Sharing learning: leadership in the voluntary and community sector

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The issue

The voluntary and community sector (VCS) plays a vital role in the health and care system, with more than 36,000 VCS organisations providing health and care services throughout the UK.

Historically very little time or funding has been devoted to leadership development in the VCS sector. Many of its leaders say they feel isolated in their role and unable to access leadership development opportunities. With the VCS under pressure from cuts in funding and facing significant challenges, national reviews have emphasised the importance of building leadership capability in the sector.

What did we do?

The King’s Fund has a long track record of supporting leadership development for VCS leaders. For 20 years, we have run the GSK IMPACT Awards in partnership with, and funded by, GSK. The Awards provide funding and leadership development for charities doing ground-breaking work to improve people’s health. Since 2012, we have hosted a leadership network for award winners, involving more than 70 VCS organisations. The network enables members to explore the challenges they are facing, share their experiences and provide peer support.

In 2016, we extended the reach of this work by piloting the Cascading Leadership programme in partnership with GSK and Comic Relief; this enabled high-performing GSK IMPACT Award winners to share their learning and skills with other charities working in health and social care. Following a positive external evaluation, we rolled the programme out in 2017 with £250,000 worth of support from Comic Relief and the Big Lottery Fund. There were 80 places available on the free-to-attend programme, with participants benefiting from leadership development and support worth up to an estimated £3,000. 

What was the impact?

Over the past 20 years, 197 charities have won a GSK IMPACT Award, benefiting from funding, national recognition and leadership development. For many winners, while the money is welcome, it is the access to the leadership support and the Network that is most valued. This has been a catalyst for many of the charities to grow and develop their services.

Some people apply for a GSK IMPACT Award to get access to the Network and that gives you an indication just how rare it is to get this quality of training. The Network really makes the difference in keeping and growing the standards we achieved to gain an Award, especially when training is so often the first thing to go when organisations have difficult funding decisions to make.
Network member

The Cascading Leadership programme will extend this impact to even more charities. The external evaluation of the pilot concluded: ‘Without exception, [the 30 charity participants] view Cascading Leadership as a success in terms of the benefits they have gained both individually and organisationally.’ When we opened the programme for applications to the 80 initial places, we had more than 1,000 expressions of interest, underlining the need for this kind of support. We are evaluating the impact of the current programme and will use this to further develop the support that the Fund provides for VCS leaders.