Knowledge and Data Sharing

Split off from original Information management page, which covers data protection, staff handbooks etc.

Information Resources

Note: Freedom of Information (England and Wales, also in Scotland with some differences) is a legal right to request access to all types of “recorded” information held by public bodies. Organisations providing public services might be caught in that the contracting body could make additional requirements to allow them to meet FoI requests, but otherwise unlikely. See Lobbying pages for FoI links.

Education and Training for Information Work in the Voluntary Sector is a research report produced by Leeds Metropolitan University (now Leeds Beckett) early 1999. An executive summary may still be somewhere on their website.

Aslib Journal of Information Management.

Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. 7 Ridgmount St, London, WC1E 7AE, phone 020 7255 0500, email: Also see their Information Literacy group?

Knowledge Management

Not to be confused with information management, but can be closely connected. Some see it as part of de-skilling and job reductions: extracting and exploiting the knowledge held by individuals about work in the round. But, to quote from elsewhere on VR: “How good is an office manual if it doesnt include some element of extracting and collating knowledge otherwise locked up in an individual?”

So what is it? There are varying views about what KM involves – see quotes below. Distinctions are made between Explicit knowledge (recorded) and Tacit knowledge (personal know-how); a defined body of information as distinct from a person’s state of being in respect to that body. Data, information, knowledge, understanding and wisdom are all separate terms with different meanings, although writers (and organisations) often muddy these.

There is very little material on the web explicitly aimed at the voluntary sector. We would be delighted to hear of any.

It is probably that the voluntary sector differs more in what KM is applied to, rather than how. So the following links (many quite old but should still work), could be useful.

FreePint, the newsletter for information professionals, had an article on Knowledge management for development: an international organisation’s perspective, November 2005.

Fostering the Collaborative Creation of Knowledge: A White Paper from IBM Research gives some background on managing information in a holistic way (or as they say, an ecological view). We can’t find the paper on the site any longer!

But can knowledge be managed, as individuals have different ‘knowledge bases’? See The Nonsense of ‘Knowledge Management’.

Some quotes

Peter Honey quoting Prof Susan Greenfield (name dropper!)

‘information is just facts which on their own are not at all interesting. Knowledge occurs when disparate facts are linked and turned into ideas.’ (Training Journal, June 2000)

From VNU’s Knowledge Management White Paper:

“What managing knowledge as a resource means in practice actually spans a continuum from generating efficiency to fostering innovation.”

Simon Kent, of Knowledge Management Software in Computer Weekly (June 01):

“Knowledge …. is information’s evolutionary descendant, transcending primitive emphases on hardware, bandwidth and Java compatability with something much more powerful and sophisticated: individual and collective experience that can be leveraged to benefit virtually any activity.”

From US government’s KM web site:

“Essentially, knowledge management is at the intersection of culture, philosophy, and technology connecting people, communities and ideas for action.”

Knowledge Praxis quotes from Karl-Erik Sveiby’s posting to the Knowledge Management Forum, identifying two “tracks” of knowledge management:

  • Management of Information. To researchers in this track, according to Sveiby, “. knowledge = Objects that can be identified and handled in information systems.” {A mechanistic or object approach}
  • Management of People. For researchers and practitioners in this field, knowledge consists of “. processes, a complex set of dynamic skills, know-how, etc., that is constantly changing.” {A cultural or process approach}
  • {to which they add a Systematic approach, which combines and adds to the other two}

from Larry Prusak, director of IBM Institute for Knowledge Management, as interviewed for ebusinessforum, Oct 00:

Key steps in instituting a knowledge-management programme: “A little strategy goes a long way. There are 4 simple steps: What knowledge do you want to work with? Where is it? What do you want to do to it? and to what end: what would you gain if you did this?” …. “You could do it in a day or two.”

“Heirarchy is a distortion of knowledge …(it) is a 19th century concept.”

Designing a knowledge-management system: “You’re better off enacting one than designing one. Letting the people who work in these organisations enact it, and give them loose advice.”

from Michael Schrage, writing in Fortune magazine:

“an objective review would confirm that most firms grossly overinvest in technologies that let people see what’s going on and dramatically underinvest in delegation and true empowerment…….knowledge confirms the absence of meaningful power.”

