Insider Stories - Exploring Sustainability in Small and Medium Charities

Hill, Cath and May-Chahal, Corinne and Broadhurst, Karen (2023) Insider Stories - Exploring Sustainability in Small and Medium Charities. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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A body of literature details the strength, depth and endurance of charitable activity in the UK. However, many small and medium sized charities are increasingly required to compete against each other for resources and fight for their survival, particularly those that have relied on national and local government funding. Literature relating to charities has inevitably focused on the vulnerable position charities are in. The present study takes a more positive approach, which draws out knowledge about sustainability and how charities survive despite the challenging environment in which they exist. The research addresses the following questions: How do charities sustain their operations in the context of the profound social and economic changes, which have occurred in the UK over the last three decades? Are there specific elements of organisational practice which contribute to sustainability, and if so, can this be used to help other charities which are at risk of closing. Three charities that have successfully offered services at a local level for over three decades comprised the research site. Each had a different mission, organisational structure and user population. Applying ethnographic and narrative methods over a period of two years, interview and observational data captured the experiences and practices of a range of stakeholders, documentary evidence, use of space and materials (such as buildings and furniture). The analysis advances third sector research by drawing on three theoretical lenses. First, Organisational Identity Theory provides a framework to analyse differences between the charities under study, with a focus on history, social goals and aims. Second, Resource Mobilisation Theory exposes how resources, such as volunteers, buildings and materials are co-produced and utilised to support sustainability. Third, Social Practice Theory provides an explanatory lens through which to analyse micropractices and their linkages. This reframes stated social goals through making the teleoaffective structures that drive everyday practices more explicit.Findings reveal how the social need which each charity aims to address, exists because of a gap in public services and this informs the central and distinctive features of their identity. A strong and enduring identity is fundamental to sustainability, because it contributes to successful resource acquisition and mobilisation, and underpins and informs practices. Furthermore, a strong identity enables charities to respond, if the need they aim to address diversifies or demand increases. However, the gap that charities fill, and the identity that is valued are rarely made explicit as a recognisable element of social value. As a way forward, a new framework, which emerged from the research methods adopted, is proposed. It aims to help charities better articulate the social value of their work in a qualitative systematic way that can contribute to their future sustainability. The framework provides for the use of narratives in local evaluations, created in partnership with one of the participating charities from this study.

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09 Jun 2023 08:30
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16 Jul 2024 06:03