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BIG Assist programme - Aiding Organisation Change - IVR Independent Evaluation Report

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BIG Assist programme - Aiding Organisation Change - IVR Independent Evaluation Report December 2015

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BIG Assist programme - Aiding Organisation Change - IVR Independent Evaluation Report

  1. 1. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 1 INDEPENDENT EVALUATION REPORT AIDING ORGANISATIONAL CHANGE An evaluation of the difference the Big Assist has made to local infrastructure organisations Andy Curtis December 2015
  2. 2. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 2 TABLE OF CONTENTS Executive summary page 3 1. Introduction page 7 2. Outputs the Big Assist vouchers funded page 14 3. Outcomes for the organisation after a year page 24 4. Impact on frontline organisations page 30 5. Local infrastructure organisations’ perspectives on the Big Assist page 34 6. Conclusions page 38 Appendix page 40 Case studies Telephone interview topic guide
  3. 3. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 3 Executive Summary BIG Assist is funded by the BIG Lottery Fund and delivered by National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). The programme is piloting new ways of offering targeted support to help voluntary sector local infrastructure organisations to be more efficient, effective and sustainable. The programme was initially funded from 2012 – 2015 and the funding was extended until March 2016. The programme from 2012 – 2015 was evaluated by OPM. OPM did not continue the evaluation into the extension due to lack of capacity. In September 2015 the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) (based at NCVO) added the following evaluation component. The Big Assist programme1 The £6 million programme BIG Assist, aims to provide support that meets sector needs in these challenging times. Since 2012 NCVO has delivered the BIG Assist programme under contract to the BIG Lottery Fund. BIG Assist is testing new ways of delivering support to infrastructure organisations in the voluntary sector to adapt and change how they work to meet the challenges of a much changed operating environment. The programme has been piloting a ‘demand-led’ model of support by awarding a voucher that the organisation uses to select support of their choice through an on line market place of approved suppliers of support. The BIG Assist programme offers a wide range of support for infrastructure organisations in addition to awarding vouchers, through a large peer to peer programme. Evaluation aims and methodology Building on the previous evaluation conducted by OPM, the aim of this evaluation is to report on the difference Big Assist support has made to organisations after 12 months of completing the funded activities. Within this, the two research objectives were to:  Establish if organisations have been able to act on the support they receive;  Establish whether acting on the support has made a noticeable difference to the organisation and the organisations it works with. As part of the evaluation, 49 telephone interviews have been conducted. These were semi- structured and were transcribed and coded. The interviews included three open questions and five closed questions. The evaluation also features three case studies. These were chosen from the 49 organisations which were interviewed. Each case study captures the journey of an organisation prior to engaging with Big Assist, the help they received through programme and the outcomes from this work. 1 This description of the programme is taken from OPM. (2015) Evaluation of the Assist Investment in National Infrastructure Programme, pp. 7-8.
  4. 4. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 4 Outputs the Big Assist vouchers funded The majority of the organisations interviewed had achieved the initial outcomes/outputs they had aimed to do through the Big Assist work. These outputs included the production of strategic, financial and marketing and communication strategies. There had also been an upskilling of staff in these areas. The barriers to achieving the outcomes included insufficient resources to follow through recommendations, the consultant not providing appropriate support and resistance to change within the organisation. Outcomes for the organisation after a year The vast majority of interviewees had seen changes to their organisation over the last year. These changes varied in scale and importance, and included organisational transformation, income increases, a raised profile, a changed offer and moving to new premises. The majority of organisations attributed a great deal of this change to the work they had conducted through the Big Assist. It was felt that the supplier, as well as bringing skills and expertise, brought an important outside perspective that helped to focus and galvanise the organisations. However, even after 12 months it often still appeared to be too early to tell whether this would make them more sustainable, but the majority of organisations appeared better able to adjust to the new climate. Impact on frontline organisations As the change process could be slow for the local infrastructure organisations, it might be expected that frontline organisations had not yet benefited from changes resulting from the Big Assist work; it was too early to observe any such outcomes. However, over half the interviewees had felt there had been some effect on the frontline organisations. This included the local infrastructure organisations, with more stable finances, having more time to devote to the frontline organisations, better communication and, in some cases, increased grants funds. Yet it was not all positive. Sometimes the local infrastructure organisations had to reassess what they could offer frontline organisations in a more challenging economic climate and either reduce services or start charging for them. However, this needs to be offset against what the frontline organisations would lose if the local infrastructure organisation closed altogether. There was also an issue that, by seeking out new markets, they could be seen by the frontline organisations as encroaching on their areas of work. Local infrastructure organisations’ perspectives on the Big Assist The majority of interviewees were positive about the work of the suppliers and the impact on their organisation, and positive about the Big Assist overall. Over two thirds felt the work of the supplier would make a long-term difference to the organisation.
  5. 5. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 5 Conclusions This evaluation has observed considerable value of the Big Assist in helping those local infrastructure organisations we spoke to adjust to this new environment. The majority of the organisations were satisfied with their experience of the supplier and the Big Assist overall. They also outlined important changes to their organisation in the last year and Big Assist’s role in this. Facilitating reflection and planning Where it was most successful among the organisations interviewed, the Big Assist had provided expert guidance to an organisation prepared to embark on a change journey. The most highly valued suppliers brought specific, relevant expertise to help the organisation focus on the difficulties it faced and to develop solutions to those difficulties. Tangible changes emerging on the road to sustainability The organisations had taken steps to achieving sustainability. The majority of organisations had undergone change in the last year since engaging with the Big Assist. New strategies and services had been devised and were beginning to come to fruition. Furthermore, although much of the work conducted via Big Assist vouchers was relatively recent, there was evidence that, in over half the organisations, the changes were beginning to filter through to frontline organisations. Therefore, while it was too early for most to speak about the long-term with confidence, there was optimism for the next few years and clarity about what they needed to do in this period. Barriers to change There was not blanket success or satisfaction among the participant organisations. There were cases where it was difficult to find a suitable supplier, sometimes with vouchers expiring without being used. Others had suppliers who did not demonstrate a sufficient understanding of the organisation or the environment it operates in, and did not produce work that was useful for the organisation. However, the barriers could also lie within the organisation itself. Not all of the organisations were ready or able to change. The Big Assist model We have observed that the Big Assist model can produce tangible outcomes, both for the infrastructure organsiations themselves and the local organisations they work with. However, these outcomes are contingent on finding an appropriate supplier, as well as a willingness to participate and the requisite ability to act on the recommendations in the organisation itself. Yet with the right supplier, and sufficient buy-in from their own organisation, varying types of meaningful change could be achieved. Outline of the report The background the programme, the methodology and a summary of the OPM is presented in Chapter 1. The outputs of the Big Assist work for the 49 local infrastructure organisations are outlined in Chapter 2. The more long term outcomes are explored for the local infrastructure organisations in Chapter 3 and on the frontline organisations they work with in Chapter 4. The local infrastructure organisations’ views on the suppliers and the Big Assist
  6. 6. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 6 overall are presented in Chapter 5. The conclusion forms Chapter 6, and the full-length versions of the case studies follow in the appendix.
