‘Reimagining leadership: the potential of place-based and collective leadership in the voluntary sector’

James Rees and Carol Jacklin-Jarvis

Event report: Learning from Failure – Airing our Dirty Laundry

Failure is an inevitable aspect of human experience, but in a social environment that demands success, it tends to be swept under the carpet and forgotten, along with the opportunity to learn from our mistakes.  Is it possible to create a space where we can openly share stories of our failures and what we have learned from them?

The workshop “Learning from Failure – Airing our Dirty Laundry”, organised by six members of the GMCVO-hosted Greater Manchester Third Sector Research Network[1] and funded by the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN), aimed at creating exactly such a space – a protective, trustful and safe environment where experiences and knowledge about learning from failure could be exchanged. We wanted to avoid shaming, blaming and re-experiencing negative emotions from the past and add a playful twist to it. The latter was reflected in the decoration of the venue. Laundry lines with tiny wooden pegs stretched across the room. Participants jotted down their notes and ideas during the different activities of the workshop on little t-shirt-shaped sticky notes that came in many different colours and were hung on the lines. Thus decorated it felt natural and safe to air one’s dirty laundry!



The day was divided into different activities. These addressed various aspects of the topic, required different levels of attention and activity, and appealed to different senses in the audience.

At the beginning of the day, six volunteer speakers from diverse professional and ethnic backgrounds presented personal 5-minute stories about failure when working in the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VSCE) sector. The stories were so captivating you could have heard a pin drop. The stories were very straightforward and inspiring. One of the speakers even decided to adapt their story to be more candid than planned, and all around the room, lively conversations about failure followed. The participants were asked to note their ideas and impressions about the talks on the little t-shirts and hang them on the lines — which was fun and a little bit silly and lightened everyone’s mood.

A panel workshop followed with four experts. Two presented learning from failure from a theoretical perspective, and the other two from the funders’ point of view. The former provided a framing of the topic of the day in regards to the definition of failure and solutions offered by research. The latter discussed – in different ways – how funders would wish to be involved and consulted when a funded project is taking an unforeseen direction. The Q&A session that followed was very lively. The group discussed the different qualities and degrees of failure, the differentiation of well-intentioned failure and dishonesty from the point of view of the funders, trust and responsibility, shaming and blaming. We have to consider that the impacts of failure can be devastating and as such, learning from failure needs to be taken seriously if we are to avoid future harm. After lunch, John Hannen, CEO of GMCVO, gave practical examples of how his organisation dealt with the phenomenon of failure in the Ambition for Aging programme through a test and learn approach and noted that learning from failure requires resources and capacity. This included the challenge of encouraging openness about failures in a competitive funding context, and the differential impact of failure on organisations and communities, in which those with fewest resources can least afford to fail.



To conclude the day and to help participants digest what they learned and discussed, attendees were asked to interview each other. They were then asked to jot their thoughts about what they learned and how they were going to apply that knowledge on some more of the little t-shirts. In this way everyone was nudged to think more deeply about what had been debated and what that could mean for oneself.

Through the day, passive and active elements alternated and time went by very quickly.  Attendance was good, despite the rail strike, and people participated equally in thought-provoking conversations, which prompted valuable reflective learning from our failures.

Most importantly, the workshop achieved what it set out to do and created an atmosphere that encouraged free discussion about one of the most difficult aspects of VCSE work. The natural next step might be to continue with another event, this time focussing on putting the learning from failure into practice.

