Local voluntary sector infrastructure must adapt to a changing landscape, but many infrastructure organisations are too busy coping with their own problems or hoping the good times will return, according to a new report.
Change for Good has been produced by the Independent Commission on the Future of Local Infrastructure, set up by the umbrella body Navca to examine existing voluntary and community infrastructure and devise ways to deliver support for local organisations in England.
The commission, chaired by Sara Llewellin, chief executive of the grant-maker the Barrow Cadbury Trust, says local infrastructure organisations must move on from being providers of services to become enablers and brokers.
The report says the commission found that many infrastructure bodies were responding in new and innovative ways to the changing environment.
But it also found that the sector "is so busy coping with the problems of today that it often lacks the foresight to adapt to change effectively".
According to the report, a significant proportion of local organisations are hanging on for the "good times" to return, and too few understand the scale of change still to come as a result of public sector cutbacks or wider societal factors.
The report says that infrastructure will be needed in some form while people come together to form voluntary organisations and community groups, because groups will still need advice in areas such as income generation, organisational management and governance.
It calls for funders to invest in infrastructure, but says this must be a "something-for-something" deal that also requires infrastructure to change.
It says that "one-off injections of finance, which have been tried in the past, will not address the sector’s support needs".
The report says: "It is generally understood that our physical infrastructure requires regular investment to help it cope with new and changing demands. We believe the case for investment in voluntary and community sector infrastructure is just as compelling, but that it has to be different to past attempts at delivering sustainability."
It says that local infrastructure organisations should make sure they have the necessary skills in areas including navigating change, focusing scarce resources and demonstrating their value.
Funders, the report says, should offer longer-term funding for infrastructure organisations and should collaborate with other funders to maximise the effects of their funding.
It also calls on the Big Lottery Fund to convene a discussion meeting with funders and infrastructure bodies to consider how infrastructure organisations can be redesigned.
Sara Llewellin, chair of the commission, said: "Infrastructure needs to be financed, but it also has to undergo a redesign. It needs to be leaner, meaner and more technologically savvy. It needs to act as a lever bringing in new resources to the sector, including social investment, crowd funding and pro bono support.
"It needs to be the enabler of voice and the advocate of community action. It needs to collaborate and share more cost effectively. It needs to promote and develop the ‘time economy’, co-production and good volunteering practices. Above all, it needs to help the sector with foresight and managing change, because the pace of change is not going to slow."
The commission was made up of 20 people, including Justin Davis Smith, executive director of volunteering at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Dharmendra Kanani, England director at the Big Lottery Fund, Caroline Diehl, chief executive of the Media Trust, and Becky Shaw, chief executive of East Sussex County Council.