Contentious issues almost always become polarised and yet the reality is almost always more complex. Thus it is with the issue of charity trustees. So far, the debate has fixated on whether they should be paid or not? Trusteeship carries with it high accountability, not just to the regulator but also in building trust and confidence with donors and beneficiaries – our ‘court of public opinion’. As such, the debate shouldn’t just revolve around ‘payment’ but more significantly, on good governance.
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I am a serial trustee. A charity recidivist. You know the line in the gangster movies: every time I try to leave, they keep pulling me back in. A bit like staying at the Hotel California…
Perhaps it is just as well that I am not new to this stuff, for there is much to learn, particularly in an era in which the charity funding dynamic has changed so significantly, perhaps for ever.
This month, millions of men will come to together to raise money for one of the world’s largest and most successful men’s health charities. They will do this not by running a marathon or by trekking up a mountain – they will simply grow a moustache.
I am of course talking about Movember, a major campaign that raises awareness of – and funds for – important male health issues such as prostate and testicular cancer. Since it started in 2003, it has exploded into a global phenomenon.
There is lots of heated debate going on about whether charity branding is worth the investment or just a waste of money – the same debate that raged when I was brand manager at Shelter many moons ago. Back then, and even now, I sometimes feel like I’m made out to be the nasty Sheriff of Nottingham, stealing valuable charity funds for the purposes of ‘marketing’. And yet I do what I do because I firmly believe that branding can provide clarity and inspire more support and income. And when I talk about branding I don’t only mean the logo, which is another common misconception we’re still fighting.
Being rude to a government minister isn’t the best way to get ahead in our sector, but it seemed a good idea at the time.
I was introducing Francis Maude, Minister of State for the Cabinet Office, who was speaking at the Third Sector Impact Measurement conference on 16 October. We had both attended the Abingdon School, so I made far too much of the fact that he attended long before I did, adding that ‘back in your decade, Minister’, the school was even in a different county, due to border changes 40 years ago.
The payment-by-results steamroller has paused. The Ministry of Justice has announced it is suspending its payment-by-results pilots in order to reconsider its strategy. What should the voluntary and community sector make of this?
We, in the sector, have long argued that we should be paid for outcomes. Put simply: reward us for success. And the early excitement was that payment-by-results would achieve this. It was thus welcomed by many, albeit with the proviso that we needed to know more about the detail.
Open data has already attracted the interest of businesses and government bodies in the UK and overseas. It is defined by Sarah Parker of Lamplight Database Systems as “anonymised data, freely available to anyone who wants to use it”.
Ultimately, data is only as useful as its analysis, and in the case of shared data, interpretations are ample and diverse. Here are three things charities need to do to get started with open data:
Think about what open data can do for you
Open data is a tool like any other, and can be used to help you reach specific goals. If you are unsure how open data can help you, David Kane, Research Development Officer at NCVO suggests: “Try releasing your own data to see what others do with it – something as simple as a map of your facilities, or what time they are open”.
Think about how you could use open data to support your charity’s aims. So if you want to increase your funding, you could boost your campaign by releasing evidence of your expenditure, in the form of open data.
Consider the reciprocal uses of open data
Other charities can benefit from the data you release. As Kieron Kirkland, Development Researcher at the Nominet Trust says, “Open data allows us to think about how we share and repurpose our data, enabling us to learn from each other and collaborate our understanding of certain areas.”
Data can be constantly recycled and put to new uses, and it is worth considering how your data could be used differently in the hands of another organisation. Kieron continues: “Although you can pick up other people’s conclusions from it, you can also analyse it to support your own purposes, which may not have even been considered by others yet.”
Who Owns My Neighbourhood, as part of Nesta’s Make it Local project, is a great example of repurposed data. They release council-owned data about land ownership to the community, helping them to make positive use of disused land and spaces.
You don’t have to publish everything
The nature of services provided within the third sector means that there will always be complications with data, since charities are often dealing with sensitive information. Kieron explains: “If somebody can access lots of data from different sources, about the same people, it is not impossible to figure out the identities of those people.” Charities need to ensure they never compromise the anonymity of clients. However, open data does offer a large degree of flexibility and as Kieron says: “is not about sharing all of your data, or even anything about individuals. Organisations have the control to deliver their data however they want, meaning that it can be aggregated, selective data which reveals nothing about individual people”.
Certainly, we should not be deterred from open data, since as Kieron rightly says; “when used in the right way, open data can help charities to share and combine their knowledge, which could save money, form advocacy approaches and change policies!” However, while it is evident that open data offers charities exciting opportunities for growth, it is equally clear that there is still more to learn about best practice and acceptable use of data.
We will be exploring these issues and more at Lasa’s Google funded event, ‘Unlocking the Potential of Open Data’ on 17 September. If you are just starting out with open data, try Tim Davies’ Open Data Cookbook or Open Charities for help.
Ian Goodman is information systems team leader at Lasa, a charity that supports third sector and government organisations in delivering services
A key aim and challenge of Lord Hodgson’s July review of the Charities Act 2006 was to find a balance between avoiding burdening small charities with red tape, and ensuring that unregistered charities are not disadvantaged.
The review sought to achieve this balance by proposing that the threshold above which charities must register with the Charity Commission should be raised frmo £5,000 to £25,000 a year, potentially leaving half of the organisations currently registered with the regulator with an ‘unregistered charity’ status that an estimated 400,000 charitable organisations currently have.
It was with an huge sense of pride that I heard the loudest round of applause at the closing ceremony of London 2012 initiated by Lord Seb Coe when he thanked the 70,000 Games Makers.
As one of the many that woke at four in the morning to trek across the Olympic park for my shift, with no guarantee of seeing any of the action, simply to be a part of that once in a life time experience, it left me both humbled and proud.
Now back in the office and getting a reputation as an Olympic bore, I am questioning what it was that made the volunteering experience of the Games Makers so successful and what benefits the voluntary sector can gain from the Games.
I was doing some research on fundraising recently when I came across the Forbes website, and specifically its list of billionaires. This site tracks the stock portfolios of billionaires in real time.
That particular day’s winner was Larry Ellison, the chief executive of Oracle – his stocks were up $550.3m in under 24 hours. I’ll just give you a minute to take that in. That single day’s profit for that one individual is slightly more than the annual income of Macmillan Cancer Research and the British Red Cross combined.