For more information about the Greater Manchester Third Sector Studies Network, please visit:

For more information about the event and for a more detailed version of this blog, please go to:


[1] Simon Armour, Manchester Metropolitan University; Melvin Bradley, Mental Health Independent Support; Katja Levy, Manchester China Institute; Susanne Martikke, GMCVO;

Lucy North, GMCVO; Alexander Tan, AT Research; Hayley Trowbridge, People’s Voice Media


Voluntary sector data gap to be plugged by new national observatory

By Daniel King

Data poverty has been widely identified as a core weakness for the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector. Whilst there is good work going on, ultimately data is disjointed, fragmented and sporadic. This has key implications, where it is argued that “the low quality of data on the sector is hampering leaders when they ask for policy changes that will benefit social sector organisations” (Ainsworth, 2021). As a recent report by ProBono Economics puts it, in “contrast to the private sector” the sector struggles to produce “recognised, reliable, and timely data”, making it “difficult for government to develop long-term strategies that enable the sector to maximise its potential” (Kenley and Wilding 2021:1-2). A key consequence of this is the sector is poorly understood.

To overcome these problems, there exist a number of new geographically-limited (i.e. regional) or sector-specific (i.e. on specific topics) initiatives which relate to the gathering and analysis of voluntary, community and social enterprise activity. These illustrate the appetite for an improved evidence base to inform sector and organisational policy. The Charity Commission have launched consultations on changes to the annual return and adopted changes to how we describe what charities do, in-depth description of income sources, geographical operational areas and staffing. In the new strategy of 360Giving is highlighted that “now is the time for a permanent transformation in data culture and practice” of the VCSE sector. Moving forward, we would like to build a collaborative approach, and provide a one-stop source of interactive intelligence for policy-makers, infrastructure and frontline organisations, and researchers in the VCSE Sector at a national level.

Launching the National VCSE Data and Insights Observatory

The data gap in the sector is to be plugged by a new national observatory to better understand the VCSE sector’s strengths and weaknesses and articulate its needs. The National VCSE Data and Insights Observatory, supported by Nottingham Trent University and led by Prof Daniel King, will work with organisations across the UK to capture insights on the management, delivery, and outcomes of VCSE sector.

The Observatory will serve three central purposes. First to create an agreed set of definitions and principles for what constitutes good sector health. The second, based on these definitions, is to generate the definitive data source, with associated analytical capability, on sector health, demand, and supply, safeguarding and risk, and emerging trends that would be used by policy-makers, infrastructure organisations and practitioners to inform decision-making. Third through this data, it would provide opportunities for insights on the management, delivery, and outcomes of VCSE sector and its organisations. Thus, the Observatory would act as a hub between key stakeholders in the sector and academics across the university, to help identify, reconceptualise, and solve problems within the VCSE sector.

Let’s work collaboratively!

The sector has welcomed the news of the Observatory, expressing its support and desire to work as a collective. The Observatory already received support from VCSE key players. Matt Whittaker, CEO of Pro Bono Economics and member of the Law Family Commission on Civil Society welcomed this initiative as “Civil society’s worth has been clear for all to see over the course of the pandemic…. Yet the official value we ascribe to the people and organisations operating in the social sector falls far short of their worth. This matters because by undervaluing the contribution of civil society, government and others risk overlooking it from a policy perspective”. From Wales, Anna Nicholl, director of Strategy & Sector Development at WCVA observed “robust data is increasingly important to guide effective policy and practice. The lack of reliable data on the sector is particularly acute in Wales as the sample sizes are too small. We welcome this opportunity to address data gaps for the sector, and particularly the promise of more comparable date across different parts of the UK”. Patricia Armstrong OBE, CEO of ACOSVO, which supports Scotland’s voluntary sector leaders, said: “I’m delighted to hear about the exciting opportunities the observatory will bring to improving access to evidence and data for our sector across the UK. We’ve all been working hard at gathering this data, but to have a coalescing drive to reduce duplication and build on collaborative working will make a difference both to the sector that uses it and to the people and communities that will benefit from the outputs”. The Observatory would act as a hub between key stakeholders in the sector and academics across universities, to help identify, reconceptualise, and solve problems within the VCSE sector.

How can we make a difference?


We know that good data matters. It shapes how we think about and see the world. It informs decision-making and the visibility of key social issues. The Observatory will host online interactive dashboards, maps and qualitative information about sector health, emerging trends, demand and capacity – presenting detailed and valuable information to both policymakers and practitioners.