  7. 7. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 7 1. Introduction BIG Assist is funded by the BIG Lottery Fund and delivered by National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). The programme is piloting new ways of offering targeted support to help voluntary sector local infrastructure organisations to be more efficient, effective and sustainable. The programme was initially funded from 2012 – 2015 and the funding was extended until March 2016. The programme from 2012 – 2015 was evaluated by OPM. OPM did not continue the evaluation into the extension due to lack of capacity. In September 2015 the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) (based at NCVO) added the following evaluation component. 1.1 The Big Assist programme2 The £6 million programme BIG Assist, aims to provide support that meets sector needs in these challenging times. The funding world for local infrastructure organisations is greatly different to what it had been prior to 2010/11, when funding for infrastructure organised peaked. In the most recent figures (for 2013/14), the annual income for infrastructure organisations was £112 million less than this peak.3 The main substantive forms of funding that had either been drastically reduced or cut entirely included: Basis 2; Neighbourhood Renewal Fund; Capacity Builders; Locally based vInvolved teams; Training and consultancy (in some cases less demand). In addition, local authorities, having had cuts themselves, had in some cases drastically cut funding for local infrastructure organisations. Local infrastructure organisations could apply for funding from Transforming Local Infrastructure Fund (TLIF), which ran between 2012 and 2013. Compared to initiatives such as Capacity Builders or BASIS, with only £30m overall and 74 organisations funded, TLIF was a relatively minor funding stream for infrastructure nationally. Yet it was not designed to plug the gaps of disappeared funding, rather it is to help infrastructure to change and adapt in these areas. Big Assist is part this funding landscape for infrastructure. Since 2012 NCVO has delivered the BIG Assist programme under contract to the BIG Lottery Fund. BIG Assist is testing new ways of delivering support to infrastructure organisations in the voluntary sector to adapt and change how they work to meet the challenges of a much changed operating environment. The programme has been piloting a ‘demand-led’ model of support by awarding a voucher that the organisation uses to select support of their choice through an online market place of approved suppliers of support. The BIG Assist programme offers a wide range of support for infrastructure organisations in addition to awarding vouchers, through a large peer to peer programme. BIG Assist opportunities include: 2 This description of the programme is taken from OPM. (2015) Evaluation of the Assist Investment in National Infrastructure Programme, pp. 7-8. 3 See: http://data.ncvo.org.uk/data/voluntary-sector-infrastructure/income/
  8. 8. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 8  Marketplace: where infrastructure organisations can browse and get in touch with BIG Assist approved suppliers.  ShareSpace: an online discussion forum where infrastructure organisations are encouraged to engage with each other by sharing thoughts, ideas and other information.  ConnectSpace: opportunities to get involved in sponsored visits and BIG Assist events (both face to face events around the country and online participation).  The BIG Assist Library, giving access to handpicked resources that are relevant to infrastructure. This includes opportunities to proactively edit and add content. The aim of BIG Assist is to help infrastructure organisations be more effective, sustainable and better able to adapt to change. To apply for BIG Assist vouchers, local infrastructure organisations, or customers, organisations that access support through BIG Assist go through a three step process: firstly, they answer a set of on-line pre-qualifying questions to determine they are eligible for an award. Next, they must submit an on-line self-assessment which is a more detailed set of questions about the organisation. Finally, they have a review call with a BIG Assist customer consultant, who will have read through the on line self-assessment and undertaken desk research about the organisation. The review call is used to identify areas of need and assess the organisations ability to implement change. Support priorities and clear outcomes for the support are agreed. Review calls take approximately one hour. Once the focus of support and voucher value of support is agreed between the customer and BIG Assist, customers go to the online Marketplace to review suppliers and select a supplier of their choice. Customers make contact with suppliers by email or telephone and once a project is agreed, BIG assist is notified and work can commence. On completion of the project, the supplier submits their invoice for payment and customers are asked to rate and comment on the support provided by their supplier. Reviews are available online for other customers to see. Suppliers apply online. The supplier applications are assessed by independent assessors to determine if they are approved as a BIG Assist supplier to deliver support though the programme. Approval includes assessment of relevant experience, prior work and references. Local infrastructure organisations can be both customers and suppliers through BIG Assist. Support from the BIG Assist team is available to both customers and suppliers at each stage, over the telephone, on-line and through guidance documents and information. 1.2 Aims and objectives of the evaluation Building on the previous evaluation conducted by OPM, the aim of this evaluation is to report on the difference Big Assist support has made to organisations after 12 months of completing the funded activities. The research aimed to find information about the knowledge and skills the organisations gained and have retained, whether they have been able to implement changes and whether they feel increased confidence that they will be more sustainable.
  9. 9. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 9 Within this, the two research objectives were to:  Establish if organisations have been able to act on the support they receive;  Establish whether acting on the support has made a noticeable difference to the organisation and the organisations it works with. 1.3 Methodology Interviews As part of the evaluation, 49 telephone interviews have been conducted. These were semi- structured and were transcribed and coded. The interviews included three open questions and five closed questions. These are outlined in the appendix. Sampling A sample of organisations who received funding through Big Assist after the increase of award amount in May 2014, and who have completed the activities at least 12 months before interview. It was aimed to have a good spread as possible in terms of locality of organisation and voucher topic area. Organisations contacted for the previous evaluation were excluded from the sample to avoid confusion as consent for further contact by another organisation had not been sought by OPM. There were challenges achieving the required number in a short space time and having a totally equal spread across the nine English regions. Whilst there are a disproportionate number in the West Midlands and South West, at least two organisations per region were interviewed. See Chart 1. Chart 1. Region of interviewed organisation 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 Yorkshire and the Humber North West South East North East Eastern London South West West Midlands
  10. 10. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 10 The organisations had received 177 vouchers that they spent (unspent vouchers are not included), an average of 2.5 each. In total, the organisations had received £510,783, an average of £10,641 per organisation. There was a good spread in terms of the organisations having had at least one voucher in the various themes, with most (38 out of 49) having had a voucher in Strategic planning and managing change. See Chart 2. Chart 2. Theme of the voucher The 49 interviews contained a mixture of open and closed questions, therefore yielding both qualitative and quantitative data. Due to the sample size, the data will be predominately be presented in charts in numbers opposed to percentages. Case studies The evaluation also features three case studies. These were chosen from the 49 organisations which were interviewed. Each case study captures the journey of an organisation prior to engaging with Big Assist, the help they received through programme and the outcomes from this work. For each case study various secondary data was explored on the Big Assist database, including profiles, self-assessments, and recommendations and stage 4 reports. Members of the organisations were interviewed, and in some cases the supplier. Excerpts from the case studies are cited in the main report and are presented in full in the appendix. 1.4 Summary of key findings in the OPM’s evaluation4 The key findings from the OPM conducted evaluation, which was separate to this evaluation, are below. 4 This section is an abbreviated version of the summary in OPM (2015), pp. 2-5. 16 19 23 27 38 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 Supporting and developing people and organisational culture Innovation, new products and new ways of working Financial sustainability Marketing and strategic relationships Strategic planning and managing change
  11. 11. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 11 Outputs and experience: infrastructure organisations  BIG Assist support to local infrastructure organisations has been extensive - the programme has issued 846 vouchers, with a total value of £3,545,9505 . Over 700 local infrastructure organisations have completed diagnostic review to access voucher support and 576 local infrastructure organisations have been awarded vouchers6 . The average voucher award was £8,040.70. The local infrastructure organisations that engaged in BA were motivated and wanted to make changes that would secure their survival in a challenging world. Programme changes, especially the increase in value of the voucher awards, encouraged more to engage.  Planning for a more sustainable future was their key focus. Local infrastructure organisations wanted to develop new and efficient ways of working. They looked to BIG assist to identify new sources of funding and be more effective at generating income.  The Marketplace experience has worked well for local infrastructure organisations in terms of: - The online platform to apply for vouchers - Accessing a supplier - Receiving support - Making the most of vouchers - Advantages to a voucher system Outputs and experience: suppliers  There are 223 approved suppliers in the Marketplace and they are a diverse group of organisation type including companies (106), VCS organisations (69), sole traders (34) and others (14).  There is variation in the volume of projects they have undertaken. One supplier has completed 37 projects, to a value of £196,000. 124 Suppliers, 53% have completed at least one completed project.  Suppliers were motivated to join BIG assist for a variety of reasons. It was an important new source of funding their work; it helped them reach new clients who needed their support; and many hoped that being an approved supplier to Big Assist would raise their profile across the sector. Some also felt that approved supplier status was a ‘badge of recognition’ for their experience and quality of support.  The self-assessment and review call meant that customers had a good knowledge of their support needs before work started. Some suppliers however still had to work with customers to identify what could be realistically delivered for the voucher value.  Suppliers feel the Marketplace is an efficient model for delivering support. They understand that sustainability is an issue for BIG Assist. Without ongoing funding the Marketplace would soon disappear, although they hope that the new contacts they’ve made may endure. 5 Source of all output data: BIG Assist programme data. Reported 22nd May 2015 6 These figures include local infrastructure organisations resubmitting to the programme for further support.
  12. 12. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 12 Peer-to-peer experience: face-to-face and online Peer to peer opportunities have developed along with the programme.  ConnectSpace, offering sponsored visits (and mentoring, now suspended) has seen significant uptake. 229 visitors have participated in supported visits.  Local infrastructure organisations are positive about the visit experience.  ShareSpace, offering online discussion forms around key topics, has seen very considerable volumes of traffic. Some live discussions have had over 10,000 views.  The BIG Assist Library has built up over 600 resources for local infrastructure organisations. Impacts on local infrastructure organisations The following impacts on local infrastructure organisations were highlighted:  Extra help and added impact – BIG Assist is a valued source of funded support in a time of great need for local infrastructure organisations.  New sources of funding – Local infrastructure organisations have won new sources of grant funding or contracts to deliver work.  Improved opportunities for consortia bidding – This is an emerging impact of the programme.  New ideas for generating income – This includes local infrastructure organisations developing new chargeable services or products.  Increased ability or capacity to adapt to change –BIG Assist has been a catalyst for necessary change in many organisations  Clearer focus on impactful and/or sustainable activities – Local infrastructure organisations feel it is likely that BIG Assist support will make a long term difference to them. How well the BIG Assist met the outcomes for the OPM evaluation 1. Many infrastructure organisations perceive that they can provide higher quality support to customer and frontline VCSE organisations, or will be in able to in time. 2. OPM were unable conclude that National VCS and private sector suppliers have developed better and more sustainable models of providing support services to infrastructure organisations. However, OPM found much positive evidence that: The model is effective. Suppliers have delivered high volumes of quality support through the programme, which matches their own areas of expertise and local infrastructure organisations’ needs. 3. Local infrastructure organisations do value and feel they benefit from opportunities for peer to peer learning and support. 4. Big Assist develops and shares learning about how demand-led models of national support services could work in a local and national context and in a more market oriented way, although there are opportunities to do more. 1.5 Outline of the report The report presents findings form the work undertaken by IVR, opposed to the evaluation conducted by OPM. The outputs of the Big Assist work for the 49 local infrastructure organisations are outlined in Chapter 2. The more long term outcomes are explored for these local infrastructure organisations in Chapter 3 and on the frontline organisations
  13. 13. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 13 they work with in Chapter 4. The local infrastructure organisations’ views on the suppliers and the Big Assist overall are presented in Chapter 5. The conclusion forms Chapter 6, and the full-length versions of the case studies follow in the appendix.
