New IOEE Enterprise Academy brings enterprise thinking to voluntary sector

Nottingham Community and Voluntary Service (CVS) is an IOEE Enterprise Academy with premises in the heart of the city. Business Development Manager Jules Sebelin talked to us about her organisation’s work and how its fresh IOEE status is shifting perceptions of how entrepreneurial thinking can create impact in the third sector.

Nottingham Community and Voluntary Service (NCVS) is a registered charity limited by guarantee with a board of trustees overseeing its strategic direction and an operational team that looks after day-to-day matters. Although the organisation does have a number of volunteers working within its own walls, primarily it functions as a ‘volunteer broker’, helping individuals find suitable volunteering roles in all sorts of different settings. Jules Sebelin says:

“We broker around 1000 volunteering opportunities every year to a diverse range of organisations across the city of Nottingham. It’s our role to support the voluntary sector. Rather than delivering frontline services ourselves we help other organisations to do their jobs better.”

The social enterprises NCVS has supported are incredibly diverse. There’s Phoenix Learning Academy, which uses car / bike mechanics to engage with young people who have been excluded from school, winning direct contracts from local education authorities and achieving an amazing success rate in its quest to encourage youngsters either to stay in education or to re-enter mainstream education. Then there’s the community recording studio using music to welcome young people disenchanted with school to return to learning in a different guise. NCVS also works with a cultural and heritage consultancy that goes into small museums training staff on low-cost solutions to keeping museums open and providing training and experience to heritage sector professionals hoping to stand out in a crowded market. Social care is another area in which NCVS has many partner organisations, and environmental social enterprises are also big news. Nottingham CVS has worked with a large local allotment that functions as a social enterprise producing fruit / veg and running courses and workshops. The allotment engages people through the environment with the objective of strengthening their mental health and wellbeing. These are just a few examples of the types of organisations Jules liaises with. Having worked for Nottingham CVS for over three years, before taking on her current role as a Business Development Manager, Jules worked intensively with various social enterprises, helping them to strengthen their output. In fact, she initially joined Nottingham CVS to run a social enterprise programme. In her current role, Jules delivers some training but also spends time looking for opportunities to take the business forward. She says:

“Those opportunities may be funded work, consultancy projects or the delivery of training. I get involved in quite an array of projects. I enjoy going to work. The variety is great and every day is completely different.

“Becoming an IOEE Enterprise Academy has helped Nottingham CVS change people’s perceptions of us and how we can help them develop their organisations. For example, we can offer start-up support and advice on how to grow your enterprise. There have been some significant cuts to local authority budgets in recent years. These have played havoc with the voluntary sector and its ability to find the funding to deliver services. The answer, we feel, is for the sector as a whole to look at how it functions and become more entrepreneurial about it supports itself.”

Many of the organisations Nottingham CVS works with, including those concerned with children and young people’s services, and working with older people and vulnerable adults, must now balance the challenges of bringing money in and achieving a social good. Jules says:

“The voluntary sector has had to become more entrepreneurial. Having a stamp of acknowledgement from the IOEE clearly says we’re focusing on the business side of our organisation. It’s a different tone and one that people are very responsive to.

“Being an IOEE Enterprise Academy means that we can actually offer something to organisations to help them with their business practices. We often find that individuals have been given significant responsibility within an organisation simply because they’ve been working there for a long time and they’re very good at their shop-floor job. For example, a play worker with lots of experience may suddenly find themselves managing people or even running financial matters. Although that person may have had lot of training to become a playworker, they don’t necessarily have any business or organisational management training. By linking ourselves to the IOEE, an organisation with enterprise in its DNA, we’re able to offer voluntary sector people best practice training that will ultimately make their organisations more commercial and more business-focused.”

Nottingham CVS has recently joined forces with its counterpart in a neighbouring city –Community Action Derby. This is a partnership that makes sense as some 40,000 people commute each working day between the two cities. Additionally, Nottingham and Derby share a Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). Together Nottingham CVS and Community Action Derby can apply for large opportunities which, for one agency working alone, would be out of reach, as Jules outlines:

“We’ve been trying to put some structures together that allow us as voluntary sector support organisations to bid together for the larger contracts before cascading those down to smaller organisations for actual delivery. That was the starting point for our getting together with Derby Community Action but we’re also exploring training and sharing various other aspects of each of our offers. Why would we duplicate our efforts?  We’re so close, it makes sense to work together and provide a much more comprehensive offer.”

Jules, who is originally from America, worked in the public sector in the US for around 15 years before moving to the UK almost two decades ago, when she found a position working for a social enterprise:

“I’ve worked in a lot of different places but when I discovered social enterprise as a concept I thought ‘this business model is fantastic.’ Using business practise to tackle a social problem still excites me and I really enjoy what I do.”

A spokesperson for Community Action Derby said:

“Community Action Derby are pleased to be working in partnership with Nottingham CVS on accredited training for the voluntary sector. We chose to become an IOEE centre to support our members with developing their organisations to become more enterprise focussed. We have developed a range of bespoke accredited courses for our members including: How to improve your bid writing skills; Introduction to Corporate Fundraising; Introduction to Project Management; and Introduction to Social Enterprise, which sit well alongside NCVS’ Impact Measurement and Investment Readiness courses.”