What else you would like to see? Do you want to work with us to improve data insights? Please contact us and find out more!

Steering Group statement on equality, diversity and inclusion.

VSSN Steering Group statement on equality, diversity and inclusion in our work and voluntary sector research

In recent years there has been an increased focus on failures within the voluntary sector to provide a space that is equally accessible for all, free of discrimination, and inclusive of people from different backgrounds. Several research reports into racism in the sector, sexual harassment and gender inequality, barriers to people with disabilities, and the class-based exclusion that takes place, among other issues, have come to the fore. Recent disclosures from leading charities about bullying, racism, and discrimination that have taken place within their organisations show that the sector is frequently not living up to its internal and external expectation as the part of society that should be working to challenge such behaviours.

Voluntary sector research is not immune from these problems. While a great deal of research takes place to illustrate discrimination and exclusion within charities and community organisations, volunteering, charitable giving, and leadership, the make-up of the research environment is not a diverse space. The Voluntary Sector Studies Network exists as a membership body for people in the UK and around the world interested in researching all aspects of voluntary action – running an annual conference and day seminars, publishing an academic journal and blogs, offering grants to fund small research projects, and providing networking opportunities and discussion spaces around related issues.

As the elected Steering Group of the VSSN, we wanted to acknowledge that there is a mismatch between what the wider voluntary sector research community does and who we see at our events and the makeup of our membership. Partly this is because of wider structural inequalities within the field of academia, as university researchers make up a lot of our members and attendees. But we realise there may be many individuals and organisations (especially researchers and practitioners of colour, researchers and practitioners with disabilities, those from the LGBTQ+ community, people from working class backgrounds, and those whose identity intersects across these identifiers, and others) who may not feel that VSSN is a space for them.

We understand that our organisational culture could be off-putting to those not already embedded in it. And we do not always get it right – for example, our annual conference in September 2021 ran over the dates of Rosh Hashanah, thereby excluding members of the Jewish community. This was a poor mistake on our behalf, and we have embedded new processes around the planning of our events to make sure this does not happen again. We will work to ensure that our events are as accessible as possible, and barriers to our community are reduced. We will work to have more direct engagement with people who are not regular attendees of VSSN events, and to support the many variants of voluntary sector research that take place, especially in the UK, where most of our members are from, and our work is located.

Over the coming months, VSSN will be working to implement new ideas as to how to better support and be more inclusive of a wider, more diverse community of researchers, and increase the diversity of our Steering Group. These include, but are not limited to:

– launching an equality and diversity policy which we will hold our actions to, and it will be an expected commitment for those standing for election to the Steering Group to uphold the policy;
– annual monitoring and reviewing of our EDI policies and actions;
– making sure more of our events focus on EDI issues within the sector;
– proactive communications to spread the word of what VSSN does to more individuals and research actors;
– encouraging EDI-focused applications for our annual Development Opportunity Grants funding;
– making our Annual Conference more affordable.

We are a volunteer-run organisation, relying on the time of the Steering Group and associates, and therefore we will not always get it right or be able to do everything as quickly as we would wish. But our core charitable objective is the promotion of public education about the voluntary sector, and we are not doing that if we only speak to certain people and issues.
If you have any questions about this, or would like to discuss it further, please let us know:

Our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy can be found here

Learning experiences of doing small grant events during Covid, by Philippa Davies

I am a PhD researcher at Cardiff University and WISERD and I was lucky to receive a VSSN development grant in 2020. I applied for the grant to disseminate the findings of my study to the policy sector which was the focus of my study; women leaders’ experience in Welsh sport. My results included women sport leaders’ experience and the factors which advantage or disadvantage them in their roles. The grant was originally going to fund some in-person sessions with sport leaders so I could feedback and discuss the results of my research. I wanted to hold in-person sessions so that leaders could attend, network and have the opportunity to discuss the results directly with me. In addition, one of the results of my research was the north/south divide in Wales. Leadership meetings tend to be south Wales focused and not held in north Wales. Therefore, I had planned to hold one session in south Wales and a further session in north Wales.


