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Emotion and Feelings in Voluntary Sector Work Seminar 1

Thank you to all the presenters at the October 2020 seminar. If you were not able to attend the event and see the brilliant presentations, not to worry the videos are available here:, including:

‘Emotions in Managing Volunteers’ and toolkit ‘Working with Volunteers’ developed with the National Trust. Professor Anne-Marie Greene, University of Leicester School of Business.

‘Building workplace democracy: leadership as embodied dissent’. Conor Twyford, Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP Foundation.

‘Women Leaders and Philanthropy’ Paper and Panel discussion. Rachel McGrath, Northamptonshire Community Foundation.

‘Frustrated by ‘moaning members’: a study of volunteers in associational golf clubs’. Chris Mills, Manchester Metropolitan University.

‘Emergency volunteers: how to help those who help us’. Craig Needham, H M Coastguard and Bournemouth University.

‘Examining the motivations and emotions linked to the formation of a Voluntary sewing group formed in response to Covid-19’. Beverley Glibert, University of Worcester.

‘Storytelling, Strategies, and Success: The Case of the Reproductive Rights Movement in Ireland’. Dr. Sheila Cannon, Alexandra Lamb and, Dr. Paloma Raggo, Trinity College Dublin, Carleton University, Carleton University.

‘What is it like to volunteer? A Phenomenological insight, investigating the relationship between volunteers and their organisations.’ Carol Hebden and Dr Paul McDonald, Newman University.

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). 

Emotion & Feelings in Voluntary Sector Work: April 2021 No 2 of 3 seminars

Emotion and Feelings in Voluntary Sector Work:
Second of Three seminars (now via Zoom)
April 13th (10am – 12.30pm) 2021

This is to let you know about the second of three seminars examining the role of emotion and feelings in Voluntary Sector work. This event, will run on the morning of 13th April 2021 from 10 am – 12.30 pm (British Summer Time) and will, due to current Covid restrictions be held via Zoom. We aim to provide space for developing the discussion on practice and research insights into the role of emotion and feelings in any aspect of voluntary and community work.

The overall aims of this three seminar programme are to:
• Illuminate the role of emotion and feelings within Community/Voluntary/Social enterprise (CVS) work,
• Provide explorations from research and practice,
• Explore cross-over work between practitioners and researchers in a multi-disciplinary way from two arenas: (a) Community Voluntary Social enterprise action and (b) the affective realm of feelings and emotion,
• Explore cross-over work between practitioners and researchers from two arenas: (a) CVC action and (b) the affective realm of feelings and emotion.

The story so far
The first session, on the 22nd October 2020 brought together an exciting group of more than 30 practitioners, researchers and academics from the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, USA and western Europe. We examined issues such as: volunteers in emergency situations, compassion fatigue and emotional intelligence, the role of storytelling in our work, workplace democracy and embodied dissent, and the role of women leaders and affective responsibility within refugee initiatives.

The next step

Our second session in April aims to extend and develop the discussion on these and other themes relating to emotion and feelings in Voluntary Sector Work. There will be a particular focus on examining our practice in relation to emotion and feelings in our voluntary work. Hence, we welcome back researchers and practitioners who attended session 1 as well as those who were not able to attend but wish to share and analyse their experience in this field.

Format and scope
We will be pleased to see you – as a participant or presenter – at this second of three seminars on the April 13th 2021 (10 – 12.30 pm British Summer Time). There will also be a welcome back to people – from four continents – who came to seminar 1 and a big ‘hi’ to new people.
The session will start with a brief introduction from the organisers. We’ll point to some key headlines from the first seminar, back in October, and some reflections to kick of this second seminar.

We are delighted to be joined by two exciting speakers:

Joanne Vincett (Liverpool John Moores University) who will talk about ‘Choosing to reach beyond academic goalposts: Ethnographer as compassionate advocate inside an immigration detention centre’.

Pierre Monforte (University of Leicester) will discuss ‘When Refugees Become Family Members: Private Hospitality and Affective Responsibility within Refugee Hosting Initiatives in Europe’

We’ll have plenty of time to discuss the issues around emotions and feelings in voluntary sector work further in Zoom breakout rooms. This offers you a chance to contribute and reflect on your own professional or academic experience small groups or the whole group.

Register now to take part
Please register your interest for this seminar, whether you are a presenter or a participant via this link

Due to the current Covid restrictions this seminar will take place via the Zoom conferencing programme. We will provide separate ‘rooms’ for small group discussions as well as a welcoming space for the whole group sessions.

We welcome those who took part in Session 1 as well as new participants! Bring your coffee or snack for the breaks!

Thanks to our sponsors! This event is made possible by the generous support of the Voluntary Sector Studies Network.

Women leaders in Welsh Sport online results & feedback presentation and Q&A – Philippa Davies

You are invited to attend a one-hour online session on Monday 26th April 2021 1pm-2pm on the findings of recent research into women leaders’ experience in Welsh sport. The session is aimed at all current, past and aspiring Welsh sport leaders and aims to be useful to both your organisation and the wider sector in understanding and promoting women’s representation in Welsh sport. To register your attendance please follow the link at the end of this email. Please share this email invite and link with your board members, executive leadership and any other colleagues who may be interested.