In conclusion after discussing how efficient technology networks can lead to poor data due to ‘selfish’ practice by staff, managers or customers: “business reality dictates that organizations that commit to strategic networking must invest as much effort in designing the incentives for honest disclosure as they do in designing the technical infrastructure itself.”

Open data and data sharing

See Sector Development, Statistics

  • New Philanthropy Capital has been working on data sharing across sub-sectors (not just about funding).
  • The Global Value Exchange, previously WikiVOIS, is an open source database for individuals and organisations who are trying to account for and measure the social or environmental value that their activities create,
  •  Data Unity is an open source web tool which lets you explore and visualise data, and then share discoveries with others.
  • Digital Impact (was Markets for Good) “is an effort by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the progressive financial firm Liquidnet to improve the system for generating, sharing, and acting upon data and information in the social sector”.

Background to the sector and effective organisations

An attempt to give some context for the rest of VolResource website, and associated projects. First created March 2006.

Voluntary and community organisations – Overview

Voluntary organisations can be confusing for those new to the sector, or newly given responsibility when they have previously been happily working away in the frontline. It can be difficult to know where to start – that’s what we will try to help with here. Your site editor has thirty years of baggage to put to one side first, so this may require some refinement!

Workers, managers, pundits and consultants will often refer to the voluntary sector as if it is clear what we are talking about. A quick look at our Glossary should show that is not necessarily so. Sometimes referred to as making up the third sector, voluntary organisations can be very different to those in the first two, private business and public authorities. But there are in fact few hard boundaries – small local firms can have much in common with community groups employing staff, and national charities will have similar management problems to larger companies. One way of looking at it is as a 2 dimensional continuum (courtesy of OUBS): informal groupings to institutions and bureaucracies, and social goals/public benefit via mutual benefit to private/economic goals. (See organisational management page for some more in this area.)

VolResource works on the basis that housing associations, academic institutes, trade unions and trade or professional bodies are on the edges, for one reason or another. That doesn’t mean that none of what this site covers is relevant, just that they operate in specific contexts (and their own support systems).

Sector trends and issues

Professionalisation, public services

There has been a lot of change in the sector over the last 20 or 30 years. It has grown in its range and numbers, and it is often thought to have increased in professionalism at the expense of passion, innovation and informality. While this may well be true, there are still a lot of community groups, ad-hoc campaigns and new approaches to problems out there. Some may be hidden under new labels, such as ‘social enterprise’, and others not fit government funding priorities so exist on a shoe-string. New regulations around child protection, for instance, can undoubtedly make an impact on how easy it is to set up a youth group but difficulties can be exaggerated and distorted.

Passion, innovation and informality have long been valued by those involved in voluntary groups. But they have both strengths and weaknesses. Poorly thought through ideas, inadequately managed processes or untested facilities can all result in a lot of wasted effort (and resources), and might even make things worse, rather than better. A little time and care before, during and after taking action can avoid many of the pitfalls and should lead to things going forward rather than standing still or going round in circles.

What you need to know

With increasing attention from politicians on what voluntary organisations can deliver, and a higher profile for some charities from recent natural disasters and upcoming new charity law, the ‘operating environment’ is increasingly complex. But most people in most organisations still just need to get on with establishing good practice.

We say ‘good practice’ rather than ‘best practice’ on purpose. The latter is often taken to mean referring to a checklist of policies, set ways of managing meetings or appointing trustees etc, without recognising that every organisation’s circumstances are different. Committee members/trustees with different backgrounds, and even some support organisations, seem to think that management practices they have learnt elsewhere can be applied wholesale. Claiming that your organisation has to start from scratch on everything, because it is unique, is equally a poor approach. VolResource believes that by using some thought, you can learn from commercial businesses, the public sector or other charities, but application by rote is a route to failure.

Find what you want and act on it

If approached in the wrong way the large amount of material on this site could make things worse.