However, due to Covid, in-person meetings were cancelled and as such I had to change plans. With the help of the VSSN team, I re-designed the session into one online presentation with a feedback and question session for sport leaders. This was followed by a bilingual pdf of the results. I recorded the online presentation and made it available to watch on YouTube. Although I was disappointed to not be able to hold the in-person sessions, I think the online session was still useful. Leaders could attend the live online session regardless of geography and all be in the same session together and they were able to watch the recording of the session at a time of their choosing. The presentation was well received, and I got good feedback on the report. As a result of these activities I received in an invitation to join the Observatory for Sport in Scotland as a Research Associate. I was also invited to be interviewed live on the Gareth Lewis ‘Drive’ show on BBC Wales radio, which was a nerve-wracking but exciting experience. The whole experience of re-structuring my proposed activities to the Covid environment was a great learning experience and provided me with a great opportunity to think about how to include as many people as possible.

Blog: Tot Fosters blog on small charities using video

Telling stories about impact, talking to supporters, reaching out, collaborating with service users….video can do so much for small charities. And in these strange times anything that can help with online communications has got to be good. But there’s a problem – not many small charities are making the most of video. It’s seen as expensive, time-consuming, and technically tricky to make. But it doesn’t need to be.


I worked for many years mentoring and producing videos with charities. I saw a lack of video training that really takes on board working with little time and money, in challenging situations with vulnerable people. So, to cut a long story short, I’m now at the end of a PhD researching and designing a production process to help charities start making their own low or no-budget videos. This is where the VSSN development grant comes in. My research has a very practical application which isn’t going to be realised by my thesis sitting on the shelf. So, with the help of VSSN, in October 2020 I held a day-long online workshop for nine charity staff. They came from organisations working with all sorts of people from refugees to children with learning difficulties. We had fun watching videos, brainstorming in break-out rooms, filming dogs and pianos and tinned soup on our phones. That was followed up by one-to-one mentoring sessions for whoever wanted it, on films they’ve got in mind. Three people went on to make brilliant films in their organisations straight after. You can see one of them at


But that wasn’t the only good thing to come out of the grant. The plan was always to use this session as a learning opportunity to inform the writing of an online course. The brilliant Sorrel Parsons from Superhighways (who had hosted the workshop and recruited participants) got everyone to fill in detailed evaluations. That feedback helped me better understand changes that needed to be made. Since I applied for the development grant the Open University funded me to write a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) called ‘Low-budget video production – visual communication for small charities’.  It’s now finished and is peppered with lots of low budget videos, some made in my bedroom out of cardboard! The MOOC will go live in March. Thanks to the development grant I learned lots of valuable lessons from the workshop that have gone into the MOOC: make it as interactive as possible, include suggestions for specific bits of kit, and do my best to de-mystify the editing process. I also then ran a spin-off workshop on animation you can do in lockdown (getting the cardboard out again) at the Superhighways online conference, Impact Aloud.


The MOOC ‘Low-budget video production – visual communication for small charities’ is hosted by Futurelearn,  and will be available for registration some time in February 2021. It involves 3 hours of learning per week for four weeks and is free.


You can find information on Superhighways at They provide training and advice on all things digital for small and medium voluntary organisations within the London area.


Thank you so much to VSSN for supporting the dissemination of my work with a development grant, contributing in a small way to digital development in the sector. Thanks too to Superhighways and the Open University.

