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  • Help and support

Development and support providers

Helping organisations run better
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Helping organisations run better

A diverse range of organisations provide development support to the sector. This includes help with capacity building and capability building. Infrastructure organisations (voluntary and community sector bodies that offer support to other voluntary and community sector organisations) play a key role both in mass forms of capacity building and increasingly in tailored support. There are also many private organisations – often small consultancies - that help groups too, often with 1:1 support. Together, these helper organisations support the voluntary sector to run better, by providing guidance and training to help groups develop the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to deliver outcomes and to operate more effectively. Infrastructure and private providers can read more about ‘what works’ in supporting the sector on our ‘building capacity’ page.

Funding support providers’ work

We have funded infrastructure bodies through programmes like BASIS, in which we funded them to strengthen their offer and deliver support of their choosing.

Our Supporting Change and Impact programme by contrast directly gave organisations who were seeking support the funds to buy the help they needed from providers of their choice. We found that grant-holders typically choose providers they already know. This doesn't always mean they choose the best support for them. It shows that we should help grant-holders understand more about the variety of support options available.

Our Building Capabilities scoping study is helping us learn more about how best we can support organisations. For example, it has recommended we use funding directed to our grant holders to test and learn more about ways of delivering tailored support to them, using a diagnostic process. In particular we have noted that:

  • The diagnostic should help organisations choose suppliers with the right expertise for their needs
  • Third parties providing diagnostic support and development should not be the same – to avoid conflict of interest
  • There are also specific issues for different disadvantaged groups that need to be better addressed by support providers and in particular for small groups.

The Building Capabilities study also undertook some direct research with providers of support. The report describes the state of the market and its ability to adapt to likely future demand for tailored support.

Support through communities of interest

We have also conducted research to find out whether infrastructure organisations with origins in specific communities of interest bring them more benefits. We studied infrastructure organisations working in the fields of ethnicity and sexual orientation to help us understand how best to support capacity building for these communities.

Key findings

  • Community of interest infrastructure organisations can be better placed to support community of interest organisations that cross area boundaries.
  • The quality together with accessibility of provision however is generally more important than whether the support comes from within the community of interest.
  • Infrastructure organisations need to understand the context that front line organisations work in – and especially so for communities of interest.


Challenges arise where there are not enough organisations around a particular community of place or interest to warrant specific infrastructure organisations for them.


We have also seen how infrastructure support can be improved, including by:

  • increasing partnership working between specialist and generic providers to help tackle insufficient levels of one-to-one support
  • allocating funding on the basis of evidence of need, rather than in response to ideas of representation or fair shares of funding
  • using diagnostic processes to tailor support to address individual organisations’ context, structure and stage of development.

More about the research

Building Capabilities

The Third Sector Research Centre has carried out a scoping study for us. It considered the available evidence, shown that tailored support will best help front-line voluntary organisations to deliver more effective and sustainable outcomes, and identified the steps needed including the importance of and ways to make a diagnostic process effective.

Communities of interest

As part of our quest to find out how best to build capacity, we investigated the use of infrastructure organisations within communities of interest. We commissioned Equal to the Occasion to produce a report between 2009 and 2010. They engaged a team of specialist consultants to advice on the study You can find out more about the how the study worked in the outline plan. We have also answered some of your questions about the study in our Q&A document

Supporting Change and Impact

Supporting Change and Impact was a two-pronged investment launched in 2011. It helped grant-holders to better plan and sustain the benefits of their projects. We commissioned Rocket Science to evaluate the programme.


Building capabilities

Building capabilities in the voluntary sector: A summary of what the evidence tells us (Summary report)
Building Capabilities in the Voluntary Sector: What the evidence tells us (Full report)
Building Capabilities in the Voluntary Sector: What the evidence tells us (Market review - Ancillary report)
Building capabilities in the voluntary sector: A summary of what the evidence tells us (Partnerships - Ancillary report)

Communities of interest

Equal support report
Equal support report summary
Equal support interim report
Equal support interim report summary

Support and development for grant holders

Research into support and development activity provided to voluntary and community sector grant holders

Supporting Change and Impact

Supporting Change and Impact evaluation