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My internship journey and insights gained

In the second blog post, Claire Horn shares insights into the learning from their internship with CVSL. This blog emerged from Claire’s work on a scoping research project that an OU team led by Dr. Wendy Turner and CVSL Director - Dr Fidele Mutwarasibo is undertaking on behalf of MK Community Foundation. To reach out to voluntary sector organisations operating in the new City. It was vital to go beyond the usual networks and find groups, such as those without interactions with the MK Community Foundation. Claire did desk research, and learning is shared in this blog. 

Overview of charities within the UK

One of my activities while at CVSL included searching for information about charities within specific areas. I have become familiar with the charity commission websites for England & Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. At the time of writing (27 June 2023), over 191,000 active charities operate within the UK.

Whilst I was expecting this to be a high number, I was not expecting this many active charities within the UK alone. Furthermore, I was surprised that 96% of the UK's voluntary sector are small charities with incomes below £1 million (NCVO, 2022).

Another surprise was the number of charities with contact details and registered addresses outside their operating area. Moreover, the number of charities with incomplete contact details was surprising as well; adding a website and email address to the contact details section within the charity commission could be extremely helpful when potential clients, potential supporters or partners are searching.

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Under the radar organisations

There are also many organisations or groups working within the community that need to be found through the usual regulatory and administrative paths. A report created in 2020 saw around 13,000 of these 'informal grassroots organisations' (LocalTrust, 2020).

I saw this myself through searching for charities within one location. Searching for charities, such as within the National Lottery Community Fund Grants page, I found some further small organisations I had yet to see through the charity commission or companies house (whilst looking for community interest companies) websites.                                                 

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Ideas to increase visibility

If you happen to be from a smaller organisation that may not be as well-known yet, from what I have seen during my time with CVSL, my best thoughts as to how to increase visibility would be:

  • Create a presence online, whether on a website or a social media page where people can contact you and find out more information.
  • There are many umbrella organisations to network with and collaborate with, including multiple Community foundations.
  • Partner with a business as its charity, either as a temporary or long-term arrangement. This is, for example, how I became aware of some local charities I had never heard of when in a previous role. You may gain support through new volunteers or some financial help.
  • Put your name out there with your local radio or newspaper. While working with CVSL, I have found some organisations, such as Third Force News in Scotland and seen multiple local umbrella organisations and newspapers that enable free advertising of events such as webinars or training. These are also great places to search for these events (and through sites such as Eventbrite) alongside promoting your own.
  • Some organisations do pro-bono work, including Pilotlight, which can advise on increasing income and reach.

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Comparable challenges

From what I have seen and experienced during my time with CVSL, there are common underlying themes, lessons, and challenges that are present regardless of size, expertise/area, geographical location and so on with all voluntary sector organisations.

For example, difficulties in balancing the long-term and short-term goals on the one hand and prioritising the organisation's needs, especially during turbulent times, on the other hand. The pandemic caused challenges such as retaining staff and volunteers, the well-being of colleagues and clients, and the need to engage in a new way. Even engaging in a new way with clients, staff and supporters can be expanded, and some of its causes include the need for virtual meetings, changes in funding available and changes in the amount organisations have been able to fundraise. Fundraising decreased due to the closing of physical charity stores, cancelled fundraising events, and now the cost of living, further reducing the ability of the public to support charities.



Closure of support                                

The Foundation for Social Improvement (FSI) – the charity behind Small Charity Week, recently closed in Spring 2023. Aside from what I have seen and noticed during my time with CVSL, multiple other organisations that support and advise charities or end-clients directly have closed over the last few years.

Whilst the challenges have continued, some support has been removed. I feel that this is when collaboration, within organisations and with external parties, to share insights, knowledge, and experience, the opportunity to compare challenges and potential solutions and be inspired with new ideas can be so beneficial.

CVSL offers a variety of webinars that enable these opportunities to hear from, learn, brainstorm, and grow with other individuals in the voluntary sector. Individuals who are not only within charities but also funders, policymakers, and academics. CVSL also offers free learning and recordings of prior webinars, which could be beneficial and found on their website under resources.

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To summarise

So, to recap my reflections:

  • The majority of the 190,000+ charities in the UK can be classified as small.
  • Information is only sometimes updated on websites such as the charity commission.
  • There are an unknown but significant number of ‘under the radar’ organisations.
  • There are many ways to increase visibility, and my list is far from complete.
  • Charities experience similar challenges, so the potential to learn from and grow together by sharing solutions and ideas is enormous.
  • Support within the sector needs to be recovered alongside increasing challenges and demand. Thus, collaboration is likely beneficial.
  • CVSL has resources that can offer support or inspire ideas to help various individuals and organisations within the voluntary sector.

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1st September 2023