Launching UK-CAT

First published 06/07/2021:

Today we’re launching a new classification of charities in the UK, which aims to help researchers, umbrella bodies and others make sense of the diverse group of organisations that form the voluntary sector. The voluntary sector is defined by shared characteristics – legal form, volunteerism, non-profit distributing – but the sector covers such a wide range of organisations that to understand it you often need to look more closely at various subdivisions. This new classification system – which we’re calling UK Charity Activity Tags (UK-CAT) – adds “tags” to organisations to help understand the work they do, and identify groups of organisations. You can find tags for food banks, for example, or for charities working on rural issues. In all, we’ve created over 250 tags and defined rules for attaching them to charities.

We did this because we found the existing systems for classifying charities weren’t working. The Charity Commission allows charities to select categories when they register, but these categories are very high level and miss out on the detail of what organisations are doing. And the international classification applied by NCVO in the Civil Society Almanac (ICNPO) misses the nuances of a UK context, and includes too many “catch-all” categories. Esmée Fairbairn Foundation funded this project, involving CRESR at Sheffield Hallam University, NCVO, and David Kane, a freelance researcher, to create a new classification.

We’ve described our method in more detail in two previous blog posts: Classifying the charity register and A UK Classification System. In short, we took a sample of over 4,000 registered charities and manually classified each one, creating new tags as we went along and encountered different types of charities. This sample could then be used to generate and test keyword-based rules for automatic classification of charities, as well as training machine-learning models.

We’re launching the results of this project today, after previously presenting it at the Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research conference in Birmingham earlier in September. You can view the results and download all the data from the project, including a full list of UK charities with the classification system applied. There’s much more detail on the project website,

Although we’re launching this today, we don’t consider the job to be finished. We’re well aware that the complexity and variety in the sector makes our task a never ending challenge – so we need your help to make the next version better. The system will also reflect our experiences and biases as researchers and other people will have expertise in the parts of the sector that we have tagged.

We’d love to have your feedback on the classification system and the project generally. This could be feedback on the tags themselves: what tags are missing, what’s the right term to use? Or on how the rules are applied to the charities – are we catching some charities that aren’t relevant? Is a group of charities not getting captured? There’s a feedback form on the website above, or you can email

With over 200,000 active registered charities in the UK, we won’t have got every decision right, or perfectly captured the makeup of the sector. But we hope that UK-CAT will provide a valuable tool for those who want to understand the voluntary sector better.


Place Leadership Revisited – Phil Barton

Partnerships in Environmental Regeneration in North West England 1980 – 2010: a Practitioner Perspective

There is no longer any doubt that we are facing climate and ecological catastrophe if we fail to change our ways – and quickly.  Scientists are agreed – from IPBES to IPCC , from Sir David Attenborough to Sir David King – that the window for action is short, but also that it is not just government, or business, or civil society who must act, but everyone together as they can; globally, nationally, regionally, locally.

As practitioners in the North West of England between 1980 and 2010, we believe that our experience of a now largely forgotten way of working has much to teach us today.  Between 1970 and 2010, a three hundred year old legacy of industrial pollution of both land and water in the Mersey Basin and East Lancashire was successfully tackled.  And a key element of that success was partnership working – both vertically, from the European and national to the regional and local, and horizontally, across and between sectors and communities locally – to bring about change.

Figure 1

At the heart of these efforts were facilitating and delivery charitable trusts set up for the purpose able to bring partners together, overcome difficulties and make things happen.

In our article in the latest issue of Voluntary Sector Review, Place leadership revisited: partnerships in environmental regeneration in North West England, 1980‐2010: a practitioner perspective, co-authored with John Handley, Peter Wilmers, Richard Sharland and Walter Menzies, to whose memory the article is dedicated, we introduce case studies of Groundwork and the Mersey Basin Campaign.  Both were initiated by Michael Heseltine, who became Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Minister for Merseyside’ following rioting in Toxteth in 1981.

