There have been several recent developments in the VCSE sector that will greatly affect smaller-sized charities and social enterprises. These include the closure of the Small Charities Coalition and the continual workforce issues (where they relate to burnout and wellbeing; as well as recruitment and retention), as well as the wider cost of living crisis faced by the nation.
With research suggesting the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis alone could cost the charity sector £8bn over the next 4 years, at the Association we are keen to continue delivering funding, training and other opportunities to build an organisation’s sustainability in the face of this.
Over the last 2 years, and focused on the pandemic response and recovery, this has primarily fallen into the remit of our Mental Health Sustainability Programme. Through the Programme, we supported providers to group together to share challenges and solutions; distributed funding from our private sector partners to enable providers to focus on “pandemic-proofing” their income; and developed learning streams to educate and encourage new ways of working to be embedded and adopted by organisations.
We have built trust and confidence in ourselves from these providers and in the sector – as a funder, membership organisation and (sometimes, critical) friend. We are an organisation well placed to support, connect, energise and speak with and on behalf of VCSE mental health service provider organisations, influencing funding and policy decisions (as well as our own internal Programmes) in the ways that will impact smaller providers most.
It’s why we are excited to have the Mental Health Sustainability Programme continue past its initial proposed two years, now embedded in the Association’s core delivery programmes. With other small charity funders having invested “substantial funding [originally] set aside for future years [or dipping] into their reserves” to meet the needs of organisations during the pandemic, bringing the Programme fully “in-house” at the Association will ensure our efforts to support the smaller providers of our membership are sustained and are central to our wider work and projects.
The Programme very much continues with its aims (to support mental health service providers who are led by or supporting communities who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic due to existing health inequalities to build their sustainability) and delivery methods; and providers in the Programme are still welcome members of the Association.
We understand the concerns smaller provider organisations continue to have and the inequalities the communities they support experience – and in turn are committed to adapting our practice and our support offer to meet specific needs (as we did in 2021 by removing our lower turnover bracket to enable a wider number of eligible organisations to apply for our Sustainability Fund, thereby supporting more grassroots groups).
We know that funding and the maintenance of income streams will be the most crucial factor for provider sustainability in the future, and we are continuing our support in collaboration with our existing (and any new) partners to develop further dedicated funds like the recent one we held for Helplines with Bupa Foundation.
We also want to ensure that obligations for smaller sized organisations are proportional and that internal relationships are strong as the integration of trustees and executive teams is crucial in building lasting strength in an organisation. We are pleased to have made inroads in this area with our diverse Sustainability Toolkit sessions and online learning portal particularly with regards wellbeing which we know needs to be embedded at board level for the leadership of an organisation to be supported and no single organisation overly reliant on one individual/role.
Overall, we want to continue to listen to you, the small-sized providers of mental health and wellbeing services, and signpost the best internal and external opportunities for funding, training and otherwise that we can find for the strengthening of your organisation and the wider mental health VCSE sector; all ultimately continuing your legacy and impact in the local community for the distinctive offer that comes from small charities.