was a consensus that trainees had gained a great deal more
confidence in their ability to undertake the fundraising role.
These two key impacts had enabled them to develop a “more
strategic” approach to the role and one which was “better or-
ganised” and “more professional”. Other impac ts menti oned by
some participants were improved access to networks and en-
hanced professsional status—they received “more recognition”
within their organisations and some felt that their career pros-
pects had been enhanced. (LDA, 2005: p. 26).
2) Impact on participating organisations, such as the extent to
which it enabled participating organisations to access more
funds from a wider range of sources (for which it was too early
to judge) and the development of a more strategic approach to
fundraising: We also found, however, some evidence of or-
ganisations which had developed better ways of conducting
research into sources of funding and had made applications to a
broader range of funding bodies. More commonly, participating
organisations had laid some of the foundations for a more ef-
fective approach to fundraising. More than half of those who
responded to the survey had made progress in developing a
fundraising strategy or a business plan—and sometimes both.
Some participants had successfully involved trustees and other
staff in subcommittees or working parties devoted to fundrais-
ing and had provided them with some basic training. In a num-
ber of cases, fundraising had become a higher priority for the
organisation and been increasingly recognized as a core func-
tion. (LDA, 2005: p. 26).
3) Wider impact on the BME voluntary and community sec-
As well as “cascading” the knowledge and expertise pro-
vided by the training programme within the organisations par-
ticipating in the project, the partners intended it to have a wider
impact in the faith group voluntary and community sector as a
whole. While it is again very early in the life of the project to
expect to find evidence of that kind of impact, it was clear from
the case studies that participants had provided advice and sup-
port on fundraising and organizational development to a num-
ber of other organizations.
In some cases, the mechanism for this was the existing in-
volvement of the individual with other agencies as a trustee. In
at least one other case, the participating organisation had a ca-
pacity building role within a sub sector of the faith sector and
could incorporate the new knowledge in its ongoing work.
Elsewhere, the project stimulated a specific set of responses;
one of the participants who worked for a Tamil organisation in
south London brought together people from other organisations
in the area to disseminate what he had learned about the need to
develop a strategy and take a longer term view of fundraising
(LDA, 2005: p. 27). Yet, despite this point, the literature on
BME infrastructure is very poor.
Rosewarne’s small evaluation (2003) for South Yorkshire
Funding Advice Bureau (SYFAB) of a funding training pro-
gramme delivered to groups in the coalfields areas of South
Yorkshire concludes that:
The SRB funding for a period of three years enabled SYFAB
to provide an extensive training programme to a large number
of voluntary and community groups in the South Yorkshire
Coalfields area. The vast majority of groups benefiting from
this training would not otherwise have been able to access such
extensive, good quality training and of such variety. In turn
over £4,000,000 has been brought into the area in the form of
grants to groups who accessed the training. Whilst not claiming
that this was all entirely due to the training it clearly played a
substantial role in helping groups bring in this money (Rose-
warne, 2003: p. 13).
The evidence for this comes from two sources. Firstly, feed-
back from training participants notes that 70 respondents (87%)
had been involved in making funding applications since at-
tending the course, of which 67 bids had been successful, rais-
ing a total of £1,437,720. Secondly the evaluation involved a
“detailed search of grants awarded by four key funders [Awards
J. L. POWELL 223
for All, Community Fund, Coalfields Regeneration Trust and
Local Network Fund]….showing] that 81 groups who had par-
ticipated in the accredited training course had between them
successfully raised £3,213,667 (Rosewarne, 2003: p. 7).
The evaluation of the fundraising training project in the BME
voluntary and community sector in London makes the follow-
ing overall comment on the impact of the programme: The
evidence is that the individuals who took part in the programme
gained a variety of benefits from their involvement. This not
only gave them enhanced skills and confidence with which to
tackle the challenge of fundraising but also enabled them to
have an impact on way their own organisations and—to a lesser
extent—other BME organizations went about their business.
(LDA, 2005: p. 30, emphasis added). This is echoed by Rose-
warne’s small evaluation of a funding training programme in
South Yorkshire, where one participant commented that “The
course gave me confidence in tackling funding applications
with very little supervision.” (Rosewarne, 2003: p. 5).
Reid and Gibb (2004) note how individual consultancy
helped change the way organisations went about raising funds:
Change in approaches to fundraising was evident, although it
was not possible to tell whether the techniques adopted were
making a difference. Fundraising techniques that were being
put into practice included use of a fundraising calendar which
listed the submission dates of the most relevant grant-making
bodies. Perhaps more importantly, interviewees felt they had
more awareness of how to approach funders with realistic aims,
and this resulted in increased confidence in their approach to
fundraising. (Reid & Gibb, 2004: p. 10).
Voluntary organisations have different problems and consid-
erations in financial controls and accounting. In particular,
voluntary organisations are more likely than businesses to view
deficits as often desirable and large reserves as undesirable.
Systems for financial control may be complicated by the
amount of cash handled, the number of branch accounts, and
the cultural emphasis on trusting staff and volunteers.
In addition, and for various reasons, keeping income and ex-
penditure balanced may be more difficult in voluntary organi-
sations, and there may be a different attitude to the role of
budgets in that process. In relation to outputs, there are peculiar
difficulties in performance measurement and quality control in
voluntary organisations which are less commonly found in
for-profit organisations. One difficulty was the ‘anti measure-
ment’ ethos reported in some voluntary organisations.
There are also issues of human resources. Indeed, a source of
strength consists of human resources at the disposal of the or-
ganisation. These resources comprise of paid and voluntary
staff undertaking operational and supporting work. When the
association employs paid staff to undertake its operational ac-
tivities this represents a move into the bureaucratic territory of
agency status. The problem here is that administration work
threatens to dominate substantive work in the voluntary sector.
Following the patterns of government agencies to provide funds,
administrative work is being increasingly carried out by spe-
cialist personnel staff that demand and deserve a substantial
salary. The bureaucratisation of the voluntary sector for some
has thus been a welcome development by replacing amateurism
and crisis management with professionalism and planning in
order to develop sound management practices. Bureaucratisa-
tion can therefore be seen as an essential condition of survival
(Deakin, 2002). However, on the other hand bureaucratisation
can also have implications:
Voluntary sectors in the past had been lean on administra-
tion allowing them to place most of their money into facili-
tating the rapid and flexible responses to challenging social
conditions and needs.
Necessary administration work has often been carried out
by volunteers or by efforts of professionals in the commu-
When voluntary organisations become more like businesses
government these qualities are at peril and must therefore
take a hard look at the implications of government funding
and their role within society.
Citizens of the community/volunteers can be weary of vol-
untary agencies that spend a high proportion of funds on
The irony here is that the government often fails to cover the
full cost of it’s administrative work necessitated by grants and
contracts, thus the balance must come from charitable contribu-
tions especially pushed more politically by government in an
economic clima t e of cuts in public expenditure.
Workforce development is seen as a key area in requiring
capacity building within the VCS. In order to be in a position to
better deliver services, the workforce of the voluntary commu-
nity and faith sector must develop its workforce’s capacity.
New research from the Workforce Hub and NCVO has re-
vealed a significant growth in the VCS workforce in the last
decade. This rate of growth has in fact been at a higher rate than
the public and private sectors. However, the 2007 Voluntary
Sector Skills Survey published in tandem with this reveals a
number of challenges for the sector’s employers. One-quarter
of organisations report hard to fill vacancies within their or-
ganisation and skills gaps in IT, legal knowledge and fundrais-
ing. As the number of paid employees in the voluntary sector
has increased, so has interest in the role of the VCS as an em-
ployer and the social and economic significance of this role.
Another contributory factor to the problem has been the rapid
growth in size of the sector over the past decade. Recent years
have seen an increasing emphasis on the VCS to be a deliverer
of public services, changing characteristics and working pat-
terns of the sector’s employees and the increased professionali-
sation of the sector, which all brings both challenges and op-
portunities for the VCS. 40% of VCOs interviewed anticipate
that recruitment will get more difficult over the next three
The UK Voluntary Sector Workforce Almanac (2007) has
picked up on this point. There is an increased professionalisa-
tion of the sector—One-third of VCS employees (33%) have a
degree or equivalent qualification. Between 1996 and 2005 this
has increased by 43%. (For information related to this profes-
sionalisation—see “professionalisation of volunteering”.)
—A more female workforce—Over two-thirds of the VCS
workforce is female (69%), similar to the public sector (64%)
but much higher than the private sector (40%).
—A higher proportion of part-time workers—Part-time em-
ployees account for 39% of voluntary and community sector
employment—higher than in the public and private sectors
(29% and 23% respectively).
—A bigger deliverer of public services—There has been a
huge increase (86%) in the number of people working in social
care, from 149,000 in 1996 to 277,000 in 2005. Social care now
accounts for 54% of the VCS’ employees. (See “bringing mar-
kets into public services”.)
—A higher proportion of disabled staff—Nearly one in five
people (18%) working in the—VCS has a disability, higher
J. L. POWELL
than the public (14%) and private sectors (13%).
—Smaller workplaces—One-third of VCS workers (32%)
are employed in workplaces with less than ten employees. This
is vastly different to both the private (25%) and public sectors
—Hard to fill vacancies—Recruitment problems are evident
across the sector with 25% of employers reporting hard to fill
vacancies, particularly within youth work, social care and
—Under skilled staff—Around 30% of employers reported
under-skilled staff. Small organisations are more likely to re-
port skills gaps. This is leading to an increase in the workload
of other employees. 25% use volunteers to cover the work,
particularly within smaller organisations.
—Lack of funding for training - 50% identified that skills
gaps were caused by a lack of time and funding for training
within their organisation. All these factors make it imperative
for employers to concentrate on the management of human
resources in terms of workforce development. However with
planning and foresight, the growth already experienced will
lead to a professional and thriving sector.
The workforce of the voluntary sector (VS) comprises two
main groups: paid staff and volunteers. The UK Voluntary
Sector Skills Survey estimates that there are 559,000 people
employed in VS organisations of two or more paid staff in
England. This estimate is higher than Labour Force Survey
(LFS) estimates, which suggest there are 518,000 paid employ-
ees within the English voluntary sector. This may be because
UK Voluntary Skills Survey (VSS 2007) uses an employer-
based measure, and the LFS uses an employee-based measure.
Within the UK as a whole, the LFS estimates that there are
611,000 paid employees in the sector, accounting for 2.2% of
the UK workforce. The UK VS has grown by nearly 80,000
employees (14.9%) since 2000. The growth in the sector is
linked to almost 20 years of public service delivery being con-
tracted out by central and local government agencies to the
sector (VSS 2007). There are a relatively high number of
part-time and female employees within the sector. Within the
UK, 39% of VS employees are part-time and 69% are female.
This has particular implications for employment policy and
practice. Alongside the 611,000 paid employees within the UK
VS, an estimated 14.1 million people volunteer formally once a
month (VSS 2007).
The 2007 Voluntary Sector Skills (VSS) Survey highlights
that part-time staff, however, have a different proportion of
men/women to that of the full-time workforce. Men are much
more likely to work full-time rather than part-time in the vol-
untary sector, with 79% of men employed full-time. In contrast,
only 54% of women employed in the voluntary sector work
full-time. On the one hand it is good news for the sector that so
many women in the voluntary sector work part-time and do not
want a full-time job, as it shows that they really value the op-
portunity to work part-time hours. On the other hand, 17% of
male part-time voluntary sector employees would like a full-
time job but cannot find one—a figure that has, encourage-
ingly, decreased between 1996 and 2005. These findings show
that both full-time and part-time employment opportunities are
valued within the sector. The opportunity to work flexibly can
improve people’s ability to balance home and work response-
bilities. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS)
show women were more likely than men to have some form of
flexible working arrangement. Just over one in four women
used a flexible working pattern compared to around one in five
men (VSS 2007).
At the same time, there are implications of skill shortages.
Futureskills 2003 identified skills shortages as a major cause of
unfilled vacancies. The UK Voluntary Sector Workforce Alma-
nac (2007) claims nearly a quarter of employers cite a lack of
specialist skills in applicants as the main reason for their hard to
fill vacancies (24%). There are therefore a large number of
potential applicants who could benefit from specialist training.
Applicants’ lack of experience is also identified as a reason
for hard to fill vacancies by just under a quarter of employers
(24%). Less of an issue is a lack of qualifications; however,
13% of employers report it as a reason for their hard to fill va-
cancies (VSS 2007).
Other research we have conducted confirms the large number
of highly qualified VS employees, one-third of VS employees
hold a degree or equivalent qualification and only 6% of VS
employees have no qualifications at all.
A combination of poor job descriptions and inadequate re-
cruitment practices mean that potential applicants choose not to
apply and the ones that do apply do not have the opportunity to
shine during the interview. It may also be that employers have
unrealistic expectations of the applicants.
To address this, Shortcut (2006), which is a piece of research
commissioned by Red Cross, Help the Aged, and CSV, found
the following aspects are worth highlighting when recruiting
– the opportunity to really make a difference to someone’s
life, perhaps illustrated by case studies
– the chance to use spare time productively
– the chance to be flexible
– the support and back-up available to volunteers as part of a
– where possible, commitment levels to suit volunteers, in-
cluding the time limited nature of some work
– volunteers are likely to stay for at least a couple of years
and usually only leave if their personal circumstances
The focus on partnerships in recent years is an important di-
mension in the voluntary sector working with other agencies.
For example, the Community Involvement in Rural Regenera-
tion Partnerships (CIRRP) study is an interesting exemplar
because it examined partnership activity and the role of VCS
infrastructure in three different case study settings: Devon,
County Antrim and Dumfries and Galloway. One study that has
been able to assess longer term change is Pearson’s (2003)
follow up study of the Community Fund’s one year “Brass for
Barnsley” initiative. The research was carried out some three
years after the initiative had come to an end, and followed an
interim evaluation focusing more on issues of implementation
and initial impact. The key change noted over time was the
degree of co-ordination found in the local voluntary and com-
munity sector, and the evaluation argues that this was attribute-
able in part to the impetus in the original programme.
The report argues that Brass for Barnsley was able to act not
only as a dedicated area-based funding programme, but as a
catalyst for change:
The baseline study carried out for the first BfB evaluation in
1999 identified a voluntary and community sector (VCS) in
Barnsley that was characterised by fragmented infrastructural
support, with limited partnership working and co-operation,
either within the sector or between the voluntary and statutory
Pearson (2003) found a greater degree of partnership work-
ing between voluntary sector infrastructure organisations
J. L. POWELL 225
(VSIOs) in Barnsley; improved relationships between the VCS
and Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council (BMBC); and
improved relationships between VSIOs and voluntary and
community groups (Pearson, 2003: p. 7).
The key lesson emerging from the long term evaluation of
BfB is that there are enormous potential benefits to be gained
from the [Community Fund] working in partnership with
VSIOs, other funders and statutory organisations in priority
areas. In both Barnsley and Rotherham the CF has been central
in the establishment of networks which have impacted substan-
tially on the VCS. These networks have continued to provide
the CF with opportunities for local engagement. Critical factors
in the success of networks include bringing together all key
agencies, and maintaining flexibility to reflect local circum-
stances. (Pearson 2003: 21).
In particular, the initiative led to the establishment of a
cross-sectoral network around funding issues for the VCS: Re-
spondents highlighted the work of the Creating Self Reliance
(CSR) network as a critical factor in improved relations be-
tween and amongst VSIOs and the statutory sector. BfB con-
tributed to a step change in the relationship between the VCS
and Barnsley MBC. The benefits of bringing together the VCS,
funders and the statutory sector to work together had been
learned from the experience of BfB in Barnsley and have re-
sulted in the development of the Rotherham Funding Group.
Key factors contributing to the success, and sustainability, of
these networks included:
—bringing together a range of VSIOs to work collabora-
—the inclusio n of funders—the CF and others;
—developing, or building on, relationships between the VSC
and the local authority;
—identifying a small number of key individuals to ‘cham-
—focusing on strategic issues for the sector, as well as on
local development needs;
—reflecting local circumstances (Pearson, 2003: pp. ii-iii).
In particular, respondents in this study noted how the ‘Creat-
ing Self-Reliance’ network had led to a greater sense of strate-
gic coordination locally in the VCS. Pearson (2003) suggests
that impact of the CSR have included: improved communica-
tion at all levels of the sector; better dissemination of informa-
tion to voluntary and community groups; and a clearer strategic
vision for the voluntary and community sector. The strategy
developed through the future visioning event has been devel-
oped and embedded into the Borough’s Community Plan and is
now the community development strategy for Barnsley.
On a different note yet still focusing on “working with oth-
ers”; working with consultants has been highlighted as a key
issue. Reid and Gibb’s (2004) study of the use of consultants
noted three different approaches, with different advantages and
1) facilitation, which “aimed to empower the organisation to
achieve its own goals [and] tended to involve group
strategies for brainstorming and reflection on current
2) mentoring, which “centred around offering practical
guidance to individuals, and supplying feedback on ac-
tions subsequently taken. This approach tended to involve
key staff members, who often held much of the expertise
and knowledge relevant to the area of consultancy al-
ready. This practice was successful in terms of the devel-
opment of expertise for those individuals who worked
closely with the consultants. However, there was little
evidence of these key individuals disseminating what they
had learnt throughout the organisation so that new
knowledge/skills might be retained. There is a danger that
this expertise may be lost to the organisation on the de-
parture of these key individuals” and
3) training, which: “involved knowledge transfer which
stopped short of providing practical assistance. This ap-
proach was more conducive to dissemination throughout
the charity. An example of this was a training day organ-
ised for managers of branches of one charity, focusing on
developing fundraising strategies. In this way, the con-
sultant passed on information throughout the whole
structure of the organisation, but the potential for depth
of learning was not as great” (Reid & Gibb, 2004: p. 9).
There are various definitions of governance in widespread
currency can be encapsulated as follows in relation to volun-
a list of duties;
fulfilling a role (such as custodian or representative);
complying with a legal minimum (fulfilling the fiduciary
possession of a range of structures and procedures (constitu-
tion, board of trustees, written policies and procedures);
competences of people and group processes (strategic
thinking, group decision-making);
leadership as having: vision, strategy, networking skills,
create space for others, ask for and listen to others both us-
ers and volunteers, motivate and enthuse others (Macmillan,
et al. 2007).
Governance is essential for organisations to survive. For
example, social enterprises need to be sustainable, according to
research from the Governance Hub and the Social Enterprise
Coalition. The research, undertaken by the Open University
into the governance needs of social enterprises, shows that a
priority for the social enterprise sector is to strengthen links
with governance advisers and consultants working at local and
regional levels and provide them with appropriate training and
support. The research report, “For Love and Money: Governance
and Social Enterprise” outlines that social enterprises need spe-
cific support and information on areas such as overseeing
commercial activity and managing business risks, legal and
governance structures for trading subsidiaries and small or-
ganisations and the governance of multi-organisation partner-
ships. However, the research also reveals that the governance
advice sought by social enterprises share similarities with other
community based organisations. This includes problems main-
taining the balance between social and business goals, getting
people with the right skills for boards, involving users in gov-
ernance issues, and accountability to users.
How is this captured conceptually? The Governance-Human
Resource dynamic and the development of organisational
strategy are central. Different individuals within an organisation
will have significantly different perspectives, based on different
histories, cultures, experiences and even goals—particularly in
terms of those individuals who collectively make up the gov-
ernance and human resource systems of voluntary organisations
(namely trustees, paid employees and volunteers). These dif-
ferent perspectives have to be integrated and accommodated if
effective action is to be taken by all the relevant agents. This
has direct implications for the way in which organisations
should approach strategy development; employing an approach
to strategy development that takes into account different per-
J. L. POWELL
spectives or different frameworks is not a luxury, it is essential
if the proposals that emerge are to have anything approaching
widespread support (Mintzberg, et al., 1998). Thus, rigidly
separating the strategy-making role as a function of the board of
trustees alone is not conducive to the complexity of the internal
and external environment in which voluntary organisations
operate. The use of such “command and control” inevitably
fails within complex systems and alienates employees by treat-
ing them instrumentally (Chapman, 2002). It is likely that, in
these circumstances, the command and control culture would
serve to undermine the values portrayed by many voluntary
organisations. Indeed, Jeavons (1992) urges voluntary sector
managers to analyse issues in historical, cultural and moral
terms that, he suggests, can sometimes go largely unconsidered
in other managerial settings. He emphasises, in particular, the
need to consider:
“The ethical integrity of the organisation, the degree to
which the organisation’s performance actually serves the pub-
lic good, in the broadest sense of the term, and the degree to
which the treatment of employees and volunteers honours the
moral and social values that the organisation intends to project
in its service work.” (Jeavons, 1992: p. 416).
Similarly, Cairns et al. (2004) suggest that the concept of
“quality” must be associated with organisational development.
If we take two direct quotations from Cairns et al. to illustrate
“The introduction of a quality system has the potential to
make an impact upon internal organisational structures and
hence to improve efficiency. It also offers opportunities for
organisational growth, increased effectiveness and staff devel-
opment. In addition, the presence of a quality system is per-
ceived as giving an organisation more legitimacy with external
stakeholders” (Cairns, et al., 2004: p. 49).