Heseltine had a strong belief in the value of partnership working, of the government, central and local, businesses, voluntary organisations, landowners and others working together to tackle environmental, social and economic dereliction.  Operation Groundwork in St Helens and Knowsley began in 1982, widening out from a county council urban fringe and derelict land reclamation proposal and was spearheaded by a charitable trust whose core members were a central government agency and the local authorities in the area, with a private sector chair, cross sectoral Board and a small staff team charged with making things happen.  A year later, five more Groundwork Trusts were established in the region on the same model, including Rossendale, the subject of the case study.  By 2000, there were fifty trusts throughout the UK outside of Scotland.  Key elements for success was an ethos of partnership with residents, communities, local businesses and so on, and a new approach to landscape remediation, adopting an ecological approach working with nature and using engineering solutions only when absolutely necessary.

Shocked by the state of the River Mersey, Heseltine also initiated the Mersey Basin Campaign in 1985 to clean up the whole catchment within 25 years.  Initially led by a unit within the Government’s North West Regional Office, a Voluntary Sector Network, later the Mersey Basin (charitable) Trust, followed in 1987 and a Business Foundation three years later.  With separate central organisations enabling, co-ordinating and supporting catchment and local action to improve water quality, regenerate the land alongside over 1,080 miles (1,735 km) of rivers in the Basin and to encourage communities and individuals to once again ‘value and cherish’ their waterways.  By 2010 the Campaign had achieved its main objectives and voluntarily disbanded.

In the article we discuss some of the key elements of success, including:

  • Simultaneous vertical and horizontal partnerships
  • The challenge of scale in landscape
  • Achieving sustainable outcomes
  • Responding to institutional change
  • Leadership and partnership working

Before briefly discussing some of the challenges of making the partnerships a success.  We reflect on power, governance and opportunity, drawing on our own experience and some of the academic literature.

As already mentioned, the Mersey Basin Campaign wound down in 2010 and Groundwork, which is successfully supporting environmental social, economic and cultural action to this day, matured and both responded to external changes, for example New Labour’s ‘new managerialism’, the Coalition Government’s withdrawal from regional working and resolute pursuit of austerity, and changes in local government.  Today Groundwork has developed new ways of working, enabling it to grow scale, impact and resilience and evolved other mechanisms to maintain strong local (‘horizontal’) partnerships.

We recognize that in many ways the world has changed in the last 20 years in government, in technology, in society and in the economy.  But there are important lessons to be learnt from the drive to restore the environment of a whole region over three decades we describe.

The challenges of climate change and ecological breakdown can demoralize individuals and place leaders because they seem so unachievable. But Zero Carbon Britain ‘sets out the positive, connected approach we need to overcome them – joining up research and practice across disciplines, borders, sectors and scales’.  We describe models of working – a visionary strategic framework coupled with community-level engagement through vertical and horizontal partnerships – that could be used to make these transitions possible. Does central government still have the vision and confidence in local partnerships to deliver fundamental environmental improvement? A new Mersey Basin Campaign for decarbonising the region, supported by government, and led by local government, business, NGOs, academics and community leaders, could energise and inspire a successful response within 25 years. It has been done before.

It would require a coherent policy framework, but the importance of charitable partnership organisations such as Groundwork or the former Mersey Basin Trust to act as enablers, brokers and champions for local action by all should not be underestimated.  At a time when the Government is poised to commit to 78% de-carbonisation, we invite all stakeholders in this amazing planet we inhabit to come together to demand of Government the resources, leadership and freedom to allow such vertical and horizontal partnerships to be established at all levels; to become truly transformative – and quickly.

A UK Charity Classification System

Our aim

In our previous blog, we introduced our project to refresh the classification of the national charity registers into ICNPTSO (activity area) categories, using keyword searching, and where possible applying machine learning techniques. To our knowledge, this was last attempted at scale over a decade ago.  

We also, however, acknowledged some of the challenges UK researchers face when using the ICNPTSO categories. These categories are broad groupings, originally designed to help enable international comparisons of non-profit organisations, particularly as part of national accounting processes. There are large gaps in a UK context, with notable omissions such as food banks, drug addiction services, or domestic violence refuges.

