Call for contributions: Women and girls, feminism, and the voluntary sector

A Voluntary Sector Studies Network day event


Tuesday 8th November 2022 | 10am – 3pm | Hosted on Zoom and recorded | Free


The women’s voluntary sector is operating in a context of both increased difficulty and opportunity. Research points to the gendered impact of significant events such as austerity and Covid-19 (Fawcett Society, 2012; Women’s Budget Group, 2019; Women’s Aid 2020; IMKAAN, 2020; Sisters of Frida, 2012) and the impact on women’s organisations (Women’s Resource Centre, 2020; IMKAAN, 2016).


Increased attention, awareness, and media coverage of issues like sexual harassment and violence against women and girls, pay gaps, women in leadership, and trustee representation have brought issues of gender inequality to the fore in the sector. A new tranche of research and media exposés have revealed gender inequalities, discrimination, and assault against women within charities (Marriage 2018; Beaton et al., 2021; Dale and Breeze, 2022). Other work has shown how girls who volunteer are coerced and stereotyped in their recruitment and participation (Taylor-Collins, 2019; Lau, 2022). How gender intersects with other often discriminated-against identities is also growing in focus within the sector (Bassel and Emejulu, 2017). Yet women’s organisations within the VCS have historically not received recognition for their important work.


We would like to invite people to contribute to a day conference focused on presenting new research on women and girls, feminism, and the voluntary sector. It is anticipated contributions will be short presentations, but we’d also be interested in contributions such as short films or other media, discussions, or panels,


The event will be held online on Zoom, on Tuesday 8th November 2022. It will be free to attend. Registration details will be circulated nearer the time.


If you would like to contribute, please send an email containing a short overview (approx. 150 words) of your work and a short bio to Jon Dean by Friday 23rd September.


Jon Dean, Lorna Dowrick, Chris Damm

Sheffield Hallam University

VSSN New Researchers Online Forum: 1st September 2022

VSSN New Researchers Online Forum: 1st September 2022
12:30 – 1:30pm

Following on from our first session of 2022 in May, this session will continue to offer a supportive environment for new researchers.

As always, these meetings are an informal and open space for people to bring their interests, questions, successes, and worries. You do not have to have attended any of the previous sessions to come along to this one and you also do not have to be a member of VSSN. We do encourage you to join though and you can find out more about that here.

In this meeting we’ll look ahead to the Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research (VSVR) Conference in September and give an overview of what it’s like to attend the New Researchers sessions there.

We also plan to have some breakout groups in which attendees give a ‘three-minute pitch’ on a topic of their choosing. If you’re presenting at VSVR this can help you to refine your content and if you’re not this will be a useful exercise for any future presentations that you might give.

Structuring your ‘three-minute pitch’.

These are typically structured as an overview of your research as a whole, but you could also focus on something specific, for example your approach to data collection, analysis, or position as a researcher.

Think about:
• Your title – clear and succinct
• The focus of your research/presentation – why is this
topic/aspect important?
• Background or context – academic literature and/or practice
– what has come before your work and informed it?
• Key themes, issues, findings, or questions you might have
• Implications – for your research project or more widely for
academia (what’s your contribution?), for practice, for policy.

There is no ‘right way’ to do this so we’ll just give it a go!


• Introductions – depending on numbers we’ll also devote some
time to sharing of the good, not so good, frustrating, and
infuriating about research (20 minutes).

• An overview of the VSVR conference including how it works
and what it’s like to attend as a new researcher (5 minutes).

• The ‘three-minute pitch’ – depending on numbers we will
break into smaller groups to discuss our pitches and then
feedback to the whole (30 minutes).

• Wrap-up and what’s next (5 minutes).

Joining information

The session will be hosted on Microsoft Teams. To register please CLICK HERE.

For any further information or questions please contact:

Looking forward to seeing you at the session!

Best wishes,

VSSN New Researchers Organising Group.

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

James Rees and Carol Jacklin-Jarvis

.‘Reimagining leadership: the potential of place based and collective leadership in the voluntary sector’:Thursday 13th October at the Studio in Birmingham

The workshop planned for June which had to be postponed because of industrial action on the railways has been re-arranged to take place on the Thursday 13th October. To be held at The Studio, Birmingham, close to New Street Station:

This is the second workshop on place leadership and the voluntary sector supported by Voluntary Sector Studies Network as part of a longer-term project to understand the relationship between place, collective forms of leadership and the voluntary sector. Join our ongoing conversation on the relationship between place, collective forms of leadership and the voluntary sector, supported by VSSN. Listen to presentations from academics and practitioners and help us to understand the voluntary sector role in place leadership. Limited places available – please email

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!

VSSN New Researchers Online Support Session

Thursday 5th May 2022: 1pm-2pm

With our first session of 2022 we’ll continue to offer an informal space for people to bring their interests, questions, successes, and worries. Our definition of ‘new researchers’ is very broad and includes people in voluntary sector organisations who may be embarking on research for the first time as well as academic students who are carrying out research on and in the sector.

You do not have to have attended any of the previous sessions to come along to this one and you also do not have to be a member of VSSN. We do encourage you to join though and you can find out more about that here.

• The majority of the meeting will be devoted to sharing with each other
• We’ll also discuss the Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research conference 2022 – call for papers is out now (see HERE)

Joining information
The session will be hosted on Microsoft Teams. To register please CLICK HERE
For any further information or questions please contact:

Looking forward to seeing you in May.

Best wishes,

VSSN New Researchers Organising Group.

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.