“Quality systems can act as an organisational development
tool and provide a common agenda for action, for example:
action planning, continuous professional development, team
building. Major benefits of having a quality system were seen
as including: increased organizational legitimacy, improved
reputation and credibility with external stakeholders. The in-
troduction of a system provided the opportunity for an organi-
sation to reflect upon and review their working processes and
ways of doing things, this included reflecting upon service de-
livery arrangements” (Cairns, et al., 2004: p. 37).
Cairns et al (2004) suggest that external pressure may also
come from national infrastructure/membership bodies, some of
whom require adoption of their own quality systems as a condi-
tion of membership. More usually however, the role of infra-
structure bodies seems to be to influence, or encourage, mem-
bers to use a tailor-made system, but without the element of
compulsion. (Cairns, et al., 2004: p. 26, emphasis added).
“Some (participants) had sought external help, though
mainly with securing advice on aspects of the chosen system
rather than with actual implementation. Many study partici-
pants had limited knowledge of available resources that might
have helped them. This suggests that there is a need, not nec-
essarily for more external resources, but for more information
about what is available, and for more help, perhaps from infra-
structure bodies, to enable VCOs to access available assistance.
Many infrastructure bodies are well placed—with their de-
tailed knowledge of members’ objectives and needs—to assist
VCOs with selection and introduction of quality systems and,
where appropriate, to point them in the direction of relevant
external assistance” (Cairns, et al., 2004: p. 48).
Research by Reid and Gibb (2004) highlighted the relevance
of a grant-making body’s capacity building programme. The
key research question concerned the extent to which there were
sustainable changes to organisational capacity as a result of the
input of consultants funded under the programme. The consul-
tancy was often used as a form of expert advice, and as a way
of setting priorities for support and intervention, especially
where an organisational crisis was apparently looming or un-
For one charity, lack of focus on their central mission had
resulted in their taking on additional work in order to maintain
financial security. This led to rapid growth without considera-
tion of the charity’s capacity to cope with additional staff, in-
creased regulation and, importantly, their ability to remain fi-
nancially sustainable at this level.
The Chief Executive felt that the charity was:
“…expanding without any thought for the future—as oppor-
tunities arose we grabbed them. We have gone from an or-
ganisation that needed not £10,000 in the bank as reserves, but
£200,000 (Reid & Gibb, 2004).
Often when this was the case, participants did not have
clearly defined expectations for the consultancy. This resulted
in hopes that were either too expansive, covering an array of
practice and strategic issues, or objectives that did not reflect
the real needs of the organisation at the time. In such cases
consultants tended to play a greater role in helping the charities
identify priorities for the consultancy, and to set the objectives
for the work. Indeed, this agenda setting stage was frequently
perceived as a benefit in itself as the participants learned about
the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation. (Reid & Gibb,
2004: p. 8).
Charities were able to use business plans when applying to
funding bodies as evidence of their aims, objectives and prac-
tices. Strategic plans enabled charities to prioritise their goals
and be realistic about what could be achieved within a certain
time frame. This was thought to have great value as it enabled
efforts to be targeted to areas of greatest perceived need (Reid
& Gibb, 2004: p. 10).
From research done by Cornforth at Open University Busi-
ness School (cited in Macmillan, 2007) using postal question-
naires sent to 2797 charities, with a 26% response rate:
—Only about 35% of charities provide job descriptions for
—Only 23% provide some sort of initial training or induction
for new board members.
—These percentages are somewhat higher for the larger
charities (the range goes from 20% for the smallest to 77% for
—Average frequency of board meetings was between 5 and
7 a year.
—The size of board in small to medium charities is increas-
ing, but decreasing in larger charities.
—The average size of boards increases with organisation size,
going from under 9 in the smallest charities, up to almost 21 for
For Macmillan (2006) the role of the Board is not necessarily
that different from that in business, but some voluntary organi-
sation Boards may, for various reasons, find it difficult to agree
clear objectives for the organisation. Some voluntary organisa-
tion Boards may be less disciplined in their use of meetings. In
voluntary organisations the composition of the Board may be
more difficult, or at least slower, to alter than in many for-profit
Hence, the structures or systems of the governing body are
thus in a constant state of interaction and adjustment that re-
J. L. POWELL 227
quires a reasonable equilibrium or balance (Macmillan, 2007).