  14. 14. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 14 2. Outputs the Big Assist vouchers funded This chapter explores the main outputs and initial outcomes for the 49 local infrastructure organisations that have resulted from the Big Assist vouchers. It also considers the role of the suppliers in this. It focuses on the immediate outputs and outcomes, for example the production of a strategic plan. The outcomes and impact on the organisation resulting from this work in the year since is examined in the next chapter. This chapter links to the evaluation objective: establish if organisations have been able to act on the support they receive. 2.1 Outputs of the work funded by the Big Assist The local infrastructure organisations interviewed were asked whether they achieved the outcomes identified in their Big Assist application. The majority of the local infrastructure organisations, just under two thirds, reported that they had achieved most of the immediate outcomes identified in their application, and a further quarter had achieved some of these. See Chart 3. Chart 3. Achieved the outcomes identified through Big Assist (N=49) 2.2 Types of outputs achieved As noted in Chapter 1, the Big Assist addresses various themes. Vouchers often funded activities that culminated in a plan or strategy in various areas (such as finance, marketing, communications etc). This process entailed the supplier working with the customer 31 2 12 2 2 Yes No Partially Too early to tell Other /not sure
  15. 15. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 15 organisation, usually through workshops and visits. The main types of outputs are outlined below. Strategic plans These were often tied to the Big Assist themes of Strategy, planning and managing change, and Innovation, new products and ways of working. The supplier’s role in developing the plan was often to focus staff on the process and help to distil the information: ‘…they did a lot of work with the staff and the board and separately and together about saying, “But what is it you do, what is it you want to do, what are the changing issues, what’s the changing picture?” So narrowing down to our key messages.’ (local infrastructure organisation) Many of the organisations looked to develop a new strategic business plan. In each case the way of doing this varied, but often involved the consultant facilitating a workshop, which provided the basis for a new business plan. ‘[The workshop] was organised and facilitated by the consultant through the Big Assist voucher, brought these people together. We looked at putting together a business plan, which was done on the basis of the discussions around the first away day.’ (local infrastructure organisation) In this instance, one result of the process was the decision to work in other neighbouring areas, on the condition there was not a similar type of organisation operating there already. This led to a name change to reflect the broader area of operations. A case study of an organisation working through structural changes is presented below.
  16. 16. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 16 Case study – A CVS becoming more entrepreneurial This Council for Voluntary Service (CVS) is a large inner-city organisation with a track record of more than 85 years delivering high quality support services for community groups and voluntary organisations. Why they engaged with the Big Assist Despite having a good track record of winning grants and contracts over the years and having diversified its income base, the CVS was experiencing financial pressures by 2012 cuts were impacting on its core funding and there was a concern within the organisation that too much dependence on grants would be problematic as cuts were set to continue in the future. For the CVS Big Assist was timely. The organisation had settled down after its first structural change and was clear that the way forward was to continue to embed a flatter, less hierarchical group structure where people would be able to work within their groups with more freedom, but also work horizontally where this would be beneficial. Though the CVS was seeking change, this change was motivated by ensuring that it could protect important services and stay on mission. The change needed was not to the types of services offered but rather it was about ways of delivering them more efficiently and ways of generating new sources of income to sustain them. The Big Assist vouchers In 2014 they successfully applied for vouchers in two main areas: culture and processes to support change and establishing clearer communications messages and materials. We focus on the outcomes of the first voucher here, but the outcomes of the second voucher are outlined in the full case study in the appendix. How they set out to achieve the outcomes The CVS engaged a consultant who came in to the organisation for several meetings and workshops, working with staff on issues around organisational culture and working practices. She explored the organisation’s strategic plan and business objectives during these sessions, highlighting links between the component teams so that they could focus on the organisation as a whole rather than separate parts, and did 1:1 staff interviews to better understand issues, enablers and barriers to change within the organisation. In the work she also looked at the development of an entrepreneurial culture and how this is reflected in practice, eg, where enterprising ideas come from and how they could be taken forward in the organisation. What they have achieved Reflecting back on the support, the CVS has identified some valuable changes they were able to make as a direct result of the support they received. These included an increased awareness of options and opportunities. The exchange of skills and knowledge from their two visits to other organisations was very useful to the CVS who went away with a better understanding of how to deliver charged-for services, having seen how others deliver them. There was also a new confidence within the staff team about new directions for the CVS. There were also new structures in place to better support innovation and change. This shift towards charging for services represents a big cultural shift within the organisation and for its members likewise a significant change. Many organisations the CVS works with need support with sustainability and efficiency ideas; income generation and managing organisational change, and the CVS can do this even more effectively now in part because they had support in these areas to help them develop their own more sustainable way of offering support.
  17. 17. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 17 Financial strategy This often came from the Big Assist theme of financial sustainability. It covered a broad range of work, from relationships with existing and potential clients and funders, to looking at how organisations bill for their work. ‘…there's a real issue in the voluntary sector, you may know, with organisations going after the money, and taking the money regardless of what that actually entails. Then finding that they can’t deliver on the amount of money they’ve been offered. So it’s much more important that they have the ammunition to go to funders and say, “Look that's not realistic, this is what it costs.”’ (local infrastructure organisation) ‘…one team of consultants put a business plan together for us so we have an income generation model actually which we took on board quite quickly and resolved and actually turned that around so it does generate income for our organisation for a project that we used to deliver that actually lost money.’ (local infrastructure organisation) An example of an organisation reviewing the pricing of a service is outlined in the case study below.
  18. 18. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 18 Case study – Reviewing an advice partnership’s services This network is a partnership of over 200 organisations who either offer advice or have an interest in the provision of quality legal advice to people in need, those facing problems and disadvantage in area in the east of England. Its vision is that people in the locality will fully understand their legal rights and responsibilities to help them resolve their problems and overcome disadvantage. Why they engaged with the Big Assist Having started life with one major grant funder, the network had sustainability high on its agenda – increasingly seeing a longer term need for the service that it realised could not be sustained with a single funding stream. Big Assist was seen as a way of bringing in outside expertise and an independent perspective in two areas where the network’s team felt they lacked the knowledge in- house - trading and charged-for services and particularly how to approach developing a pricing strategy; and marketing and communications - how best to raise the partnership’s profile as a provider of consultancy services. The Big Assist vouchers The network received two vouchers worth £2,500 each, and used these to enlist the support of the same consultant for both advice on business models and charging for services, and on marketing. We focus on the outcomes from the first voucher here, although both vouchers are outlined in the full case study in the appendix. How they set out to achieve the outcomes Once a consultant was identified and brought on board she worked with the team to look at charging and models. Her role was quite practical and involved her generating and drawing together ideas and then making recommendations on ways forward for the network. What they have achieved Reflecting back, the organisation has identified some valuable changes they were able to make as a direct result of the support they received. In terms of their consultancy offer this meant they increased their prices which has meant that the work makes a more realistic and appropriate contribution to the overheads of the organisation. This led to an increase in costs and charges which has so far had no negative effect on business and in fact the model has not only helped their consultancy arm, but also the support they are able to offer their wider partnership of members. Since receiving the support from Big Assist the landscape for advice providers generally has continued to prove challenging with funding for advice less high on funders’ agenda. The network has considered its options and the landscape for advice providers in the longer-term, and where it might have most impact, and as a result is now considering a merger with two other local generic infrastructure organisations. The network sees an advantage of them being able to run the services that are most needed (eg developing their shared referral system so that others including community organisations could benefit from it), whilst not having to run their own back office and all the associated costs of running a small organisation. Marketing and communication Vouchers connected to the theme Marketing and strategic relationships covered a broad range of work. This included promoting the work of the organisation and building contacts.