There is an awful lot involved in running a successful organisation or project, whatever its size or complexity. It can be a daunting prospect. You can’t do everything at once, and trying to do too much can end up with nothing done well, and probably much having to be redone (by you or someone else after you’ve burnt out!).

Work out what is important for your particular circumstances. It can help to talk things through with someone from outside, whether from an official support body or not, as an ‘uninvolved’ view may well spot something you have taken for granted, and just by having to communicate what you are trying to do often clarifies the issues.

Don’t forget about the other issues – perhaps people with a particular interest can be found to help with them or come up with a timetable to work through them. Just don’t lose the focus.

Our approach

VolResource attempts to bring together the wealth of information and support that is available for voluntary organisations, but can be difficult to track down, or even to know that it exists. Things have improved since VolResource first appeared, in spring 1999, but there’s still reason enough for us to continue. We don’t claim to be definitive, and instead aim to be a starting point, particularly on ‘what is useful to those relatively new to the sector or a particular aspect of its work’.

By signing up for the email newsletter you can be kept informed of relevant developments on specific sector issues, new advice and regulations in admin and management plus new online resources as we find them – it can take a little while for us to update relevant pages on the VolResource site.

The site can also be used as a database of contacts. See pages marked with the ‘contact list‘ category.

Fundraising has largely been left to one side, as a particular area of expertise which has plenty of coverage elsewhere – see Fundraising resources.

The site will continue to be developed and updated, as useful material is published, the sector changes or new thinking appears. VolResource aims to use developments in internet and other communication technology to further reduce barriers within the sector which has previously kept useful, hard-won knowledge within relatively small circles.

Some Campaigning Thoughts

This page gives a few suggestions on the basis of 25 years personal involvement in campaigning organisations, to varying degrees and different levels of success. To be added to and edited from time to time.

Also see: Campaign Central features personal thoughts from other campaigners (along with resources etc.).

A few mottos

‘Be prepared’, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’, ‘No headless chickens’. Rather trite slogans, but they summarise some key thoughts below. And refer back to common sense and everyday life for a reality check.

You need to be able to exploit opportunities when they arise – be sufficiently up on your issue and aware of what is going on to use some event or change in political circles (e.g. new council committee chair) to act in a coherent fashion. This is where a small group can score over larger ones who can’t react as fast – they have to check back to HQ or consider the organisation’s wider interests.

Commercial marketing and management skills and training (although I hate to admit it) have a lot of relevance:
– A portfolio approach with a variety of tactics (but probably only concentrating on one at a time);
– Doing a SWOT analysis (see Planning page);
– Scanning the environment for STEP factors (see ditto);
– Making best use of scarce resources, ‘overtrading’ issues (trying to do too much with limited resources, whether human, financial or physical)
– Knowing when to call it a day or compromise.

BUT I am a little concerned about the tensions I have seen build up in organisations trying to go ‘professional’, when they have grown and succeeded through the ‘amateur’ activist working bloody hard. The two sides don’t always see eye to eye, and there is a danger of losing really valuable individuals.

AND on the other hand: beware the over-committed, over-driven activist, who can’t let go, can’t see the wider picture, can’t step back and realise they don’t even know what direction they are trying to go any more. Common sense and real life is still a powerful weapon to wield against the experts with narrow horizons. Don’t throw it away by appearing to be somewhat out of it, too.

Use your membership! Keep them active and committed – small successes are important, particularly if members feel they have helped to achieve them. This is energizing and can give a real drive to the next, bigger goal. Letter writing: “MPs reckon that for every letter they receive on a subject, ten meant to write but didn’t get round to it”. This has been quoted so often that I am no longer convinced! Don’t underestimate your power. My first ‘success’ was in a local Friends of the Earth group in the mid-70s – 3 of us (two still at school) put together a broadsheet newsletter (with help from HQ), which against my better judgement headlined a threat to dump rubbish on the town hall steps if the council went ahead with changing from collecting refuse from bins to using plastic sacks. Wide circulation to press and councillors and instant climb-down by said council!

