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Myths about the voluntary sector - Parts 3 and 4

9 Sep 2015 - 12:56 by Mike Wild

A few weeks back I met with a group of voluntary & community sector leaders working with children young people and families and our local Director of Children's Services. We were talking about how to build the relationship between the sectors so we hit on the idea of writing a blog to challenge a few myths and misconceptions which tend to distort the relationship.

What follows was written for an audience of people working in the public sector and in social services roles. That said, there is enough here which is generally true of the relationships between the sectors (in Manchester at least) that I thought it was worth sharing more widely.

This is Parts 3 and 4. Click here to read Parts 1 and 2.

Myth 3: The voluntary sector in Manchester is only about 50 or 60 organisations.
The figure varies, but people in the public sector (and indeed the general public) hugely underestimate the scale of voluntary activity, particularly in a city such as Manchester. In 2013 Macc published the first ever analysis of the scale and economic impact of the sector in Manchester. Here are the 8 key facts from the survey.
1. In 2011/12 there were 3093 voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises in Manchester.
2. In 2011/12 the total income of the sector was £477 million
3. Medium and large organisations receive 95% of the total income
4. 1987 organisations are 'micro' - i.e. have an annual income of under £10,000
5. There are 94,300 volunteers working in the sector in the city.
6. Volunteers give 370,000 hours each week.
7. The contribution of these volunteers is valued at £332 million each year.
8. The sector employs 12,400 full time equivalent paid staff.

You can read a blog on this and download the full report here:

Myth 4: The voluntary sector is too messy and there are far too many organisations (seriously – we get both this and the previous one!)
If having 3093 organisations in one city makes out sector sound messy and complicated, you’re right and you might be tempted to think that’s a bad thing. But then communities are messy and complicated: so a sector which is grown from the community is going to reflect that.

Equally, no one would say the private sector is too messy – there’s a general assumption that a growing and diverse businesses sector is a good thing for the economy (well, that’s a debate for another day) so I would say having more organisations which have creating social benefit as their goal is just as good?

Yes it could be more efficiently organised and there is some duplication of effort, not all of them are as good as each other and some are an annoying nuisance with their advertising campaigns. Am I talking about the private sector or the voluntary sector there?

My favourite way to look at this question is to compare it to a garden: who ever looks at a garden and says “get rid of all this messy stuff, I just want one very big flower!”

But don’t confuse that with a lack of professionalism or competence: there are fantastic examples initiatives developed by the voluntary sector which are dealing with really complex and difficult social issues: look at the work of Big Manchester, 42nd Street, Young People’s Support Foundation, The Children’s Society, Hideaway or M13 Youth Project, to name just a few.

We also have a huge range of expertise and skills in the sector, I think sometimes people forget many of us are trained, qualified and have worked in other sectors, different regions and nationally. We’re not just “well intentioned amateurs”.

As a sector, we recognise there are all of these so we have structures in place to try to make it as easy as possible to navigate and access: in Manchester, Macc convenes a strong Children Young People & Families Leaders Forum to act as a liaison between Children’s Services and the voluntary sector. We’re currently waiting to hear if we can get a part-time post funded to support this work and act as a strategic lead. We work by having voluntary sector representatives at partnership meetings who are then accountable back to the sector through our Forum and our Voluntary Sector Assembly. Structures like this enable large and small voluntary organisations to have influence. An index of voluntary sector representation in Manchester can be found at: https://www.manchestercommunitycentral.org/policy-and-influence/representation-and-partnership-meetings In 2014 Macc staff spent over 800 hours representing the local voluntary sector at meetings. Obviously the work (and the list) is constantly evolving.

This group also helps address another common issue: pressure to form a consortium. Experience has shown that while it’s relatively straightforward to set one up, the investment in a consortium approach is costly especially over the long term. Our Leaders Forum enables us to build up trust between local organisations so that we can find a range of ways of responding to opportunities: one acting as “accountable body”, a “managing lead”, a “sheltering” approach for smaller, etc. We can even handle grants distribution within the sector via Macc.

Myth 5:

As they used to say on Jackanory, I'll tell you about that tomorrow....

UPDATE: click here to read parts 5 and 6

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