As part of our project, therefore, we wanted to develop and publish a new, additional classification system, alongside the ICNPTSO. We refer to these classifications informally as ‘tags’ and have aimed to make them more UK specific, more fine grained, and to allow charities to be associated with several tags at once.

Our method

This UK Charity Classification System (suggestions for a catchier name than UKCCS on the back of a postcard please), was developed iteratively over the early stages of the project. Each week we revisited the list of tags to make any changes in light of that week’s classification work. 

Our classifications are derived from the activities that charities write about in their annual returns. Where possible we have tried to hone in on what it is that makes an organisational ‘charitable’. In other words, what is the charity’s mission? 

Some define this in terms of a desired outcome, such as a less polluted world. Others focus on a particular group that they seek to help, such as military veterans. And others still focus on the specific activity or facility, for example offering benefits advice. Whilst trying to avoid overlap, we have included all of these types in the tagging framework to at least some degree.

The classifications included so far can be viewed on our Airtable list of charity tags.  

How successful have we been?

It is with some trepidation that we release our draft tagging framework into the world. Why? Because it is almost certainly ‘wrong’, or at least ‘not quite right’. Because of course there is no right set of categories, no right level of specificity, and no right use of terminology. Instead, we are in the businesses of trade-offs, sacrificing some potential benefits for others.

Furthermore, the tagging system remains a work in progress. As we start to develop keyword search rules, we are likely to continue to consolidate the list. There is little point, however, in asking for feedback at the very end of the development process. 

Harder still, we are aware that as authors of the tagging framework, we are implicitly helping to make some charity groupings more visible, whilst submerging or obscuring others. Some authors argue that this can help to reinforce existing power structures in society. They question who benefits from these classifications?

For our part, we hope the framework will be useful primarily for research, including by analysts from within the sector themselves. It is inherently a somewhat conservative approach, as we hope to capture the fields that charities and researchers are already using to frame their activities, rather than develop categories that are deliberately novel or challenging. 

How many tags?

The tagging framework is currently over 260 tags long, though it may become shorter. Its length may make it unwieldy and difficult to apply without a high level of familiarity. More nuance also arguably allows more room for ambiguity and disagreement over which tag fits best.

On the other hand, it is inevitably not long enough. Undoubtedly some users will be frustrated that their area of interest has not been included. Sometimes a combination of tags will be needed to capture a particular area of activity.

We have tried, as far as this is possible, to be led by the data itself. When in doubt, we entered key terms into the existing keyword charity search tool, always aiming for a minimum of 100-200 associated charities. Users are, of course, able to use this tool themselves to create their own searches for bespoke groups.


Despite the challenges, or perhaps because of them, we would welcome your feedback on the categories! We are keen to break out of our own ‘group think’ and understand how meaningful these categories are to a wider audience. 

  • Are there too many tags, or not enough?
  • Have we missed any major areas, or are any of the tags superfluous?
  • Is our hierarchy of categories and subcategories the right one?

Please send us your thoughts via our feedback form

As noted above, the classifications can be viewed on our Airtable list of charity tags.  


Chris Damm (Sheffield Hallam University), Oliver Chan (National Council for Voluntary Organisations); and David Kane (independent Data Scientist). 

Emotions and feelings in voluntary sector work: Explorations from research and practice  

Call for papers for the first seminar to be held on 10.30am – 4.00pm, 22nd October 2020

 We are grateful for a small grant from the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) to organise a series of events we are running from autumn 2020 on the role of emotions and feelings within voluntary sector work: in community, voluntary, social enterprise or co-operative settings. This may be in the UK, elsewhere in Europe or the world.

About the seminar series

This series seeks to bring together the community, social and psychological realm. The aim of these seminars is to explore the effect and role of emotions and feelings in the Voluntary Sector. Seminars will address this by considering cross-over issues through informed discussion, gaining perspectives from speakers with professional knowledge and co-learning through small group work, involving practitioner experience and research insights. These can later lead to articles, blogs or web posts in academic or practitioner journals. You are welcome to come as a participant or presenter.