Classic lobbying is about building up useful contacts and trust, and then either use that in conjunction with a good public case or influence decisions in the background (the ‘old school boy network’ approach). This can be on the level of knowing the person who knows how to make sure that a junior minister gets to appreciate an issue is important or at a local level getting a senior journalist on the local paper run a prominent story. But contacts are no longer the only approach, and indeed may not be as reliable as in the past (they are more likely to move on or have competing interests).

Don’t forget that a campaigning success is often only the beginning – what happens next to consolidate or develop your ideal? It is tempting not to think about this beforehand, as it would only make losing even worse. But do it.



Metadata, categorisation, taxonomy, ontology, classification, filing labels…. A boring but necessary basis to being able to manage data and bring it together to create meaningful information. There appears to be a lack of any sector-wide effort to agree (electronic) standards. VolResource is concerned that this could put voluntary groups at a disadvantage in the future when coming up against public sector data standards which are getting increasingly sophisticated, or other funder monitoring requirements.

See Wikipedia for a definition and discussion of Taxonomy.

The data we have in mind is anything to do with keeping tabs on sector activity, whether that is case work, service delivery or member processes. Its use will go well beyond IT, so this subject should not be seen as just a technical issue.

Viewing the Sector

The most obvious need for some degree of standardisation is in voluntary sector research.

  • Johns Hopkins University Centre for Civil Society Studies Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project has developed, starting out from the existing International Standard Industrial Classification (ISIC), an International Classification of Nonprofit Organizations (ICNPO) – check the Publications page. Evolved into the Global Civil Society Index. It has been pointed out that “for all its faults, this system does have the virtue of simplicity. Other more complex (including multi dimensional) systems, {[include} those developed and used in the UK have other advantages of course”.
  • The Canadian sector study, Canadian Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector in Comparative Perspective (pdf format 348kb published March 2005, may still be available via Sector Source), has a modified version of ICNPO at pages 38 to 43.

Online directories and electronic databases of voluntary organisations is perhaps the usage that comes to mind from the term ‘metadata’.

Various local, regional and national sector umbrella bodies have of necessity worked on classification for their web based directories. Here’s some efforts we know about:

  • Northern Ireland’s Community NI site has asked the sector to feed into the development of the themes (activity/topics) navigation facility (there is also a geographical one). See bottom section of the left hand navigation area.

Scotland’s CVS network established a Data Management Consortium – but only known web link has gone. There was also a ShareIT Community Metadata Schema, in Manchester, but we believe funding cuts have hit what little activity there was.

Wales Council for Voluntary Action has/had a classification system with “46 categories which are a mixture of beneficiary types, activities and functions, and any one organisation can be coded in as many categories as seems appropriate”. (Unlike ICNPO which insists on just one box being ticked). The categories are grouped into 23 forums, the basis of the representative seats at the Voluntary Sector Partnership Council with the Welsh Assembly.

Frontline operations also have a need for relevant classification systems, for monitoring activity (reporting to funders, benchmarking against others), making information available online categorised for different service user needs etc.

  • 211 Taxonomy focuses on the telephone information line for human services operating in 31 states in the US, Puerto Rico and Canada. This includes nonprofit and capacity-building categories. Subscription to gain full access to the site appears to cost but there is a Volunteer Opportunities example, in pdf format, 217kb.


The following have been raised in various discussions on taxonomy issues.

  • Can, or should, library resources be classified in the same way as a web site?
  • Is it possible to create compatibility across local, regional or national approaches? And also work with public sector classifications?

Public sector

The public sector has been working on its electronic classification standards for some time. The Integrated Public Sector Vocabulary brings together three existing labelling mechanisms for electronic information: the Government Category List (GCL), Local Government Category List (LGCL) and the seamlessUK taxonomy. At 2013, see ESD Standards section. Also see other taxonomies (controlled lists or standards) maintained by ESD.



Terminology in any specialism can be confusing to the newcomer or those on the edge of the subject. The definitions here are intended to give insight rather than be the last word. Words in italics (unless titles of books) indicate that this is another entry in the glossary, bold indicates a related term.

