VCS Insights

VCS Insights is a two-year, longitudinal study situated within Voluntary Action Leicestershire’s (VAL) Voice and Insights team.

The aim of the study is to follow a cohort of 15 voluntary and community organisations across a two-year period in order to:

  • Showcase the value and contribution of the voluntary and community sector (VCS);
  • Demonstrate, and learn from, the different ways that organisations are adapting and responding to the current social, political and economic environment; and
  • Understand the challenges and opportunities presenting VCS organisations.  

The sample reflects the breadth and diversity of the sector including organisations of differing structure, size and purpose, as well as organisations based both within Leicester City and the wider county.

The context

At the start of the project, VAL undertook a brief literature review in order to document the range of issues and debates surrounding the VCS. It was felt that this exercise would:

  1. Contextualise the research
  2. Identify key issues that should be explored during the course of research
  3. Enable the research to explore if and how commentary and debate on the VCS does or does not change across the life of the project

The review identified a range of contextual issues currently impacting on the VCS including: reducing resources; changes to the funding landscape; political uncertainty; the localism agenda; threats to public trust and confidence in the VCS; threats to the sector’s independence; and the shape of the voluntary sector workforce. Each of these topics is briefly explored in the full report which can be downloaded at the bottom of this page.

Round one: Findings

The first round of research interviews was conducted during April and May 2016 with findings as follows:

Themes to date

A range of issues were discussed during the interviews, including: funding and income generation; collaboration and partnership working; organisational structure; increasing demand for services; human resources; governance and service delivery. The aim is to explore each of these issues in more depth during the course of the study.     

The past two years

The majority described the past two years as very challenging. For example, participants have experienced: loss of/reduced services; redundancies; reduced working hours, which have been voluntarily in some cases; delays in funding decisions; and withdrawal of funding programmes.

Survival factors

The following five factors were felt to have played a role in helping the organisations to thrive and survive.  

  • People
  • Reputation and trust
  • Relationships
  • Strategic planning
  • External advice and support

Hopes and challenges

For the majority of participants, their hope is to survive and maintain the status quo. Finding and securing long-term, unrestricted funding; increasing fundraising income; and effectively managing the different demands being placed on organisational capacity were among the organisations’ challenges.  

Summary and next steps

This report details the findings from the first round of interviews of a two-year longitudinal project. As such, a limited amount can be concluded from the findings to date. However, three issues really stand out from the data collected so far:

  1. Desire for longer-term, unrestricted funding
  2. The importance of the voluntary sector workforce
  3. Articulating what is unique and distinctive about service provision within the voluntary sector.  

The second round of interviews takes place between September and early November 2016, and will focus on the topic of funding and income generation.