  19. 19. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 19 ‘…the infographic… I’m just so excited about it still because everyone loves it. Two sides of A3 printed with pictures and figures about this, what was done in 10 years, and we launched that at a big event and it has worked, because we’ve actually had more work from it.’ (local infrastructure organisation) ‘The consultant just highlighted so many weaknesses that we had in our brand and the way that we were going around trying to appeal, if you like, for clients. Yeah, once the cupboard door was open everything fell out.’ (local infrastructure organisation) For network organisations, communication was particularly important, with new ways to reach out to members recommended. ‘The thing is that… it’s a really spread out region and so we needed really to develop our social media platforms and skills and then help our volunteers to upskill.’ (local infrastructure organisation) Training and skills development Part of the Big Assist process sometimes included training, for example upskilling staff members in key areas of work, including communications, IT systems and approaching donors. ‘Certainly in terms of skilling up our staff to a different professional level, the Big Assist was certainly very influential in enabling us to do that and I can’t think that we would have done it otherwise without it. So yeah, I think it’s been very useful.’ (local infrastructure organisation) This ranged from more formal training, such as on Social Return on Investment, to informal learning, for example around approaching high net worth donors. The role of the Big Assist in training and upskilling staff is explored in the case study below.
  20. 20. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 20 Case study – Upskilling a community foundation This community foundation was founded in 2001. It describes its mission as ‘strengthening local communities and tackling issues of disadvantage and exclusion’. This is achieved by building permanent endowments and the allocation of grants to local organisations. Why they engaged with the Big Assist In their self-assessment the organisation recognised various challenges. These were:  an increased demand for grants from local organisations due to a decline in government funding  the need for new revenue sources for the community foundation itself after grant distribution programmes ended  the need to attract donors to fund administration costs and overheads, which can be especially difficult as they often prefer to support projects with more obvious and immediate impact Ultimately they wanted to become more sustainable and less dependent on fluctuating funding coming through government programmes. The Big Assist vouchers The main objective of the training was to improve their financial sustainability by attracting new philanthropists and being less dependent on managing government programmes. They had already provided some training and support to their trustees and staff concerning fund development, managing cash and investments and how to attract high net worth donors. They wanted to have more comprehensive training in this area through the Big Assist voucher. How they set out to achieve the outcomes The Big Assist vouchers were used for training key staff and board members. The activities were three training days, with some follow-up support. The first session was a general overview, the second and third focused more on the local context. The training explored trust transfers, legacies and fund development, specifically looking at high worth individuals. The courses were tailored to the organisation, providing specific information based on their needs and the operating environment. The local dimension of the training was important. They had found in the past that, whilst community foundations often share good practice and learning, this had not always easy to apply to their locality. The training also helped them build on their own previous learning. ‘It was giving the staff the extra skills they needed to be able to take it to the next level. So they have the basics, this was the enhancements that would allow us to do more and be more successful.’ (Chief Executive) What they have achieved In the period since receiving the vouchers the organisation have seen several positive outcomes:  increased confidence with potential donors  increased income  gaining more influence with the local authority  increase in staffing levels  moved to larger premises
  21. 21. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 21 Other There were a few other activities cited by one or two of the organisations, including developing IT systems, mentoring small organisations and applying for and achieving quality accreditation. 2.3 Barriers to achieving outcomes Various barriers were identified for organisations to achieve outcomes. Insufficient resources to follow recommendations through Lack of resources meant that suppliers’ recommendations could not always be followed. ‘It’s about capacity to actually deliver on them and that’s… What I really needed was a voucher to employ somebody to actually do some of the legwork to get it off the ground’ (local infrastructure organisation) ‘Supplier ended up producing for us… a plan, it was quite a lengthy document. Within that document, whilst it’s broadly what we asked them to produce, and I wouldn’t query their work, the implication is that we have people here who can then implement it, which is not realistic.’ (local infrastructure organisation) Consultants not knowing the area/risks of the off the peg solutions Difficulties often arose when the consultant was not locally based and/or not seen to have a sufficient grip on the locality/area of activity. ‘We gained something, I mean everything helps, I think, but I don’t think we got the expertise we thought we were going to get but that may be down to an individual, that may not be down to the BIG Assist itself... So the stuff we got was too generic, not organisation specific enough.’ (local infrastructure organisation) It is difficult to assess fully in this evaluation whether organisations’ complaints about messages from suppliers are fair criticism of the consultants or rather was the organisation resisting unpalatable messages. Or a mixture of both. In certain cases, where organisations had experience of more than one consultant, they were able to make a comparison between suppliers. This local infrastructure organisation was based in a rural area and felt their first consultant was not sufficiently familiar with the unique issues facing rural areas, whereas the second one was. ‘…the second one we had was a much better consultant, he [understood] the sector much, much better, he understood rural issues much better and in fact we are paying
  22. 22. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 22 him to do some additional work with us, to move us a bit more in our general strategy, so that has been more useful.’ (local infrastructure organisation) Internal resistance/organisational inertia In certain cases, interviewees felt that their organisation, or some members of staff or board members, struggled with change. This was sometimes attributed to lack of capacity/resources/staff time. ‘I think the gap has been - and this is my personal view – the management board haven’t been able to pick up activities that were assigned to them. We have also had to reduce some staff hours because this current financial year, our public sector funding has reduced and that’s had an impact on the organisation.’ (local infrastructure organisation) ‘[It’s] quite difficult I think for our board or management committee as we call it, to grab a hold of all of it because they are also having a sort of problem with as a network organisation, they’re in quite small organisations that are all struggling to try and get things done and get funding’ (local infrastructure organisation) In some cases, it was seen as being due to a lack of enthusiasm for change. ‘…ultimately I think the problem is whatever that consultant that we use helps us do, it's the lack of drive on the ground which is what we're struggling with.’ (local infrastructure organisation) Yet the voucher/supplier could also be used to mediate internal conflict: ‘…there was a lot of conflict internally and we needed to separate our strands of work and really what happened was our consultants were skilled enough to put a name to that and stop the emotional rubbish that was going on in the organisation and say, “Yes, long term your organisation needs to split like this...”’ (local infrastructure organisation) 2.4 Chapter summary The majority of the organisations interviewed had achieved the initial outcomes/outputs they had aimed to do through the Big Assist work. These outputs included the production of strategic, financial and marketing and communication strategies. There had also been an upskilling of staff in these areas.
  23. 23. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 23 The barriers to achieving the outcomes included insufficient resources to follow through recommendations, the consultant not providing appropriate support and resistance to change within the organisation.
  24. 24. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 24 3. Outcomes for the organisation after a year This chapter examines whether the local infrastructure organisations have undergone any organisational changes in the year since receiving their voucher. Furthermore, if there had been changes, the extent to which they attribute this to the Big Assist work. This chapter addresses the first part of the evaluation objective: Establish whether acting on the support has made a noticeable difference to the organisation and the organisations it works with. 3.1 Organisational change The interviewees were asked whether their organisations had undergone any organisational change in the last year. The form and scale of the change varied greatly. It could be a new marketing strategy, while others have merged with organisations or split into different organisations. The vast majority, nine out of ten, had undergone some form of change during that period. See Chart 4. Chart 4. Organisational change (n = 49) The types of change identified by the organisations are summarised in Table 1 below. 43 3 2 1 Yes No Some Not yet
  25. 25. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 25 Table 1. Theme of change Theme No. of local infrastructure organisations Organisational transformation: New structure, change in strategic direction, shift in ways of working/culture change, board changed 13 Income: Changes to income generation, increased income, expanded funding endowment 10 Profile: Better marketing and communications, increased profile, expanded reach, refreshing relations with local authority, rebrand/rename 10 Offer: New services, improvements to grant distribution, improving member offer, quality accreditation 8 New Premises: Moving/expanding premises 3 These themes are explored in greater detail below. Organisational transformation A quarter of the organisations reported significant transformation in the last year. These included implementing a new staff structure, a major change in strategic direction, a shift in ways of working/culture change, and changes to the board. ‘In fact in the last 14 months we’ve had six staff changes which is half the organization… we’re a fairly small organisation, some new projects, some changed posts, some sort of restructure. We have new activities coming in.’ (local infrastructure organisation) Some organisations do not appear to be ‘change ready’ or are resistant to change. However, there were organisations where there had been a change in culture and staff attitudes. ‘[There have been] the beginnings of a change in staff culture…there’s been much more emphasis on the operating environment we’re in, the difficulties in getting funding and staff are much more aware of it now. They’re more likely now to talk about opportunities that they identify. It’s no longer just my job to bring in the finance.’ (local infrastructure organisation) Income A great deal of work around the Big Assist has the goal of in some way increasing the income of the organisation. There were various instances of income being increased. This included
  26. 26. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 26 greater consultancy revenue, new contracts and, in the cases of community foundations, managing new endowment funds. ‘…like our improved room hire is helping us to get in revenue which is unrestricted which we can then put in to other areas of the organisation.’ (local infrastructure organisation) It was important to see that not only were organisations embarking on new financial strategies, such as pricing plans, but that in certain cases this was already coming to fruition in the sense they were able to sell services under the new price plan. Profile Raising the organisation’s profile was discussed in various contexts, including promoting themselves to the groups they work with and to current or potential funders and commissioners. ‘We’ve actually diversified our work so we’ve broadened our work. We’ve broadened the people we work with, we’ve analysed some of the things we’re asking our groups to do... So it’s been quite a revolution really’ (local infrastructure organisation) For network organisations, communication strategies and reaching members were essential and there were instances where this had been improved upon. Offer Organisations changed their offer in some way, whether it was to improve member benefits or obtain quality accreditation. ‘…the quality mark has been really useful for us. A lot of that was more internal and maybe having a better organisation means that we can focus more on our frontline work I guess.’ (local infrastructure organisation) It is important to note that, as the Big Assist predominately focuses on the local infrastructure organisation, the offer to frontline services can be affected. For example, if the Big Assist work identifies a service the local infrastructure organisations currently offers to frontline organisations which is financially unsustainable the conclusion may be to cease this work or to charge for it. 3.2 Attributing change to the Big Assist One of the key focuses of this evaluation was whether any of the changes experienced by the organisations were attributed by the interviewees to the Big Assist. Of the 45 organisations experiencing change, eight out of ten attribute a significant part of the change to work conducted through the programme, and nearly one in ten attribute some of the change to it. See Chart 5.
  27. 27. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 27 Chart 5. Whether change is attributable to the Big Assist (n = 45) The Big Assist does not provide additional resources for facilitating change, just the consultancy and training provided by the suppliers. Yet the face value of the vouchers is not insignificant. This interviewee highlights that while Big Assist vouchers could be for relatively small amounts it is not something they could have afforded without the programme: ‘…we didn’t have capacity to pay these consultants to come and have the conversations that they had with us, these are people with masses of experience who, you know, what we got from them was just incredible in terms of their experience and their knowledge and their expertise in the subject.’ (local infrastructure organisation) 3.2.1 What the supplier brings to the process The Big Assist is about an organisation embarking on journey of change. The role of the supplier in this was discussed extensively. They brought skills, knowledge, and in some cases, contacts. Frequently it was their outside perspective that was particularly valued. ‘…it was good to have an outside person to get us to focus on those sorts of issues which internally you just sort of plough on. You don't necessarily say, “Let's stop and look at ourselves.” So that was the value of having an outside consultant.’ (local infrastructure organisation) ‘The role was for them to come in with an expert, an independent set of eyes in order to review certain things in terms of how we went around our marketing, so they inputted into strategy as well as talking to clients and operational changes.’ (local infrastructure organisation) 37 3 4 1 Yes No Some Maybe
  28. 28. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 28 3.2.2 How the Big Assist has contributed to change Using the four main types of organisational change identified in the previous section, the role of Big Assist in this process is outlined for each below. Organisational transformation The Big Assist work could act as a catalyst for change, with suppliers, as noted above, bringing an outside perspective. Alternatively it could speed up change that was already in motion. The change could be as monumental as the organisation merging or dividing into more than one organisation. For example, this organisation eventually split into different organisations and they felt the Big Assist speeded this process up. ‘It would have been a much longer and messier process and I’m not sure that anybody would have come in and almost told us off to stop fighting, if you see what I mean. So yes, I definitely can see the impact.’ (local infrastructure organisation) The Big Assist could act as a ‘wake-up’ call, providing impetus and helping build momentum for faster change. The work could help those in organisations who saw themselves as agents of change convince those who were more resistant to change: ‘..our board… they more or less shrugged and said, “But we like it the way it is.” And while there was this complacency that everything is okay, and we’ll get funding to do what we do, they would carry on because they couldn’t see why they shouldn’t. And it was quite a stark reality getting this external review, somebody saying, “No it isn’t good enough.” And that gave me the impetus needed because they weren’t really listening.’ (local infrastructure organisation) ‘It’s really helped us to embed a bit of a culture change really within the organisation to understand the need to diversify what we do and to need to be more business-like, I suppose would be how I would describe it, which I think is important for charities, particularly when you’re quite reliant on one or two sources of funding.’ (local infrastructure organisation) For many interviewees highlighting this particular type of change, they felt that the reforms may well have been made eventually anyway but that the Big Assist hastened this. Income The advice around finance proved invaluable for certain organisations. Suppliers helped customers with pricing plans and existing funding streams could be made more efficient. Some organisations were already seeing these coming to fruition. ‘…one team of consultants put a business plan together for us so we have an income generation model actually which we took on board quite quickly and resolved and actually turned that around so it does income generate for our organisation for a project that we used to deliver that actually lost money. So that worked.’ (local infrastructure organisation)
  29. 29. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 29 In certain instances customers specifically spoke about their increased confidence to more proactively seek out funding. Profile The organisation’s profile could be raised. This could be with funders and commissioners, as well as the frontline organisations they work with. ‘I think it's shown us to be both professional and it has increased our public profile, and certainly our advocacy profile. One of the other awards that we got we used for social media training. Specifically with our staff and trustee team. As a result of that actually that has been really helpful because we are significantly more visible.’ (local infrastructure organisation) Offer The Big Assist suppliers helped with altering the service provided to frontline organisations. In some cases this was a membership offer. ‘It’s very specifically the streamlining of the, developing the member offer and streamlining of the member joining process and the member renewal process, which actually might sound quite small, but actually is quite a big thing in terms of coming across as a credible organisation.’ (local infrastructure organisation) It is important to note that engagement with the Big Assist could lead to an ending of services to members that were no longer financially viable. ‘I guess we’re stopping trying to please everybody a bit more, you know. Does that make sense? Because we’ve got to make some really business brutal decisions.’ (local infrastructure organisation) In another instance, Big Assist had helped the organisation to explore shifting services online, as a contingency for local authority cuts. 3.3 Chapter summary The vast majority of interviewees had seen changes to their organisation over the last year. These changes varied in scale and importance, and included organisational transformation, income increases, a raised profile, a changed offer and moving to new premises. The majority of organisations attributed a great deal of this change to the work they had conducted through the Big Assist. It was felt that the supplier, as well as bringing skills and expertise, brought an important outside perspective that helped to focus and galvanise the organisations. However, even after 12 months it often still appeared to be too early to tell whether this would make them more sustainable, but the majority of organisations appeared better able to adjust to the new climate.
  30. 30. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 30 4. Impact on frontline organisations Although the Big Assist interventions are relatively recent, there have already been some emergent ramifications for frontline organisations. This chapter explores the difference Big Assist has made to the frontline organisations the recipient local infrastructure organisations worked with. This chapter addresses the second part of the evaluation objective: Establish whether acting on the support has made a noticeable difference to the organisation and the organisations it works with. 4.1 Whether the Big Assist has made a difference to frontline organisations Because the Big Assist work was completed for the organisations little more than a year ago, the longer-term impact of the Big Assist is difficult to assess with certainty. In particular, some of the changes to the organisations highlighted in the previous chapter may not yet have had time to filter down to benefit the frontline organisations. However, even at this stage, just over half the local infrastructure organisations felt there had been a difference to frontline organisations, while a third felt there had not or not yet. See Chart 6. Chart 6. Whether the Big Assist had made a difference to frontline organisations yet (n = 49) 4.2 How the Big Assist has already affected frontline organisations Those that local infrastructure organisations had seen impact on frontline organisations highlighted the following ways in which the work had done so. 28 16 2 2 1 Yes No/not yet Indirectly Not sure Mixed
  31. 31. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 31 More time/services for frontline organisations There were cases where organisations had obtained funding that directly helped their work with frontline organisations. ‘[It] has had an impact on our end users because with additional funds we’ve been able to do activities that support them’ (local infrastructure organisation) Or the benefit for could be more indirect. For organisations such as Councils for Voluntary Services (CVSs), increased financial stability could mean they had more time to assist members. Increased grant capacity For community foundations, having increased and/or new endowment funds meant there were more grants to distribute. ‘…the training we had was more about building endowment and building sustainable income and part of the knock on of that is we can actually use that to generate more to give away as grants. So we’ve been able to help more frontline organisations with grant funding and help towards their sustainability.’ (local infrastructure organisation) Improving the reach of the organisation Improving reach, including via social media, was especially important for network and umbrella organisations: ‘I know definitely we’ve improved our reach, there’s no doubt about that and the way that we reach people, and that’s helped.’ (local infrastructure organisation) ‘…you only need to look at the number of people following, the number of tweets that we’re doing, the number of re-tweets we're getting. The number of influencers to our responding personally to some of the stuff that we're putting out.’ (local infrastructure organisation) Members clearer about the local infrastructure organisations’ offer Raising the organisation’s profile, being clearer about what they can offer and communicating this to frontline organisation was a key part of the change process. ‘Well they all love our branding... we talk to them, we go round, because we’re still doing support contracts so we take that round as an example of how we had to move, we had to change direction and we talked about it for a long time.’ (local infrastructure organisation) ‘I think that the difference is that they have now come to a better understanding separately and collectively of the role of the consortium.’ (local infrastructure organisation)
  32. 32. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 32 Picking up a theme from the previous chapter, having a membership offer that is more sustainable for the local infrastructure organisation can be a mixed blessing for frontline organisations. Certain services may no longer be free, for instance. ‘…we have a broader more confident and more competent offering to the sector. The downside of that is a lot of it is paid for content. But when we get pots of money we try to make previously paid for contents free for some people.’ (local infrastructure organisation) ‘…it’s helped us to formalise some of that work in terms of understanding what a customer is looking for, what we can offer, costs that are related to that and so on, so more of a rounded relationship with them.’ (local infrastructure organisation) Part of this can include demonstrating the local infrastructure organisation’s impact. ‘I suppose we’ve always been busy doing things, not actually proving to anyone that we are making a difference and [the supplier] hammered that home: “so what difference have you made?” So, being a little bit more accountable. Probably that’s the main difference and trying to monitor and evaluate what we do much more than simply doing it’ (local infrastructure organisation) It should be noted that the loss of a free service for a local frontline organisation has to be offset against the other services they would lose if the local infrastructure organisation folded. Negotiating crossovers with other organisations’ work By expanding their operations, local infrastructure organisations often encounter challenges from local frontline organisations. One interviewee from a CVS spoke about how their board, predominantly made up of representatives of local organisations, were resistant to the CVS encroaching on activities that had traditionally been their domain. Yet other frontline organisations could be accepting of this type of change. ‘We were slightly anxious when we were looking at changing this culture and starting to both charge for existing services and moving to new markets that could potentially be seen as competitors…but actually the response we’ve had, touch wood, has been unanimously positive in that people aren’t surprised that we’re asking.’ (local infrastructure organisation) 4.3 Chapter summary The previous chapter had demonstrated that the change process could be slow for the local infrastructure organisations, so it might be expected that frontline organisations had not yet benefited from changes resulting from the Big Assist work; it was too early to observe any such outcomes to any significant degree. However, over half the interviewees had felt there had been some effect on local frontline organisations. This included the local infrastructure organisations, with more stable finances,
  33. 33. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 33 having more time to devote to them, as well as better communication and, in some cases, increased grants funds. Yet it was not all positive. Sometimes the local infrastructure organisations had to reassess what they could offer frontline organisations in a more challenging economic climate and either reduce services or start charging for them. However, this needs to be offset against what the frontline organisations would lose if the local infrastructure organisation closed altogether. There was also an issue that, by seeking out new markets, they could be seen by the frontline organisations as encroaching on their areas of work.
  34. 34. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 34 5. Local infrastructure organisations’ perspectives on the Big Assist This section draws together the views of the local Infrastructure organisations interviewed, in terms of their satisfaction with the suppliers, the Big Assist overall, and their view on what impact it has had. 5.1 Views on the legacy of the suppliers’ work The interviewees were asked their views on the implementation and impact of the suppliers work. On the whole, the local infrastructure organisations were positive about the work of suppliers and its potential legacy. They were asked how easy it was implement the advice. Just under two thirds found it easy or very easy. See Chart 7. Chart 7. How easy was it to implement the advice/training that you received from the suppliers? It is worth noting that a fifth of the organisations interviewed found the recommendations of the supplier not easy or not at all easy to implement. As reported in Chapter 2, there were a few organisations that found it difficult to engage with their supplier and their recommendations. In terms of how likely it was to make a long-term difference to the organisation, over two thirds reported that it was likely or very likely. However, it is worth noting that over one in five did not feel the work would make a long-term difference. See Chart 8. 2% 9% 27% 37% 25% Not at all easily Not easy Neither easily nor uneasily Easily Very easily
  35. 35. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 35 Chart 8. How likely is the support from the approved suppliers that you received to make a long term difference to your organisation? 5.2 Views on the Big Assist overall Overall, the interviewees were positive about the Big Assist. Forty-five out of 49 would recommend it to a friend or colleague, the other four would still do so provisionally. See Chart 9. Chart 9. Would you recommend the Big Assist to a friend or a colleague In terms of how important the support they received through the Big Assist is, nearly three quarters thought it relevant or very relevant. See Chart 10. 8% 3% 20% 35% 34% Not at all likely Not likely Neither likely nor unlikely Likely Very likely 45 4 Would recommend Big Assist Provisionally/maybe recommend Big Assist
  36. 36. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 36 Chart 10. How important has the support received through the BIG Assist programme been to your organisation? It was also seen as being worthwhile, with just under three quarters seeing it as mostly or very worthwhile. See Chart 11. Chart 11. Overall, how worthwhile has your experience been of the Big Assist programme? 5.3 Chapter summary The majority of interviewees were positive about the work of the suppliers and the impact on their organisation, and positive about the Big Assist overall. Over two thirds felt the work of the supplier would make a long-term difference to the organisation. 2% 11% 15% 39% 33% Totally irrelevant Somewhat irrelevant Neither relevant or irrelevant Relevant Very relevant 3% 1% 24% 28% 44% Not worthwhile Slightly worthwhile Somewhat worthwhile Mostly worthwhile Very worthwhile
  37. 37. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 37 There was a small but not insubstantial minority who had not found so much value in the work, and a small number finding little of value at all in the work of the supplier.
  38. 38. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 38 6. Conclusions The Big Assist aims to help local infrastructure organisations adjust to changing circumstances. The last few years have proved a challenging climate for these organisations, as the OPM Big Assist evaluation and other research7 has documented. There has been a seismic shift in the funding environment for local infrastructure organisations. There have been cuts both to local authority core grants and the end of various government programmes that had been a significant revenue stream. In light of the 2015 Comprehensive Spending Review, this climate does not look like altering and it appears there will be even less funding available from both local and central government in the coming years. It is in this environment that that the Big Assist has operated. Local infrastructure organisations are having to fast adapt to a radically changing funding landscape, which has affected both themselves and the organisations they support, and the Big Assist has aimed to support them in this process. This evaluation has observed considerable value of the Big Assist in helping those local infrastructure organisations we spoke to adjust to this new environment. The majority of the organisations were satisfied with their experience of the supplier and the Big Assist overall. They also outlined important changes to their organisation in the last year and Big Assist’s role in this. Facilitating reflection and planning Where it was most successful among the organisations interviewed, the Big Assist had provided expert guidance to an organisation prepared to embark on a change journey. The most highly valued suppliers brought specific, relevant expertise to help the organisation focus on the difficulties it faced and to develop solutions to those difficulties. They helped to upskill the staff and trustees, and increase their knowledge in pertinent areas. The suppliers also brought an outside perspective and helped act as the catalyst for change. This was particularly valued. Tangible changes emerging on the road to sustainability The organisations had taken steps to achieving sustainability. The majority of organisations had undergone change in the last year since engaging with the Big Assist. New strategies and services had been devised and were beginning to come to fruition. There were cases where this change was relatively minor, others where the organisation had been substantially transformed or even merged with another organisation. The majority of interviewees credited the Big Assist with playing a role in this change, sometimes a significant one. Over two thirds felt that the work of the supplier had made a long-term difference to the organisation. Furthermore, although much of the work conducted via Big Assist vouchers was relatively recent, there was evidence that, in over half the organisations, the changes were beginning to filter through to frontline organisations. However, there could be unsettling changes for 7 See for example: Curtis, A. (2015) Volunteering in Downturn, http://www.ivr.org.uk/ivr-news/188- volunteering-in-the-downturn-research-report-launched.
  39. 39. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 39 frontline organisations in the short term, with local infrastructure organisations having to cease unsustainable services to them or starting to charge. Therefore, while it was too early for most to speak about the long-term with confidence, there was optimism for the next few years and clarity about what they needed to do in this period. Barriers to change There was not blanket success or satisfaction among the participant organisations. There were cases where it was difficult to find a suitable supplier, sometimes with vouchers expiring without being used. Others had suppliers who did not demonstrate a sufficient understanding of the organisation or the environment it operates in, and did not produce work that was useful for the organisation. However, the barriers could also lie within the organisation itself. Not all of the organisations were ready or able to change. There could be internal resistance to change or a lack of recognition of the shifting climate and the urgent need to adapt to this altered funding landscape, with sections of staff or trustees not engaging in work around change. The Big Assist model We have observed that the Big Assist model can produce tangible outcomes, both for the infrastructure organsiations themselves and the local organisations they work with. However, these outcomes are contingent on finding an appropriate supplier, as well as a willingness to participate and the requisite ability to act on the recommendations in the organisation itself. Yet with the right supplier, and sufficient buy-in from their own organisation, varying types of meaningful change have been achieved.