Context: Words can have meanings specific to a context – for instance those working in local regeneration may have a different understanding of the boundaries of the voluntary sector from someone at a major national charity. This can be the cause of many crossed wires!

Abbreviations: elsewhere we use some acronyms for organisations, in particular umbrella bodies, without further explanation. See Support bodies page for info on NCVO, SCVO, ACEVO ….

Terms and Jargon

Accidental techie

Someone who doesn’t have any background in IT, database systems etc, but due to limited resources has ended up with the responsibility. Very common in small to medium size voluntary organisations.


Asset-Based Community Development. Nurture Development website says: ABCD demonstrates that local assets (people, physical assets etc.) and individual strengths are key to ensure sustainable community development, and that people have a life of their own choosing.

Area of Concern

This is VolResource’s own term, meaning the issues or field of activity in which a voluntary organisation is engaged.


Anyone who might benefit from the activity of a charity. Could, for instance, be receiving advice, care, financial support. One type of stakeholder.


Black and Minority Ethnic.

Capacity Building

Often taken to mean anything which will increase the capacity of the voluntary sector to provide services or take action, but also can be restricted to e.g. providing training in financial management and organisational issues, especially at a community level. See Sector Development page. Some varying definitions:
– “Skilling individuals to deliver services, to influence policy and to work inside organisations to meet the needs of their communities.” From research quoted in Voluntary Organisations and Social Policy.
– “The ability of nonprofit organisations to fulfil their missions in an effective manner”. Urban Institute (US) Building Capacity in Nonprofit Organizations.
– Is about ensuring that organisations have the skills, knowledge, structures and resources to realise their full potential. Hackney CVS.


Community Based Organisation. Appears more in international contexts.

Charity, charitable organisation

This is sometimes used as an alternative to ‘voluntary organisation’, but is probably more generally meant to cover just those bodies registered with the Charity Commission (in England and Wales), OSCR (Scotland) or Charity Commission NI. See Registration page. It may also include ‘excepted’ charities which are not obliged to register, such as those with annual income of £1,000 or less (unless they have permanent endowment or the use or occupation of land), some religious and armed forces charities. Also a third category of exempt charity, which cannot register, and includes many state schools, universities, some industrial and provident societies, and a number of national museums.

Civil Society

Increasingly being used in international discussions in place of NGO, distinguishing society interests from political or business perspectives. Hence Civil Society Organisation (CSO). Michael Edwards has proposed three dimensions to the term Civil Society – as associational life, as the good society and as arenas for public deliberation.

Communities of interest

Groups where members have common needs or characteristics (such as ethnic origin, disability, interest in open source software) as opposed to geographical communities (communities of place).

Community anchor

Multi-purpose, independent community-led organisations taking the long view. (See Locality website.)

Community Development

As defined by Northern Ireland Compact, Dec 98: a collective process whereby members of a community come together to effect change and to address the needs within the community based on principles of self help and inclusion. The Welsh Assembly Scheme (Sept 00) recognises it as ‘people working together, on issues they identify, to bring about change through collective action’.

CIC, Community Interest Company

A way social enterprises can register to become limited companies while meeting particular concerns such as protecting assets for community use. See Registering as a charity or company. NB: CICS – Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

CIO, also SCIO

(Scottish) Charitable Incorporated Organisation. A way to be registered as a company and a charity in one go. See Registering as a charity or company.

Community sector

Those organisations active on a local or community level, usually small, modestly funded and largely dependent on voluntary, rather than paid, effort. Can be seen as distinct from the larger, professionally staffed agencies which are most visible in voluntary sector profiles. Hence the phrase voluntary and community sector (VCS) to encompass the full range.


An understanding between government (national or local) and the voluntary sector (in the guise of its representative bodies or via wider consultation) on how relations between the two should be conducted (e.g. funding doesn’t prevent organisations from expressing views on policies). See Sector Development/Policy for links to national agreements.


There are various types of co-ops, including employee-based (worker co-ops), consumer based (retail/high street co-ops), and housing co-ops made up of tenants/joint owners. Usually seen as a part of the Social Economy, and almost by definition count as social enterprises (although the big Co-op retail societies can appear remote).


Continuous Professional Development. Some training courses are recognised as contributing to requirements laid down for professions such as lawyers, accountants to undertake a certain number of hours updating their knowledge.


Council for Voluntary Service. Could also be a VSC or CVO, and xyz Community/Voluntary Action is generally equivalent. The co-ordinating and support body for voluntary and community organisations in a geographic area, although actual structure and facilities vary immensely across the country. A Local Infrastructure Organisation (LIO).

Drain guidelines

Common name for ‘Guidelines for relations between volunteers and paid workers in the Health and Personal Social Services’, particularly relevant where trade unions are involved in a service delivery setting. May still be somewhere on Volunteering England website.


Directory of Social Change (the name is no longer that meaningful). An independent charity providing training and information (publications) for the voluntary sector. Offices in Liverpool and London – see relevant pages for contacts.


European Regional Development Fund.


European Social Fund. A source of funding for various projects within ‘deprived areas’.

Exempt charity

See Charity.


Freedom of Information. Important legislation for campaigning groups and some others to get material about decisions or research undertaken by a wide range of public bodies. See Lobbying page.

Foss, or Floss

Free (libre) open source software. See our software intro for a little more.

Hawthorne Effect

A fairly frequent term in American non-profit management: the presence of researchers affecting the outcome of the study (into productivity).


An approach promoted by government’s ChangeUp capacity building/infrastructure framework, which ran to March 2008 – the development of hubs of expertise (and facilities), locally regionally or nationally, to support the sector. Some may still operate, if under a slightly different identity.


Information, Advice and Guidance, typically describing a service provided for some social grouping such as youth, elderly, refugees.


Information and Communication Technology (..ies).


International Classification of Nonprofit Organizations. See Taxonomy page.


Usually used in context of umbrella bodies, in reference to support to voluntary organisations. Infrastructure can operateat local, regional and/or national levels, and can be generic or sub-sectoral (cocnentrating on a particular part of the voluntary sector, such as childcare). Such support can also come from organisations outside the voluntary sector, such as local authorities , Business Link, funders, private sector training. See Sector Development page.


Local Area Agreement(s). To quote I&DEA LAAs “are made between central and local government in a local area. Their aim is to achieve local solutions that meet local needs, while also contributing to national priorities and the achievement of standards set by central government.” At summer 2005, there are just a few areas with them in place, but they are planned to expand. There is a danger that if voluntary organisations aren’t involved from the start that they will be marginalised, both in influencing and undertaking service delivery. See Working Relations.


Local Exchange Trading Systems or Schemes “local community-based mutual aid networks in which people exchange all kinds of goods and services with one another, without the need for money”.


Local Infrastructure Organisation – see Umbrella body.


Learning and Skills Council – agency closed at 2010.


Local Strategic Partnership. See Working Relations page.

Match funding

A requirement by funding agencies that any contributions they make towards programme or project costs should be matched by other funders, or by the applicants from their own resources. Some may allow in-kind contributions (e.g. the value of volunteer time) to count.

Mem and Arts

Memorandum and Articles of Association. The two parts to a company’s constitution. See Registration page.


Non Governmental Organisation. Usually equivalent to voluntary organisation; most often used in an international, development or environment setting. Also spotted BINGO – Business Initiated NGO!

Non-profit (NP)

The usual term for a voluntary organisation in the US – this often includes some groups we would see as on the edge of the sector in the UK.

Office for Civil Society

Part of the UK government’s Cabinet Office, with overview of charity issues.


Covers a wide range of possible relations. Welsh Assembly Scheme (Sept 00) helpfully describes different levels of partnership with a voluntary organisation as (increasing in involvement): Supporter, Agent, Adviser, Junior Membership, Joint Ownership, Community Ownership.

Patient capital

Long-term financial investment with greater flexibility in terms than usual, often used in connection with social enterprise. E.g. funds offered at low interest rates, interest-free loans, repayment (partly) through in-kind services or other non-standard arrangements.


Payment by results. In America they seem to use PFS – pay for success.

Peak (or apex) body

In Australia, an association of industries or groups; in this sector generally what we would term a support or umbrella organisation.

Pro bono

Providing (professional) services for free to good causes, on a regular or one-off basis.


Quasi-autonomous non governmental organisation. Bodies set up by government with a specific remit and their own governing body, although usually with appointments made by or via the government. Some may be registered charities, but tend not to viewed as part of the voluntary sector.


Refugee and migrant community organisation.


Registered Social Landlord, which largely equates with housing association, OR Restricted Service Licence, temporary permission for (community) radio stations to broadcast for a limited period or restricted by locality e.g. hospital or student radio stations (see Community Media Association).


Usually Search Engine Optimisation – making sure a website gets the best placing on from searches on Google etc. Could also be Social Enterprise Organisation.

Service Level Agreement (SLA)

A type of contract where (typically) a public body agrees to pay a set sum of money in return for a specified level of service, which may be quantified in terms like ‘number of clients advised’ in a given period, and to what standard. Charities may also have SLAs with their suppliers, such as around support of ICT, database systems. Complexity and issues dealt with will vary immensely depending on context. See Contracts on the Working Relations page.

Social Capital

Made up of networks, trust (shared values?) and civic institutions, according to Digital Futures. Contributes to economic and social development (OECD, 1998).

Social Economy

Usually encompasses any activity involving provision of services or goods in a commercial manner but to meet non-commercial objectives, such as area regeneration, community development, co-operative working. Can be seen as the same as Social Enterprise, although another view is that the latter is just one of three predominant forms of economic activity in the social economy, the others being self-help and altruism (which then implies that the social economy encompasses much of the voluntary and community sector).

See our Social Economy page for more.

Social Entrepreneur

“A different kind of social leader who identifies and applies practical solutions to social problems by combining innovation, resourcefulness and opportunity.” Schwab Foundation via Dr. Trilok Kumarjain

Social marketing

Using marketing and other techniques to achieve specific behavioural goals, for a social good, according to National Social Marketing Centre.

SORP, charity SORP

Statement of Recommended Practice. The accounting standard to which registered charities in England and Wales should conform – also recommended practice in Scotland and Northern Ireland. See Finance Resources, or Charity Commission website for how to obtain a copy.


In sector terms, this usually refers to anybody who has an interest in the work of an organisation: member, volunteer, staff, management, board member, funder or contracting body, client, ‘community of interest’ such as locality or grouping of people who might benefit (beneficiaries). See Working Relations page.


Tenants and Residents Association. See Issues: Housing page.

Third Sector

See Voluntary Sector, although sometimes used specifically in relation to Co-operatives or Social Enterprises. TSO – Third Sector Organisation.


See our Governance page. A member of the governing body of a charity (or pension fund or other position where resources are held in trust). The board of trustees could also be known as management committee, board of directors (if also a limited company).

Umbrella body

An organisation which supports others operating in a particular area (geographic, activity or function). Often, but not always, the supported organisations are members of the umbrella. Also known as second tier, intermediary or infrastructure organisation. Also see peak/apex body. Start at Professional Bodies page to locate.


Voluntary, Community and Faith Sector. Yikes, another variation on the theme (see below).


Voluntary and community organisations – see Voluntary sector.


Someone working for an organisation without expectation of payment, beyond re-imbursement of expenses. Can include members of the management committee/board, although when the term is used by staff it usually doesn’t. See Volunteer Management page.

Further definitions of volunteering:

From Compact code on Volunteering, via Greater London Volunteering “any activity which involves spending time, unpaid, doing something which aims to benefit someone (individuals or groups) other than or in addition to close relatives, or to benefit the environment.”

From Scottish Executive Volunteering Strategy 2004:

Formal Volunteering: Volunteering is the giving of time and energy through a third party, which can bring measurable benefits to the volunteer, individual beneficiaries, groups and organisations, communities, environment and society at large. It is a choice undertaken of one’s own free will, and is not motivated primarily for financial gain or for a wage or salary.

