Sharing and developing

We are a small organisation who need help to develop – where do
we go?

A small organisation in a rural area has few places that it can
go for advice and training to help it grow. But help may be at
hand, Sarah Del Tufo reports on one project that is aiming to fill
the gap.

There is a lot of talk about postcode inequalities in the health
service but disparities in access to development help for small
organisations is also an issue: where you are based determines what
is available.

Of course if you are a small rich organisation (they do exist)
then there are myriad consultants available for a fee, and the
issue is finding the right one.

However, most small organisations are poor and need free or very
inexpensive help. Initially, most approach local authority
community development workers or their local development agency
such as a Council of Voluntary Service (CVS), a Rural Community
Council or a local development trust or community development

However, in rural areas these organisations may have few
resources. They often provide only limited advice and written
information and some training courses.

However, the organisation that asked the question was lucky.
They were based in Wiltshire where there is a special small
consultancy scheme called Sharing Solutions backed by several local
CVSs. Sharing Solutions offers any community or voluntary
organisation up to 20 hours of consultancy help or training, after
an initial assessment visit by a skilled consultant. The consultant
helps the organisation identify its needs. Then one or more local
accredited trainers or consultants are linked to work with it.

Many organisations use the hours to develop business and
marketing planning, work with management committees on roles and
responsibilities, and hold joint staff and management committee
review days, focusing on developing shared values, standards and

But other requests for help include volunteer reception
training; listening and communication skills for service users;
preparing health and safety policies and grievance, disciplinary
and complaints procedures; and staff and volunteer team

A recent feedback exercise showed that groups were very positive
about the consultants’ work.

There was evidence of successful matching of expertise, learning
style, and personality to group needs by staff. The allocation of a
set number of hours for free was much valued – so often in
voluntary organisations development needs are identified and then
fundraising has to start.

The outcomes were as varied as the groups and reflect the
responsiveness to individual needs, a key feature of the programme
that users affirmed. However, there was firm evidence of
organisational strengthening and capacity building including new
knowledge and skills developed, in particular:

  • Greater clarity in organisational purpose, values and aims, and
    use of strategic plans.
  • Evidence of increased legitimacy derived from broad community
    support such as increased numbers of active and trained volunteers
    or members.
  • Clearer accountability mechanisms.
  • Funding and other resources being levered from other sources as
    a result of the work.
  • More joint working with other organisations.
  • Increased promotion and awareness raising.
  • Greater staff professionalism.
  • New knowledge and skills for trustees, users and

Sharing Solutions is funded through the European Social Fund and
the National Lottery Charities Board. Although it is only one
scheme, the model could be usefully replicated in other areas
without access to development resources. Councils of Voluntary
Service throughout the country may do well to examine this model if
they are aware that small organisations in their area are in need
of development help.

Sarah del Tufo works for the Evaluation Trust and is a
Charities Aid Foundation consultant.

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