What is a CVS?

Historical background

The first CVS was founded at the end of the 19th century. Its aim was to coordinate voluntary effort and promote new organisations to fill gaps in local services. In 1945 individual CVS linked up to form a Standing Conference, serviced by what is now the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). The National Association of Councils for Voluntary Service (NACVS) was established as an independent body in 1991 and now has a membership of over 260 CVS in England. There are specialist networks within the membership to  enable CVS with specific needs and interests to link together effectively to share information and good practice.

The benefits of a CVS

Every area involves a variety of voluntary action without which many activities and services would not exist. Over the years, CVS have been established in order to

  • co-ordinate this voluntary action
  • promote the establishment of new organisations to fill gaps in local services and meet new needs
  • provide services to support the local voluntary and community sector
  • act as an advocate for, and enable representation by, the sector
  • act as a strategic partner for the sector
  • develop an infrastructure in order to give the voluntary sector stability, support, visibility and status.

The design and development of a CVS

The value of a CVS is its ability to meet local need. Its design and development reflect this. On establishment, a CVS needs to have a clear structure and be of a certain size to support its core functions. Some CVS have existed for many years and have seen many changes both in growth and structure in response to local need. A CVS normally covers the same area as a local authority in order to perform its functions effectively. A CVS needs to provide local benefits and be able to remain responsive and proactive. This means both establishing accessible office bases from which to work with paid staff and volunteers, and having a working style which encourages participation.

Core functions of a CVS


A CVS has a development role in relation to: ! identifying local need ! working with others to develop appropriate local action ! working strategically to benefit the local voluntary sector.


An effective CVS develops and helps maintain links with a wide range of voluntary and community organisations. These include user organisations and those representing the diverse communities which exist within the area. In addition, the task of a CVS is to promote cross-sector relationships including those with the relevant local authority departments (not just social services), the health authority, other public agencies operating within its locality and the business world.

Enabling representation

As an independent, non-party political organisation, a CVS has a particular role in enabling the local voluntary and community sector to present its views to local authorities and other public agencies. This can be achieved by developing the practical means to communicate effectively, and access to:

  • various local committees
  • partnership bodies and working parties
  • local authority representatives and procedures.

To achieve this, each CVS needs to develop effective consultation with the sector through forums, committees, seminars, or other consultative mechanisms. The CVS should be open in the way it seeks, collates, and enables representation of the views of the sector.


A CVS is a key resource and information point for local voluntary and community organisations. Such support can make the difference between a community need being identified and responded to, or not. Support can be wideranging. Key elements may include:

  • funding information
  • employment / financial services and advice
  • legal / constitutional information
  • meeting space and office accommodation
  • office services
  • regular mailings
  • training and / or information about other training providers
  • general advice and guidance
  • recruitment and placement of volunteers.


A CVS has many stakeholders predominant among which are its members. Others include staff, funders, users of local voluntary services, local authorities, and other public agencies which have a relationship with the local voluntary sector. However, a CVS is mainly responsible to its membership of voluntary and community groups and it is therefore important that its independence and integrity is clear to other stakeholders.

Every CVS has a constitution which details the minimum requirements for accounting to these stakeholders, and which reflects the status of the CVS either as:

  • a registered charity or
  • a charitable company limited by guarantee.

Further information

NACVS  Web site.  Model Constitution and values statements.


These questions have relevance whether you are starting out to establish a CVS or reviewing an existing CVS.

  • Are you clear about the need for a CVS and the benefits which a CVS can bring to your area?
  • Can you provide a clear interpretation of CVS core functions in terms of the local context?
  • Are you actively considering which structure would best enable the CVS to be accountable to the area in which it operates?


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