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Resilience – what’s in a word?

Published: 04/04/22 | Categories: Information & support, Author: Sian Eager

Sian Eagar, WCVA’s Resilience Officer, talks about developing our approach to supporting the sector with organisational resilience.

Resilience is a word that has featured strongly in analysis of the voluntary sector’s response to the pandemic over the last two years.

For WCVA, supporting the resilience of the voluntary sector in Wales was a key strategic priority before the pandemic and it continues to be at the heart of our work.

As the voluntary sector in Wales faces new challenges from the pandemic recovery, Brexit and world events, our approach at WCVA will be to use the concept of resilience as a way to empower and enable voluntary organisations to serve their cause and beneficiaries in the best way possible.


As a starting point for developing our approach to resilience, WCVA commissioned research to explore the voluntary sector’s current understanding of the concept. This work was undertaken by Grow Social Capital and information about their findings has been shared in this blog: Our 13 insights into resilience.

The research showed us that there is already a real interest in and appreciation of the need for voluntary sector resilience and the complexities involved in building this within a voluntary organisation. For some the concept had more negative connotations and respondents critiqued the way it can sometimes be used.

We have listened to what organisations are telling us about resilience, and findings from the research provide a platform for WCVA to build our programme of work in a way that we hope will resonate with the sector across Wales.


Definition of resilience

One of the aims of the research was to test WCVA’s definition of organisational resilience. Based on the findings we have refined our definition of voluntary sector resilience:

‘The ability of an organisation to plan for, respond to, and adapt to change, enabling it to survive and thrive both now and in the future.’

We will also promote resilience as a forwarding looking concept, which is about flexibility and adaptation and enabling organisations to evolve and thrive. The research shows us that WCVA needs to articulate this positive interpretation of resilience strongly and clearly (and avoid inferences that resilience is undermining the sector or requiring it to endure adversity alone).

Characteristics of resilience

The next stage of our resilience work is to determine a range of features or qualities that voluntary organisations can work on to build their resilience. We will call these ‘characteristics of resilience’. The research found that the areas we initially identified resonated well with the sector, but respondents suggested some additional characteristics that we are working to include in our model.

Resilience building journey

WCVA recognises that organisations will be at different stages of development and have different needs and priorities. These needs and priorities will also vary over time. WCVA aims to use our definition of resilience, and our identified characteristics of resilience, as the basis on which to build a programme of support that is accessible and useful for voluntary organisations throughout their resilience building journey.

The bigger picture

While WCVA’s advice and support programme focuses on organisational resilience, we appreciate that this cannot be entirely separated from the resilience of the individuals, communities and the wider sector.

We are all part of an ecosystem with significant interdependencies. Our policy team at WCVA continue to work on those big issues, ensuring that the voice of the sector is heard, and the contribution of voluntary organisations is recognised – in conversations around Levelling Up, the cost of living, human rights and the humanitarian response to the war in Ukraine to name a few.


The voluntary sector in Wales has faced many challenges and there are more to come. We are living in uncertain and frightening times and as the war in Ukraine rages we know that there will be longstanding impacts which will be felt in our sector in Wales too.

An organisation’s ability to respond to these challenges whilst staying true to its vision and mission will require resilience, and WCVA remains committed to supporting the sector so that we can make a bigger difference together.


To hear more about WCVA’s work around resilience please sign up for our newsletter where we will share information on further developments.

We are also interested to hear about your experiences of what it takes to build organisational resilience and the barriers to making lasting change. If you are interested in sharing your story then please email me – seagar@wcva.cymru.