This session will start with a 30-minute presentation from Philippa Davies on the results of doctoral research conducted on women leaders’ experience in their sport leadership roles in Wales. There will then be 30 minutes of time available for any questions or comments on the research results.

The results presentation will include:
– Women sport leaders’ experience in their roles
– Factors which advantage women leaders
– Factors which disadvantage women leaders
– Differences in women leaders’ experience between sports

A bilingual written report on the results of the research will be made available to sport leaders in Wales following the session.

You are invited to a Zoom meeting.
When: Apr 26, 2021 01:00 PM London

Register in advance for this meeting:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Low-Budget Video Production: Visual Communication for Small Charities

Tot Foster

In 2020, Tot Foster was awarded a VSSN Development Opportunity Grant to fund a workshop for charity staff on how to produce videos on a small budget. Here she reflects on the process and sets out how all charities can make use of video, including her new online course.

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 here.

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 is now live and available here: The first course starts on 8 March 2021, and then will be made permanently available.

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. 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.

The MOOC ‘Low-budget video production – visual communication for small charities’ is hosted by Futurelearn, and is now available for registration at 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.

Income Tax Relief on Annual Subscriptions

Members will be pleased to know that they can now claim tax relief on their membership subscriptions as from the 3rd December 2020. VSSN’s name will now appear in the list of approved bodies on Gov.UK. ( Remember to claim it when completing your tax returns.

Lockdown number 3

Just to keep you all up to date – the VSSN office is open and operating as usual to provide support for members. A programme of events is being organised by the Steering Group for 2021 and our research repository is available for members to keep recording the work you’re all producing during this time to be shared with others. Please get in touch if we can help.

Classifying the charity register

To anyone doing research on the voluntary sector, or building services that help voluntary organisations, the size and diversity of activities that charities undertake is always staggering. From a large international charity building relations between Britain and Japan to a small trust maintaining a village playing field, the term “voluntary sector” hides a huge amount of complexity.

We are a small team of voluntary sector data specialists, supported by the Esmée Fairburn foundation to improve the classification of charitable activities in the UK. The project is still in its early stages, but we wanted to share our plans with the wider voluntary sector research community. 

Many data research projects on UK charities use the various national registers of charities as their main source of data. The breadth of activities that these organisations undertake, however, can mean that research on the sector as a whole hides the complexity, nuance and variation between these organisations. 

Voluntary Sector researchers may have come across the International Classification of Non-Profit / Third Sector Organisations (ICNPTSO). These classifications are widely used and were originally designed to help enable international comparisons of non-profit  organisations, particularly when preparing national accounts. As with any system of classification, they have their advantages and disadvantages depending on the user and their goals. 

A first potential concern for UK users of the ICNPTSO categories is that they are not recorded as part of charities’ registration process. They have to be allocated retrospectively; no small task given that there are over 160 thousand active charities registered in England and Wales alone. The last attempt to do so was over 10 years ago, meaning the number of unclassified charities continues to grow. 

Second, the ICNPTSO classification system is also sometimes a poor fit for common areas of charitable activity in the UK. For example, there are no categories for food banks, drug addiction services, or domestic violence refuges. 

Third, charities are also generally assigned to a single category. This has advantages for comparative analysis, but can make it even harder to capture the purpose and activities of some organisations. 

To help solve these problems, the research team has been funded to undertake a number of tasks. 

First, the team has created its own UK focussed classification scheme. This scheme is built from the ground up – we have started with a list of charities and then tried to attach “tags” to them based on their activities. It is more granular than the ICNPTSO system and designed specifically for use with UK charity data. 

Second, we are in the process of creating a manually classified sub-sample of the charity registers for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In line with previous efforts, we are applying a single ICNPTSO category for each charity, whereas for our own UK focussed tagging system, charities can be ‘tagged’ with multiple categories.  We then plan to use this sub-sample to create a set of automatic rules to classify the remaining charities based on keywords in their register entry. 

The task at hand is challenging but important. No classification system will be able to capture everything that anyone might be interested in (or it wouldn’t really be a classification system at all). Nor will we get every decision correct, especially with a limited view of organisations based on their written entries in the registers of charities. But we hope that our efforts will result in both a more up-to-date application of the ICNPTSO categories, as well as an entirely new way of breaking down and exploring charitable activities in the UK. 

Crucially, we want the outputs from this project to be used as an open classification scheme that can be used and owned by the whole voluntary sector. We don’t expect to get the answers right the first time, so the scheme will improve as people use and feedback on it.

We’re excited to share developments with you as the project progresses, and if you’re interested, please do get in touch or have a look at a more detailed outline of our project. We would love to receive your feedback or discuss our plans further. 

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

IVR hosts free half day on line seminar

IVR hostS free half day online webinar

On 20 November 2020, IVR hosted a free half day online webinar for the Voluntary Sector Studies Network with fabulous speakers from Newman University, Leeds Beckett University, UEA and from volunteer involving organisations in Norwich. Volunteering in Health and Social Care in the context of COVID-19: making a difference in a complex landscape of rising demand. We’re delighted to provide the recording from session one and session two of this event.

Please use the links below: