At the NCVO conference Stuart Etherington, Chief Exec of NCVO has just given his keynote talk on the ‘State of the Sector’.

I’m not sure how far his opening call that we should not be ‘blighted by fear’ resonated in the room.  While acknowledging and addressing the short-term challenges, we were encouraged to stop worrying about what the Big Society is and get on a do it.

Anyway, here’s some immediate highlights:

Around £13 billion of the sectors’ £35bn income comes from the state: so one argument put is that the sector has become overly dependent on the state, and that cutting funding will be A Good Thing by giving the voluntary sector it’s independence.  Stuart’s counter is that three-quarters of public funding is in the form of contracts – so in fact the state is dependent on the sector.

Stuart summarised the Big Society as

  1. the transformation of public services
  2. devolution of power
  3. voluntary and community action

and outlined his calls to Government to support these, including:

  • The sector has great strengths (longer-term outcomes focus; innovative; close to the ground) but also weaknesses in a commissioning world – lack of financial strength (of reserves, access to capital etc).  NCVO are asking government to look at tax policy (which apparently disadvantages the sector), and ‘social clauses’ in contracts that recognise and reward ‘social value’.
  • The aims of the Localisation Bill are right; the detail is all important.  Government needs to ensure that the ‘right to bid’ doesn’t disadvantage the voluntary sector over the private.
  • Local Authorities need to produce guidelines for Local Authorities to ensure power devolves beyond the Authority and down to communities.
  • The importance of campaigning by charities – some MPs dispute this.  But it’s essential if power is to pass down to local communities.
  • Need to look at new ways to encourage individual giving – it’s high, but plateauing.
  • We’ll all need to look again at consortia, partnerships and mergers.

For what they’re worth, some of my initial thoughts:

  • Fear and anxiety can be rather crippling.  ‘Calls to arms’ are not pointless but it’s going to take more.
  • Do charities depend on the state or the state on charities?  Of course it’s both; there is mutual dependence, but the balance of power (as almost always) is with the state as customer.
  • Social clauses rewarding social value: if it’s in a contract, it’s surely got to be measurable and measured.  Which is possible, but will need some standardisation.
  • I think there’s still too much talk of ‘benefiting organisations’, rather than ‘benefiting people’.  If that message gets muddled then calls to government do look like special pleading; if the focus remains on people and changing lives it doesn’t.


Just picked up a piece in the NY Times courtesy of @WhoCares_IDo on the impact of President Obama’s recent budget on non-profits in the US.  It ends with rather a good quote:


The president’s budget director, Jacob Lew, said in The New York Times: “The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations.”


That’s rather a good question to put to our representatives making budget decisions.

The sales training and mantras of “up-sell”…”add-sell”…so often taught and heard in seminar rooms and lecture halls was ignored recently! I found myself un-selling Lamplight to a customer! Is this right? Would my boss approve of my behaviour?

A recent meeting with a consortium organisation identified they were in need of a system for a new project starting. It was a project that would involve a number of other voluntary and community organisations and as a result they would need to share data and produce combined reports. In short, they wanted to reflect their combined efforts in serving their communities.

But does this mean all having to use the same system for this one project? It could result in some organisations operating multiple systems: would this be right and necessary? Surely the consequences would show staff and volunteers learning two (or more) systems and potentially duplicating data. In a time when resources are stretched, is this right? I didn’t think so!

I believe we need to look to providing more efficient, affordable and suitable systems. Allow secure data sharing but not dictating a (potentially) massive organisational change. Fortunately I could recommend an alternative. The consortium organisation choose Lamplight for themselves and by having the Publishing Module, an external web-site will be linked to their Lamplight database. With their permission, information by their members will be entered and automatically transferred. All the consortium need do is send a reminder…sit back…and run the reports!

There would be obvious benefits of the member organisations adopting Lamplight with the ease of running compatible reports, data capturing and having a full case management and outcomes monitoring database, but it is not mandatory and a pre-requisite of joining the project.

 Fortunately my boss agreed with my perspective!