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Investing In Equity-Led Governance

Adina Maglan
March 21, 2024

Capacity building a diverse Voluntary and Community Sector that is representative of today's UK society

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a steer towards resourcing and capacity building equity led organisations and initiatives, with a view to develop networks and initiatives that have been traditionally overseen from investment. As such, more grassroots organisations have benefitted from funding and access to other types of resources leading to a more diverse and balanced voluntary and community sector.

During the pandemic, small and grassroots networks have quickly become the foundation of emergency aid, community support, and a key partner to the authorities. Their contribution has started to be increasingly recognised and valued, thus leading to improved access to resources.

While it is beneficial to observe such a shift towards more strategic and fair investment from funders, the threshold for being recognised as an equity-led – or by-and-for as an alternative term -  still represents a significant gap in equitable resource allocation due to this approach being a crisis response rather than a well researched and strategically planned policy.

What does being "equity led” mean?

According to most funders, there is a specific representation ratio needed for organisations to meet this threshold. Some refer to "more than 75% of an organisation’s Trustees and more than 50% of staff members (including senior) are people from the communities that you serve/have lived experience of the issues that your organisation is tackling”. Other funders set a ratio of "at least 80% of trustee sand staff”.

On a deeper exploration, we find that even the "by and for” definitions differ. One funder uses the following definition: "have experience of the problems and communities your organisation supports” while others refer to "are from the protected characteristic the organisation aims to work with”. We observe therefore a distinction between representation by identity and that of having faced same or similar issues –which can be interpreted in multiple and sometimes significantly different ways.

This leads to several key policy questions:

  • How was the ratio threshold set and what is the evidence behind this?
  • How is the impact of these policies assessed?
  • How is the impact used in policy development?
  • Have the excluded voices been involved in co-designing these approaches in a coordinated way, such as producing a national guidance or developing the equity criteria for such interventions?
  • What is the long term strategy following this equitable investment?

Currently, there appears to be a discretionary adoption of thresholds and definitions which, indeed, can be argued is informed by local or sector need. However, more research and comprehensive guidance is needed, as well as proper policies and regulations developed to ensure fairness is achieved. Or at least more transparency on how these have been developed should be guaranteed.

How do organisations achieve the equity-led thresholds so they can qualify for "by and for” type of funding?

A desk research exercise revealed there is no investment into preparing under-represented groups and communities to undertake roles in the voluntary and community sector such as becoming trustees, setting up charities, and securing funding for their community projects. Positive actions in this regard are scarce and not particularly accessible or visible.

Taking the example of migrant communities from Eastern Europe where VCSOs historically had a lesser status or they simply did not exist for decades, the aforementioned thresholds assume that these groups are able to undertake trustee roles or set up charities without any prior training, mentoring, and strategic investment into upskilling them on governance issues. Therefore, the root cause of under-representation amongst funded groups and communities it is not being addressed. It merely treats a symptom rather than the cause for under-representation.

In conclusion, the key policy questions are:

  • How can communities access resources fairly if they have no community representative trustees with the necessary competences to help them achieve the "by-and-for” threshold so they can access funding?
  • How do funders make sure they are not excluding those who do not have access to trustees representative of their communities and do not meet the representation threshold?
  • How is equity measured in this case?
  • Have the views of under-represented communities been actively sought to inform the policy development for such approaches?
  • How can funders and grant makers help such under-represented communities access resources fairly and proportionately?

Social Equity Centre’s view on equitable funding and fair approaches to creating capacity for Equity-Led VCSOs

We advocate for funders, grant makers, and regulators to join forces in order to have a coordinated approach to their policy to resource fairly groups, organisations, and initiatives that are run by-and-for the communities they are supporting. We identified three key interventions that can help achieve this:


1. Research the representation gap to identify root causes for under-representation to create tools that inform policies; monitor implementation longer term in order to observe learnings and keep up with dynamics such as demographic or geo-political changes.


2. Develop standards and avoid discretionary use of thresholds and definitions in grant making and resource allocation. This should not restrict localised positive interventions;  it should aim for co-design rather than a hierarchical approach.


3.  Invest strategically in developing opportunities to upskill more diverse pools of people that can become trustees or setup organisations, and help these achieve the equity threshold, but also practically contribute to an equity-led and representative governance.

Our suggested outputs are:

  • Pro-actively seek to create more diversity and train more people to become trustees and represent their communities
  • Harness the cultural capital of under-represented groups and individuals to bring new perspectives and skills to grant making and Voluntary Sector leadership
  • Diversify and enhance the training offer on Governance, Community Development, Fundraising, Diversity & Inclusion, and other relevant areas that can lead to creating diverse and representative pools of people with the necessary skills to undertake such roles
  • Consider communities that have been traditionally excluded from opportunities
  • Empower leaders and upskill them to bridge the gap in representation and challenge power hierarchies
  • Open the public policy development to more voices and innovate engagement to meet the needs of those whose views are sought


The Social Equity Centre can help. We can support organisations in consulting with all protected groups as well as the new communities in the UK and create excellent research reports for you.

To discuss your equity and fairness in policy development needs, do email us at


Reference this article: Maglan A. (2024), Social Equity Centre CIC: Investing in Equity-Led Governance. Capacity building a diverse Voluntary and Community Sector that is representative of today's UK society.

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