Rebalancing the relationship between large and small voluntary organisations

‘Rebalancing the relationship’ is a new project exploring how large and small voluntary organisations, bidding to deliver services, can work better with and alongside one another.

Many providers and experts in public service design have called into question the effectiveness of competitive tendering processes and cost driven outsourcing. The National Audit Office has repeatedly raised concerns about the lack of evidence and risk management in decision making, the impact of cost-cutting contracts on patient safety, and the appropriateness of payment by results. Furthermore, public trust in outsourcing has been seriously damaged by high-profile failures of large providers – most recently including Carillion.

The commissioning environment presents challenges for voluntary organisations of all sizes, but evidence suggests that smaller organisations have a particularly tough time. Due to commissioning and bidding practices, as well as the move towards fewer larger contracts, larger voluntary organisations are more likely to receive government funding.

In 2015/16 voluntary organisations with incomes of £10m to £100m received the greatest amounts and proportions of income from government, with 84% of local government funding going to larger voluntary organisations. There are also concerns that particular types of smaller organisations, such as user led organisations, face particular challenges in accessing funding.

NCVO has long pushed for significant changes to commissioning and procurement practices, and an improved relationship between government and the voluntary sector. However, after debate and discussion with our members and other interested parties across the voluntary sector, we think there is a key piece of this jigsaw missing – namely the relationships between different service providers within the voluntary sector.

Taking action

We are embarking on a new piece of work in partnership with ACEVO and Lloyds Bank Foundation to explore how the relationship between large and small voluntary organisations can be rebalanced, in order to deliver better services, strengthen communities and ensure equity of opportunity across the voluntary sector. Although the project will consider the wider commissioning environment, it will focus on organisations themselves taking action and ownership over what they themselves can do.

There is no quick fix or one solution to meet this challenge. We plan to look at this issue in the round, considering the wide range of factors that influence the way voluntary organisations behave and the wider commissioning and funding environment affecting them. We are particularly interested in exploring ways in which large and small organisations can better collaborate, cooperate and coexist.

This spring/summer we will conduct a call for evidence and research to better understand ways in which large and small voluntary organisations can best play to their respective strengths. In the autumn we will publish an insight report, which will form the basis of engagement with voluntary organisations to develop recommendations as to how organisations can best work with and alongside each other. We plan to launch the final report at the beginning of 2020. A small steering group will be convened to champion the work, but we will also convene an advisory group  to draw on a broader range of perspectives and expertise.

Getting involved

Please contact us at if you would like to ask questions, express interest in being a part of the advisory group, or would be happy for us to contact you with details of how to be involved in the research and engagement activities. Please see our privacy policy to see how we store your data.




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Avatar photo Rebecca Young is a senior policy officer at NCVO, working primarily on public services and volunteering policy. Before joining NCVO, Rebecca led on mental health, housing and disability policy at the National Union of Students.

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