  40. 40. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 40 Appendix 1 – Case studies Case study 1 – Upskilling a community foundation Case study 2 – Reviewing an advice partnership’s services Case study 3 – A CVS becoming more entrepreneurial
  41. 41. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 41 Case study 1 – Upskilling a community foundation This community foundation was founded in 2001. It describes its mission as ‘strengthening local communities and tackling issues of disadvantage and exclusion’. This is achieved by building permanent endowments and the allocation of grants to local organisations. Since 2008 they have delivered more than £4million in grants to more than 3000 organisations. It has built some of its endowment funds through government programmes in the late 2000s/early 2010s. Why they engaged with the Big Assist In their self-assessment the organisation recognised various challenges. These were:  an increased demand for grants from local organisations due to a decline in government funding  the need for new revenue sources for the community foundation itself after grant distribution programmes ended  the need to attract donors to fund administration costs and overheads, which can be especially difficult as they often prefer to support projects with more obvious and immediate impact Ultimately they wanted to become more sustainable and less dependent on fluctuating funding coming through government programmes. Big Assist application In contrast to other funding they had applied for in the past, they found the application for the Big Assist relatively straightforward. ‘…this process has been really easy. The turnaround from when we did the interview, because we had the phone interview as well as the assessments and everything that had to be done, the turnaround between actually finding out we’d been successful and in receiving the voucher was very quick as well and that surprised me quite a lot as well.’ The suggested outcomes of the Big Assist voucher were:  The staff and trustees have improved skills in the area of fund development resulting in the endowment increasing to target levels.  The overall income of the organisation will grow to target levels over the next 3 years. The Big Assist vouchers They were awarded a Big Assist voucher for £6000 in the area of financial sustainability. The supplier they chose has conducted 40 projects with the Big Assist so far and specialise in working with community foundations.
  42. 42. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 42 The main objective of the training was to improve their financial sustainability by attracting new private philanthropists and being less dependent on managing government programmes. ‘In my opinion, we were too dependent on flow-through programmes to guarantee our own sustainability. So it was about moving us into a position where could generate our own income without drastically changing what we do.’ They had already provided some training and support to their trustees and staff concerning fund development, managing cash and investments and how to attract high net worth donors. They wanted to have more comprehensive training in this area through the Big Assist voucher. How they set out to achieve the outcomes The Big Assist vouchers were used for training for key staff and board members. The activities were three training days, with some follow-up support. The first session was a general overview, the second and third focused more on the local context. The training explored trust transfers, legacies and fund development, specifically looking at high worth individuals. The courses were tailored to the organisation, providing specific information based on their needs and the operating environment. The local dimension of the training was important. They had found in the past that, whilst community foundations often share good practice and learning, this had not always easy to apply to their locality. The training also helped them build on previous their own learning. ‘It was giving the staff the extra skills they needed to be able to take it to the next level. So they have the basics, this was the enhancements that would allow us to do more and be more successful.’ What they have achieved In the period since receiving the vouchers the organisation have seen several outcomes  Increased confidence with potential donors The staff had gained confidence and were more proactive about approaching potential donors, and in particular high worth donors. It was not just about approaching them, it was the way in which they approached them. ‘It’s not a power thing where we are going in and saying “you can’t do it without us”. But we are far more confident about going in and saying “If you want to do this effectively you need to work with an organisation like us because this is what we have going for us”. And this has made a big difference.’ This had led to funding coming in that would not have done so otherwise. ‘In all fairness it has come from sources where we wouldn’t have approached them before.’
  43. 43. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 43  Increased income In total, since the training funded by the Big Assist, they have brought in an additional £2 million, including a new endowment fund worth £1.5 million. Of this new funding, around £100,000 came from existing sources, the rest came from new ones. They will be able to distribute more grants to frontline organisations.  Gaining more influence with the local authority They have tried to drive local agendas more, rather than just being a ‘passive participant’. Previously, for example, they would be invited to the launch of a initiative, now they are invited to participate in the process earlier. Although they are not the only people being consulted, they felt they had more influence. ‘It means that we have a seat at the table where we actually steer things opposed to just following after… And also to involve the communities far more. Some local authorities would come up with an idea and say “well this is what’s needed”. No one had actually thought about asking people whether they would engage or if that was something they wanted to do. So that is something else we have bought to the table’.  Increase in staffing levels They have increased the number of staff from three and a half full-time equivalents to six. Furthermore, they have brought finance in-house.  Moved to larger premises Due to the increase in the number of staff they have moved to new, larger, premises. The new location is more visible. The previous premises were free, whilst they have the rent funded in their new premises for a year only. Big Assist’s role in their journey The Chief Executive attributed much of the change to the training they received through the Big Assist: ‘I’d put most of the [changes] down to the BIG Assist. I can’t honestly say all, but most of them.’ Whilst the training had the desired effect, it was the speed with which many outcomes had been achieved surprised the Chief Executive. What the supplier also added was access to a way of working and to certain documents and data. The supplier had a good relationship with national charities, who did not always respond to local charities if they were inundated with requests. So being provided with the data by the supplier was particularly valuable. The suppliers also provided contacts: ‘It is also the networks the trainers and delivery agents actually have which they have allowed us to access as well.’
  44. 44. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 44 The organisation’s desire to change and supplier’s intervention were both important in achieving outcomes. They had not planned to be in the position they are now for another three or four years. ‘It is something that is entirely sustainable and that is a direct result of the Big Assist. If we hadn’t have had that training there is no way we would be in the position that we’re in now, at this time.’ The supplier felt that, like any training, organisations get what they put in. This organisation had the buy in at the top, including the board and the Big Assist help speed up the change: ‘For most of the organisations we have worked with, the Big Assist has been a factor, when you reach up to a certain level, this little bit of support helps you accelerate in your development.’ (Supplier) They have now been awarded a second voucher for supporting and developing people and organisational culture, focusing on using a particular IT system. This will build on the previous work by improving their systems, leaving more time for ‘softer’ activities, such as approaching donors.
  45. 45. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 45 Case study 2 – Reviewing an advice partnership’s services About the organisation This network is a partnership of over 200 organisations who either offer advice or have an interest in the provision of quality legal advice to people in need, those facing problems and disadvantage in area in the east of England. Its vision is that people in the locality will fully understand their legal rights and responsibilities to help them resolve their problems and overcome disadvantage. They work towards their vision by offering co-ordination and support that enables organisations in the area to work together and to work together better so as to improve people’s access to the quality advice services they need. They focus on joint working; improving access to services; and improving the quality of services. It started life as a network created under the umbrella of a small group of Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABx) and local councils. These CABx had come together because they felt there would be gains for their local communities if they could work more closely with each other and with others organisations in the community. Initially hosted by a CAB, the partnership was awarded five years funding from the Big Lottery Fund’s Advice Plus Programme in 2009. From a small group of organisations loosely connected, by the time it sought support from Big Assist in 2014, the network had grown into an independent company and registered charity, offering free membership to organisations with an interest in advice provision, and with over 200 organisational members working across five districts. With a small staff team of three it offers a range of services including  an online referral system which aids smooth referrals to the most appropriate advice provider and by 2015 was being shared by 130 orgs;  support for organisations on quality issues – including support to help them achieve an advice quality mark  social policy work - drawing together and using information from across the network to identify common problems and to help plan joined-up responses to these problems. The drivers of change In its first five years of operation, the network found a growing interest in and need for the kind of co- ordination and support role it was offering. Advice providers locally faced a growth in demand for their service at the same time as cuts in legal aid and in many funding streams that would formerly have supported the work of advice providers took effect. Nationally the CAB, one of the largest providers in the local area, also sent through its own period of restructuring and change. All these factors drove an interest in trying to develop a more efficient and co-ordinated approach across providers to make the best use of resources across organisations for the benefit of local communities. Having started life with one major grant funder, the network had sustainability high on its agenda – increasingly seeing a longer term need for the service that it realised could not be sustained with a single funding stream. “We were thinking ahead but we knew it would be challenging. It’s always hard to find second tier funding. It’s never popular but now it feels maybe less so than ever.” [Director]
  46. 46. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 46 Between 2012-13, midway through their lottery grant, their Board of Trustees produced a sustainability strategy. This strategy and a two year business plan primarily focused on diversifying funding, with strong emphasis on the development of chargeable consultancy services so that the network could build a trading offer. As their Director observes, perhaps because of how they started out and them being a relatively new organisation, it was different to some local infrastructure organisations in that it had always had a core of chargeable services and seen this as part of their business model so it had always had to start from thinking both what do people need AND what would people pay for. “We were offering consultancy services and at that time there weren’t any other CVS type organisations in our area doing this. I think it’s because we were developing in the market so we needed to be clear we were offering something organisations want, we have to cause them to say “actually this is something we want”. There is free support out there but it doesn’t always meet organisations’ needs and I think a number of organisations do now think “it might be better for us to pay to get what we want rather than take up a free service that perhaps isn’t quite so good”. Why they engaged with Big Assist The network’s Director heard of Big Assist some time before the programme even got off the ground, having read about the Big Lottery Fund’s new approach in a discussion paper. His initial thinking was that they could register as a provider as they were already offering a small amount of paid-for consultancy, but then he realised that the network might benefit from receiving support rather than giving it and so completed the online diagnostic. “The initial self-assessment and then a discussion on the phone were fine but we were pretty clear what we wanted and that didn’t really change – we wanted support developing and marketing our consultancy service so that we could expand this and generate more income ourselves.” [Director] The idea of seeking support with developing the consultancy offer and charged-for services arose from some earlier surveying of the partners which highlighted consultancy support around fundraising and governance as two potential ‘growth’ areas. The service had started on a small scale but there was a sense that this could be grown into a more robust service and income stream. Big Assist was seen as a way of bringing in outside expertise and an independent perspective in two areas where the network’s team felt they lacked the knowledge in-house - trading and charged-for services and particularly how to approach developing a pricing strategy; and marketing and communications - how best to raise the partnership’s profile as a provider of consultancy services. The Director hoped that working with a Big Assist consultant would also help build skills and expertise in the team around marketing and pricing and costing for the longer-term. How they engaged with Big Assist The network received two vouchers worth £2,500 each, and used these to enlist the support of the same consultant for both advice on business models and charging for services, and on marketing.