Informal Volunteering: Informal volunteering, which can be one component of social capital, refers to a wide range of different kinds of mutual help and co-operation between individuals within communities, for example babysitting for a friend or checking on an elderly neighbour.

Voluntary Sector

There are many definitions and refinements of this term, with often a wide and a tight/core version. One approach is by reference to what the other sectors cover e.g. private/commercial, state/public and informal (family, friends) – what is left is voluntary! That gives the derivation of the term ‘third sector’ too (the informal tending to be ignored). Another issue in defining the sector is that although many feel voluntary organisations are distinctly different from private and public ones, the boundaries actually are unclear – for example where would you put universities? It is more of a continuum than a set of discrete boxes.

A definition used by SCVO states that a voluntary organisation is: non-profit distributing, non-statutory, autonomous, may be charitable. Also see Community Sector re Voluntary and community organisation.

Hence VSO – Voluntary sector organisation (only seen in government documents) – more usually taken to mean Voluntary Service Overseas.


Voluntary Welfare Organisation. Term used elsewhere in the world (Asia?).

Thoughts on Working in the Voluntary Sector

This is addressed to those contemplating taking the plunge into paid employment in the voluntary sector. Those of you already working in charities, community organisations, campaigning groups etc. need read no further. Otherwise…..


  • Working for a Charity, NCVO, Regent’s Wharf, 8 All Saints Street, London, N1 9RL, phone 020 7520 2512 / 2493, email: A training body for people wishing to transfer their skills to the voluntary sector.

Our thoughts

The first thing to point out is the massive diversity here. Large household name charities have employees in the thousands, while a self-help group may just have a part-time admin worker, with all the possibilities in between. Terms and conditions can range from close to the average for that type of job (perhaps even above in terms of maternity leave, pensions or total leave entitlement) to the very minimum allowed (and if you are unlucky, below). Many organisations expect their staff to be committed to the cause to the extent of being self-exploiting – the sector incurs an above average number of industrial tribunal cases which may well be due to employees burning out or no longer being willing to do this. On the other hand, job satisfaction can be massive and in smaller organisations learning opportunities many and frequent.

Changing (or getting) a job normally requires careful thought if it is to be successful – changing to the voluntary sector even more so. Be clear why you want to make the move, what terms and conditions you would be happy with, how much commitment you are prepared to give. The latter is usually quite obvious at interview, but there will be friction if you accept a job which takes too much out of you. It can be tricky finding out in advance what the work ethos of an organisation is, and senior staff can live in a different world from everybody else, but be suspicious if you aren’t given an opportunity to look round at some point in the recruitment process.

Trade Unions are even less in evidence in the sector than the commercial world. There is also often not an obvious career structure – to progress you may need to move organisations fairly frequently, and for many this will mean across to the public sector (local authority, government quangos and the like) and back. In smaller organisations, moving on every 3 to 4 years is pretty normal.

Particular parts of the sector have their own characteristics. For instance, conservation organisations often expect you to have experience as a volunteer in a similar organisation before you get your first paid job, community groups are likely to mark you down for being too nicely dressed, and campaigning groups will fairly obviously prefer it if you can show an existing interest in the subject they campaign on. Some of this is common sense, but not all. Get an idea of the style of an organisation from its reports, web site, media coverage, contacts, whatever.

Don’t expect a job in the voluntary sector to be less demanding than one in the commercial world, even if it pays less. There are some jobs where this holds true, but pressures are increasing to do more for less, here as elsewhere. The better employers recognise the effort being put in, and reward it as best they can – maybe more flexibility in working hours or tolerance of odd habits and enthusiasms, chances to get involved in ‘fun’ events – but very rarely extra pay. ‘Professionalism’ is increasing, which sometimes just means appointing the person with the flashiest qualifications, but more positively is about recognising that employees are there to develop their professional skills as well as graft hard.

Other thoughts

Prospects, the graduate career advice web site, has some pages on what is involved in various fields. Look under Explore Types of Job, and then for example: Social and Pastoral Care – Community Work for advice worker, community worker, youth worker, etc.