By Patrick Nash
A new £6m programme to strengthen the organisations that underpin the voluntary sector’s work has been announced for 2013. So what is the fund all about, and how can it help you?
BIG Assist is a new funding programme aimed at strengthening infrastructure organisations, financed by the BIG Lottery Foundation.
An infrastructure organisation exists to support voluntary, community or social enterprise sector organisations achieve their aims. They seek to identify and fill the gaps in existing provision, by monitoring the services provided by the third sector in its local area. They aim to raise standards by providing information, advice and support to local groups and organisations and enable communication and collaboration by encouraging them to share resources and expertise.
One example of a successful infrastructure organisation is Cardiff Third Sector Council, whose key role is to provide advice and information to local third sector organisations on any issues that may affect them.
The council helps voluntary and charitable organisations in the local area in as many aspects as possible. It provides advice and support when starting a new charity or community group; training to boost the skills and expertise of volunteers; and it helps organisations gain access to funding through alternative means to traditional fundraising such as grants, subsidies and loans.
It is clear to see how strengthening infrastructure support for the third sector is vital to ensuring that voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations can achieve their aims.
The BIG Assist fund is awarded through vouchers valued up to £7000. An estimated 1,400 infrastructure organisations in England will be eligible to apply for financial assistance for training, consultancy and other development support.
BIG Assist’s Marketplace – their official online library of suppliers - boasts over 100 philanthropic organisations, including Connect Assist, in which charities can spend their vouchers. The fund focuses on five main aspects of an organisation:
- Strategy, planning and managing change
- Financial sustainability
- Innovation, new products and ways of working
- Marketing and building strategic relationships
- Supporting and developing people and organisational culture
BIG Assist also offers other opportunities for third sector organisations in addition to funding, such the ConnectSpace – offering peer-to-peer support in the form of the chance to join in with sponsored visits, mentoring and BIG Assist events.
This is an exciting possibility for the future of smaller, localised charities, and can certainly aid in strengthening their presence in their communities over time.
At Connect Assist, we have helped a number of public sector organisations and infrastructure charities improve their services. For instance, the National Council for Volunteering Organisations (NCVO) – the largest umbrella body for the voluntary and community sector in England – was faced with large funding cuts, but was still looking to extend its contact centre opening hours.
We provided the ideal solution, by allowing them to outsource their existing contact centre support to us. We also provided a new digital service delivery method, encouraging contact through their website, with online self-service information and a live chat facility.
This has resulted in increased channels of service and a higher number of visits to the NCVO website, keeping opening hours up and driving operating costs down.
Connect Assist is proud to be listed as an approved BIG Assist supplier of services, and with access to this funding we can help many more charities and voluntary sector organisations help improve their support services to the people who need them most.