Archives for the month of: November, 2012

By Tony Okotie, Chief Executive of Community and Voluntary Action Tameside

Community and Voluntary Action Tameside’s (CVAT) role is to build strong, independent voluntary and community action.

During 2011-12 we have provided an interim senior management function and support to one local organisation, and been approached informally by others to do the same. This goes beyond our normal capacity building support (where we provide advice and information to an organisation, but it is up to them whether they choose to follow it) but stops short of full control (i.e. they are not a full / legal part of CVAT but still an independent organisation with a separate board). This is the third time that we have supported the same organisation in a similar way over the last few years.

An analysis of the organisation that we provided interim management to is that whilst financially sound, the problems that they had come up against were three-fold:

  • Rapid growth
  • An inexperienced board, and a failure to recruit  / extend board membership
  • Poor financial management and systems, due to the organisation growing rapidly

We chose to provide interim senior management function and support to one organisation based on a number of factors:

  • The organisation wanted our help, and were able to pay
  • The organisation appeared financially sound, and salvageable
  • Perception: CVAT had promoted the organisation as a ‘good’ organisation with both local commissioners – so any failure would potentially question our judgement and the wider abilities of the sector to deliver services
  • The services that the organisation delivered were vital to the community that it served, and would be lost if the organisation faltered
  • There was not another local organisation that they were able to collaborate with to recover

In future, we expect that there will be an increased number of organisations that will require more intensive support. We will need to consider if CVAT has a legitimate role in ‘sheltering’ other organisations – either on a temporary or more permanent basis, and if so what the ‘tests’ we would want to apply in deciding.

Of course, this is not a simple decision. As I said at the start, we see our role to build strong, independent voluntary and community action. Debating this with our management team and board has already highlighted a number of interesting points:

  • Short term shelter and providing a permanent home are different. Short term – providing interim management / services compared to a longer term relationship, which might be within CVAT governance / group structure
  • Does it create a wider dependency culture within the voluntary sector?
  • Sheltering’ (short or long term) may put us into conflict with other frontline groups – competing for funding for example
  • Is there potential that any ‘sheltering’ would drag CVAT down – deflect our focus?
  • If organisations can’t survive should we let them fail? Isn’t that what independent means?

Of course, it is not just CVAT that are debating and discussing this: GMCVO and NAVCA are giving this some though. GMCVO have a Transforming Local Infrastructure Project called ‘AddVentures’ which is just starting, which “aims to free local people with ideas and skills to focus on delivering their project or service, without needing to set up a charity or company”,

Essentially, Addventures will provide all of the governance and ‘back office’ support to allow people to develop and run services. This project is still in its infancy, so no conclusions can be drawn yet as to whether it will be effective, needed or valued.

Bill Freeman, director of consultancy services at NAVCA, wrote a helpful article for NAVCA members last year about ‘fiscal sponsorship’ or ‘mission related hosting’, a US originated practice referring to a voluntary organisation offering its legal and tax-exempt status to groups engaged in activities related to the organisation’s mission.

The sponsoring organisation agrees to provide oversight to, and assume legal and financial responsibility for, the activities of those groups. Once sponsored or hosted in this way a project is able to fundraise and run its services and programmes under the auspices of its sponsor without its staff having to focus on building or sustaining an organisation in its own right. In addition to supporting activities that contribute towards its mission the sponsor also benefits financially because the arrangement typically involves a fee being paid to the sponsor for hosting the project in this way.

Bill suggests that support and development organisations like CVAT should be encouraging ‘spin-ins’ as a means of protecting vital local services that are no longer viable as standalone organisations. He adds “You could enable organisations at risk of closure to continue with their own identity led by their own stakeholders, but working under the wing of your organisation” he says.

I would really value your thoughts and ideas on this – particularly if you are a local frontline voluntary group. Is sheltering other organisations (or providing them a permanent home) a legitimate role for CVAT? Does the benefit, in providing an environment where important services can be delivered and protected for a local community, outweigh any perceived loss of independence for an organisation?

This is the new blog from Voluntary Sector North West where we post the thoughts of voluntary and community sector leaders from across the North West of England. This will include thoughts on developments affecting the sector, and the people the sector supports, and how we are adapting to the changing environment we work in. The first blog post will be added soon…