The promise the threat from the impact upon government fund-
ing upon the voluntary sector is that the proportion of funding
from government grows and the proportion of private volunteer
support declines. The danger here is that non-profit organisa-
tions can lose their grassroots contact, as the discipline of seek-
ing charitable contributions and donations of volunteer time
from the public has kept voluntary organisations in close con-
tact with their communities and changing community needs.
Balance must therefore be maintained between the roots and the
governing body if agencies are to avoid severe serious prob-
lems. For example, as cited in a case study concerning a single-
parents self help group, there was a belief that the problem they
were trying to alleviate was one that the government should
support which led to applications for substantial funding and
the hiring of paid staff. This caused tensions between the dif-
ferent approaches towards responsibility for the problem (im-
plicit policy and welfare accountability) and the consequent
human resources required led to the eventual division into as-
sociation and agency with its own governing bodies.
Performance has been identified as being key to the volun-
tary, community and faith sector being able to build its capacity.
One of the keys to this outcome is a focus on performance and
quality systems. Macmillan, et al. (2007) c l a i m:
“Frontline organisations should be better able to improve
the performance of their organisation, make choices about
which tools are right for them, and easily access support and
Macmillan et al. (2007) points to British NAVCA Perform-
ance Standards which are:
1) Identifying needs and facilitating improvement in service
2) Assisting local organisations to function more effectively
3) Facilitating effective communication, networking and col-
laboration amongst local groups
4) Enabling the representation of the diverse views of the lo-
cal sector to external bodies
5) Enhancing the sector’s role as an integral part of local
planning and policy-making
One dimension of sustainability that has and continues to
preoccupy voluntary organisations is mobilising resources for
their performativity. Whilst understandable in the current 2010
economic climate of the ‘Global Credit Crunch’, the fixation of
some organisations which solely equates obtaining income with
sustainability is dangerous if an organisation wishes to be vi-
able, autonomous and civic (Fowler, 2000). In developing
strategies, it is important for voluntary organisations con-
sciously to consider and challenge the way in which different
decisions about organisational identity and role in society lead
to different strategic priorities in fund-raising. From a sustain-
ability perspective, reducing resource vulnerability through the
diversification of funding sources is an important task, but vol-
untary organisations are vulnerable in another way as well.
Strategic choices in terms of resources have implications be-
yond their reliability, they affect what the organisation stands
The growing prominence given to trustees’ strategy-making
role occurs against a backdrop of an “increasingly professional-
ized and managerialist voluntary sector” (Harrow & Palmer,
1998: 171). As such trustees have experienced a significant
increase in advice appertaining to how to perform effectively,
behave legally, and provide leadership for their organisation
(Harris, 1991; Quint, 1994; Hind, 1995). Much of the literature
on strategic management and planning in a voluntary sector
context began with Bryson’s (1988) work, which places trus-
tees as the final decision makers within a voluntary organisa-
tion who are competent to work with and, if necessary, pre-
pared to change a voluntary organisation’s planning culture.
Buse (1993: pp. 43-44) argues that the important function of
“not to manage process but to manage outcome, with the
trustees guardians of the values of the charity, and the values
driven by the charit y’s planning”.
The Scottish Government (2006) states that performance
management of the sector is vital in order to retain the confi-
dence of the public. Not only is public money on the line, but
statutory responsibility still remains with government, which
makes assessment of how it’s chosen vehicles perform an im-
perative. The effectiveness of the sector, in delivery of services,
is measured by the sponsoring policy teams. It is right that
those who commission services determine the correct objec-
tives and design performance management systems accordingly.
Much of the performance management function is undertaken
within local government. Performance management tools vary,
but include targets, conditions of grants, performance indicators,
contacts and annual reports.
Infrastructure interventions can often take the form of expert
advice and guidance, especially given the complexities of the
performing environment for ‘frontline’ voluntary organisations.
Infrastructure agencies can be a resource for the sector as a
whole, a repository of specialist knowledge and experience.
Between 2000 and 2002, Osborne et al. undertook a compara-
tive study of community involvement in rural regeneration
partnerships (CIRRP) in localities in England, Northern Ireland
and Scotland, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The
study came to unequivocal conclusions about the beneficial role
of local VCS infrastructure in promoting and supporting
The overwhelming opinion in this study was that infrastruc-
ture was essential to the success of CIRRP. It facilitated the
links between the different structural levels of regeneration
partnerships, provided technical assistance and expertise, sup-
ported small scale funding schemes which built local expertise
and confidence and which helped develop the capacity of indi-
viduals and groups to participate in regeneration (Osborne, et
al., 2002: p. 24). It is clear from this study that strong infra-
structure is essential to the promotion, development and suste-
nance of CIRRP (Osborne, et al., 2002: p. 40).