  47. 47. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 47 Once a consultant was identified and brought on board she worked with the team to look at charging and models. Her role was quite practical and involved her generating and drawing together ideas and then making recommendations on ways forward for the network. This work on models and charging was more helpful in the long run than the work done on the second topic – marketing and communications – though more for reasons of timing and the impact of external factors than anything about the consultancy itself which the Director reported went well and generated some useful thinking and planning. The consultant helped the team look at the network’s identity, how to reach a clearer sense of identity, reviewing its logo (eg, would the name and logo preclude the network considering moving beyond a county-wide remit in the future?), and how to improve the description of what the network does. A communications plan was developed but in the end this was not used because a large contract opportunity came in to work with partners, and winning this meant that the need for marketing consultancy was no longer as pressing and took a back seat. Big Assist making a difference Reflecting back, the organisation has identified some valuable changes they were able to make as a direct result of the support they received. These include:  Greater awareness of the organisation’s strengths and weaknesses. Reflecting on the process of getting involved, the Director felt the initial engagement process was very useful. The diagnostic process, self-assessment and interview all helped the metwork reflect on its work in a holistic way and the feedback they received was useful for appraising and understanding their strengths, weaknesses and priorities. “something that we found very useful was the initial diagnostic process of going through and saying where our strengths were and where our weaknesses were. And just doing that itself was useful to do and getting the feedback from NCVO as well I think was helpful. And we had a discussion with one of your colleagues as part of that and we found that was worth it, even if we hadn’t got any vouchers, that would have been worth it on its own.  A more realistic approach to pricing and a more profitable pricing structure for consultancy services. As a result of advice from the consultant, they increased their prices which has meant that the work makes a more realistic and appropriate contribution to the overheads of the organisation. In some ways this came about just as a result of having a consultant, taking out the time to reflect, and the consultant asking the right questions – in this instance about the importance of charging not just at cost but taking into account overheads and admin in relation to each hour of consultancy support given. This led to an increase in costs and charges which has so far had no negative effect on business and in fact the model has not only helped their consultancy arm, but also the support they are able to offer their wider partnership of members “The consultant we ended up with was very good in helping us think through those things and particularly looking at pricing structures and things like that. And so, we found that very useful and over the past year in particular consultancy work has increased a lot. … then interestingly when our partner organisations were bidding to the county council, they costed their work using our new model so it has had a wider usefulness than just with us.”  Ideas and groundwork for future marketing. At the time of applying for support the network was already exploring other funding and sustainability options in line with its business plan. The
  48. 48. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 48 opportunity arose at this time to co-ordinate bids in the local area to the Advice Services Transition Fund. Being successful with this meant that the network secured further funding and marketing plans for consultancy took a back seat. Though this meant no significant shift in the way the network marketed its services, the Director felt it was still very helpful in terms of their thinking and ideas for the future - “we certainly had a big think about marketing”. “We didn’t really progress our marketing plans very much because we got a big lump contract which means that we haven’t had to market our services individually as it were or to organisations in the area because that’s done under a larger contract. But certainly we had a sister brand developed and some ideas about marketing services and they’re on the back-burner and can be used in the future.” Reflecting on the Big Assist experience Though finding both the diagnostic and aspects of their consultancy support very helpful, they did find it challenging trying to find right consultant. Though happy in the end with the consultant they identified, she travelled from a different part of the country to support the team as there was no-one suitable locally. It was not an easy process to locate someone suitable as their Director reports: “One of the difficulties we had was about finding the right … consultant because I think on the NCVO website, there’s this big splurge of consultants and it took us quite a long time to wade through those to find the right ones, or what we thought were the right ones. But then the process we went through of the setting of specification and sending that out to a certain number of consultants, the responses we got back were very poor, … they just didn’t address the specification at all. And it was interesting that the consultant we ended up using is someone that we’d used a few years ago on a different issue and we hadn’t really thought that she would be appropriate for the specification that we wanted this time around, but she gave the best response possibly because she knew the organisation, possibly because she put effort into it, which the others didn’t really do I thought. So that was very disappointing.” What next Since receiving the support from Big Assist the landscape for advice providers generally has continued to prove challenging with funding for advice less high on funders’ agenda and many advice providers finding it difficult to survive despite high levels of need for their services. The network has considered its options and the landscape for advice providers in the longer-term, and where it might have most impact, and as a result is now considering a merger with two other local generic infrastructure organisations. The network sees an advantage of them being able to run the services that are most needed (eg developing their shared referral system so that others including community organisations could benefit from it), whilst not having to run their own back office and all the associated costs of running a small organisation. As the Director sees it, the move makes sense as the best way to sustain and even grow important support and co-ordination for advice services in a more cost-effective way. “The way things are going we may reach a point where advice on its own may simply not be so fundable any more so looking at it in a more holistic way and in
  49. 49. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 49 community settings is a different way of securing the future of something that’s still going to be really needed.”
  50. 50. NCVO/IVR report for BIG Assist team 50 Case study 3 – A CVS becoming more entrepreneurial About the organisation This Council for Voluntary Service (CVS) is a large inner-city organisation with a track record of more than 85 years delivering high quality support services for community groups and voluntary organisations. These have broadly centred on practical support and advice; opportunities to network; advocacy for and representation of the sector at a strategic level in the local area; and research and policy work on issues affecting the sector. Like many other CVS’ around the country, their model for delivering services had long been one of a central core offering support services, complemented by various projects, often time-limited and developed in response to needs and opportunities arising locally and funded by either grants or contracts. By 2013 the organisation had reached the position of having four ‘arms’ of service delivery: core support services; an advocacy centre; the local Healthwatch; and a charities accountancy service which was set up as a subsidiary trading company, feeding profits back in to the organisation to support its charitable activities The drivers of change Despite having a good track record of winning grants and contracts over the years and having diversified its income base, the CVS was experiencing financial pressures by 2012 cuts were impacting on its core funding and there was a concern within the organisation that too much dependence on grants would be problematic as cuts were set to continue in the future. With the added driver of a pension deficit that the organisation was keen to reduce year on year, the organisation felt significant change was needed to safeguard the future of its core services for the sector in the longer term. Largely in response to these funding challenges, a restructure took place in 2012-13 with some cuts in staffing as a result. The new CEO at that time was clear that this restructuring would need to be part of a longer journey of change, but also found herself in a position where this change was difficult to progress at the pace that was really needed. She recalls: “Funding was being decimated really, particularly for infrastructure organisations at the same time as demand for services was increasing. Having had to restructure and reduce staffing levels, it leaves you with a kind of triple whammy where you know you have to change to survive but that’s precisely at the point when you have less resources to think about and manage that change.” Why they engaged with Big Assist For the CVS Big Assist was timely. The organisation had settled down after its first structural change and was clear that the way forward was to continue to embed a flatter, less hierarchical group structure where people would be able to work within their groups with more freedom, but also work horizontally where this would be beneficial. They had recruited a new business manager with a remit to look at services and products and the development of new income streams and new markets. The

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