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Monday 11 February 2013 - Press release

A new discussion paper, released today by the Third Sector Research Centre, argues that leadership in the third sector may need to play an increasing role in protecting the voice of voluntary organisations and those they represent.

It points out that the sector’s huge diversity makes it difficult to speak for the sector as a whole. It highlights the importance of field specific leadership – such as umbrella bodies for those working in mental health, housing or criminal justice.

But the centre’s research also finds that, despite the diversity of the sector, there is still an important role for national level leadership in influencing policy and public debate. Leaders of local third sector organisations, interviewed by the Centre, pointed out that they did not have the time or resources to influence the policies that were affecting their organisations.

This is the final discussion paper released as part of a series of dialogues on the future of the third sector. Previous dialogues have highlighted the difficulty of speaking about, or for, such a diverse set of organisations as a single entity. Yet they have also highlighted the need for voluntary organisations to assert their value, and create a strong narrative for why they are here.

Previous discussion papers have also raised concerns about loss of voice in the sector, and cuts to services that protect some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in society. In this context, there may be more room for third sector leadership to promote shared visions of social justice, voice and wellbeing.

In speaking up for the sector, its causes and beneficiaries, TSRC’s leadership research highlights the importance of leaders resonating with their audiences. This might come through personal experience or retaining close connections with the day to day work of charities, for example.

Rob Macmillan, who wrote the paper, said ‘As concerns are increasingly expressed about the ability of organisations to speak out against government policy, leadership in the sector may need to play an increasing role in campaigning, and protecting the voice and interests of both voluntary organisations and those they represent. Of course, we need to take differences between different organisations and parts of the sector very seriously – but despite the diversity there may be room for leadership that enables the sector to assert and debate its values and value on a larger scale.’

TSRC asks people to discuss these issues at 

Discussion paper: A strategic lead for the third sector? Rob Macmillan and Heather Buckingham (pdf, 144KB)

This discussion paper is part of the Third Sector Futures Dialogues, being hosted by TSRC between September 2012 and April 2013, based on issues raised by our research. Stakeholders can get involved in each debate online, and a Sounding Board of voluntary, community and policy representatives has been assembled discuss research findings and comments.

For more information contact:
Naomi Landau, Knowledge Exchange Team
020 7520 2421