Osborne cites two overarching roles for VCS intermediary
—Horizontal capacity building: building the capacity of
communities across rural areas to develop and participate in
projects and partnerships to regenerate their communities.
—Vertical capacity building: building the capacity of com-
munities and community activists to participate in the strategic
level of partnerships (Osborne, et al. 2002: p. 29).
Osborne (2002) et al. have argued that it was the effective-
ness of these intermediary bodies which determined the success,
or otherwise, of CIRRP in all three nations. The key tasks that
they undertake include promoting communication, both with
the community in an inclusive way and between the community
and strategic levels of the partnership; procuring resources to
fund small scale funding schemes that will work to encourage
community involvement; ensuring the availability of trained
facilitators to support community involvement—both the mod-
els of the professional development worker and the enthusiastic
J. L. POWELL
“animateur” have their advantages, and neither should be seen
to preclude the other; feeding key information both to commu-
nities about regeneration initiatives and to strategic agencies
about needs; providing infrastructure resources to support
communities, including technical assistance and professional
advice; enabling training in skills for community members,
both about regeneration and about the skills of partnership
working, at both the community and strategic level (Osborne, et
al., 2002: pp. 29-30).
For Osborne and colleagues, the significance of local VCS
infrastructure is clear. It is not so much that it tends to do a
good job in fulfilling its functions, or is well appreciated by its
users and members, but rather that community performance in
regeneration relies upon effective and strong local VCS infra-
structure. However, in so far as public policy continues to pri-
oritise community involvement, it would seem from this re-
search that VCS infrastructure not only has a central role to
play, but would seem to be a critical success factor in perform-
ance of local infr a s tr uc tu re organisations.
These organisations form a large section of the Voluntary,
Community and Faith Sector. They are, however, often over-
oked or misunderstood. This literature review has found ex-
emely scarce (putting it mildly) range of writings on the Black
and minority ethnic voluntary sector in this country. A Black
and minority ethnic organisation (BME) is defined as:
“…an organisation which is led and managed mainly or en-
tirely by Black or other minority ethnic people, which serves
mainly Black or minority ethnic people.” (Home Office, 1999:
There is currently very little literature that focuses on BME
as a field of study in its own right. Of course, there is a lot of
litera- re that implicates the role of the BME sector and much of
this can be found in academic literature and research reports on
the Black and minority ethnic communities. What was found is
that the literature that does exist mainly comprises of two types:
1) Strategy and policy intention statements by bodies such as
Government and national BME organisations;
2) Research, consultative or policy reports issued by bodies
such as local BME sector consortiums and individual BME
There is a clearly a need for more research on the question of
the benefits of VCS infrastructure for the BME sector. But
there is also a need for better co-ordinated research, for re-
search that fills gaps, or takes up unresolved puzzles, or takes
off from where existing research stops. Coupled with this, dis-
semination amongst BME practitioners, policy makers and
researchers of existing research on VCS infrastructure requires
some considerable attention. New approaches to managing
BME voluntary organisations emphasising local autonomy,
recognition of cultural differences, participation, empowerment,
equality, trust and flexibility—are all important but lack of
longitudinal work displays an almost empty literature.
Voluntary organisations provide valuable lessons in the art of
making infrastructure practices work, as well as illustrating
some of the tensions and dilemmas generated in building up
capacity and understanding the black box, the internal composi-
tion of what works most effectively. Local infrastructure or-
ganisations have variations in terms of current research on
critical success factors. The future task is to understand these
critical success factors balanced by more qualitative narrative;
in order to see how it corresponds to the literature or subverts
such arguments. There is a need to mapping the causes and
consequences of organisational change in a complex world and
preparing for future change in terms of strengthening the resili-
ence of community, charitable, and voluntary organisations
through promotion of deeper collaboration in the face of
adverse global economic factors; in dissecting “governance”
processes which have proved inadequate in the face of the
spiralling complexity of financial innovation in the current
economic market through learning from each others “black
boxes” opens up possibilities of sustainment and capacity
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