Location and on-line

The three seminars will be in Preston (10.30am – 4.00pm, 22nd October 2020), Bristol or south west (March 2021) and London (June 2021). In view of current restrictions due to the Covid-19 virus, all three events will happen on-line and include a mixture including face-to-face events if, or when, Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

To register your place at the first seminar on the 22nd October please complete the form on Eventbrite as numbers are limited.

How to keep in touch

If you have any questions the seminars please contact the initial planning group now: Dr Mike Aiken (Brighton), Dr Vita Terry (London) and Dr Julian Manley (Preston)

Guide to submitting a proposa

1. Aims and initial themes

The aims of these seminars are to encourage joint work and the sharing of insights between the sometimes separate arenas of the social (community, voluntary, social enterprise, co-operative work) with the psychological (the affective realm of emotions and feelings).

Attention to the psychological and the social is also important for workers and volunteers operating in tough urban/ rural communities facing daily anxiety in fragile organisations. The daily stresses and tensions of managers facing tough work, performance targets and disadvantaged communities may present splitting denial and other defences as survival strategies. For example, the entrepreneurial founder of a much praised project may feel locked into a role where their exit may lead to project closure. Trustees can face decisions that conflict with their values and beliefs.

2. Intended participants

2.1     Researchers, practitioners, activists, academics, policy makers and funders engaged in the Community, Voluntary and Co-operative sector (CVC sector – including voluntary, community, social enterprise or co-operative action).

2.2     People active in social, psychosocial or critical perspectives related to the affective realm – of feelings and emotions – within local communities.

2.3     Foundations, funders and local policy makers.

3. About your theme and contribution

Your contribution to the day seminars could be presenting a paper; organising a panel of speakers; facilitating a discussion, workshop or roundtable; analysing a particular situation. You can also contribute as a participant without presenting

Your theme may be a starting question/puzzle or dilemma; or a link to a theoretical framework or debate or contemporary or historical situation, or a cross-disciplinary insight, or international perspective that links to voluntary, community, social enterprise or co-operative action.

You may wish to start by exploring a key topic/puzzle/dilemma relating to work you have been involved in, or affecting practitioners or contemporary practice within voluntary, community, social enterprise or co-operative action.

Participants are welcome to draw from different disciplinary backgrounds (social theory, sociology, psychology or therapeutic studies, women’s studies, post-colonial studies etc) as long as there is a link to voluntary, community, social enterprise or co-operative action.

4.  The format for the session 

Your contribution could be:

4.1     a presentation (with space for questions and discussion)

4.2     a panel with 2 or 3 speakers

4.3     a workshop or carousel format with participants moving between tables that    highlight different questions

4.4     a short informal 10 minute input on a key issue or vignette

4.5     any other format you wish to propose (please advise, or discuss with us).

Please note your panel, presentation, workshop or other format should also allow time for some discussion, interaction, or questions. In total your slot should be either 30 or 40 minutes (that includes at least 10 minutes for questions/discussion.  You can also propose a short 10 minute slot for presenting a key issue/dilemma that you have encountered in your work that you feel needs researching further.

5. Outcomes from the seminars

The outcomes from the seminars may develop during the series. These may include:

5.1     Plans for joint articles (academic but also practitioner journals or magazines (including Voluntary Sector Studies, Civil Society, Organisational and Social Dynamics); contributions to the VSSN annual conference in September 2021; and to VSSN day seminars

6. Ethical considerations and questions

The organisers are mindful of the sensitive nature of research and personal experience that may be shared within these seminars. Customary support practices and ethical procedures will therefore be adopted to offer safe and confidential spaces where appropriate.

7. Timings

If you would like to submit a proposal for the 22nd October please send an abstract of no more than 250 words to Dr Mike Aiken: or Dr Vita Terry: The deadline for abstracts is the 1st September and we will aim to let you know if you are successful by the 24th September.