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Inspiring activism: outreach that goes local and personal

What is the best route to mobilising local activism? Of
course, all organisations are different, and the current social and economic
climate provides a challenging backdrop. But at the Switchover Help Scheme
the organisation set up to deliver practical support to help older and disabled
people switch to digital television – we’ve worked with a range of partners to try to do things
in a new way.

Picture this: in late 2009, a bus is making its way along
the meandering route between Newquay and St. Austell, Cornwall. Its driver,
Paul, puts the relationships he’s built with regular older passengers to good
use by helping them understand the help they can get through switchover.

How did we encourage someone like Paul – someone who is
trusted by the older people he sees day-in, day-out – to put his hand up and
help out?

Back in 2008 we kicked off a huge range of work with
statutory and third sector organisations to raise awareness of the support we
offer. As effective as this was, we needed to do something different for those
eligible people without a strong support network to rely on. These aren’t easy
people to reach: they tend not to engage with mainstream communications and can
be extremely selective about the people they trust and rely on.

We therefore devised a ‘communities programme’, that would go well beyond the partnership work we were already doing and tap
into the sense of community that exists at a local level.

The programme uses word of mouth to generate interest among
people already trusted by the hardest to reach. Like Paul, these trusted people
have real relationships with our eligible people, and range from shopkeepers,
hairdressers and carers to community car drivers, GPs and psychiatric nurses.
We call them ‘community supporters’.

Finding a route to the right ‘community supporters’ is
essential. To do it, we work with groups that support disadvantaged people on
the ground like the Gloucestershire Rural Community Council, Circles Network
and Voluntary Action Orkney. We run skills workshops to demonstrate how workers
can identify the community supporters that will then support the hardest to
reach.

The dedication and commitment of hundreds of volunteers like
Paul has helped some of the most disadvantaged people in the UK. By going
ultra-local and tapping into actual relationships, we’ve been able to help
those people reconnect with communities, foster new relationships and, of
course, avoid being left with a blank screen at switchover.

Luke McCullough is outreach manager for the Switchover Help
Scheme
run by the BBC

A nudge in the right direction?

The Giving White Paper wants to inspire a step change in giving time and money, but how easy
will that be? Firstly, the UK is already a highly engaged population. Survey
data shows that non-engagement is small: only around 7 per cent neither volunteer, give
informal help, nor give to charity. Figures highlight both the stability of
volunteering rates, and how these vary according to people’s circumstances.

One can understand why
governments might ask more of their citizens in difficult times, but how much
can people reasonably be expected to do, and where? Does the Giving White Paper give
undue prominence to certain forms of voluntary action while neglecting others?

The paper contains
positive initiatives aimed at increasing levels of giving, but it doesn’t mention
what is probably the largest single element of the “big society”: unpaid care
given to relatives by about 12 per cent of the adult population. Geographically (by
local authority), the proportion of people giving unpaid care is inversely
correlated with the proportion who say they volunteer: as unpaid care goes up,
volunteering rates go down. Public expenditure reductions will fall most
heavily on those communities which are most deprived, and where unpaid care is
most substantial, which is likely to further increase obstacles to involvement
in those areas.

The paper says
little about the distributional effects of voluntary action, but what about
geographical and social divides? Those with the time and resources to be
engaged in their communities tend to be found in the most prosperous
residential neighbourhoods. This reflects residential segregation rather than
some geographical variation in altruistic propensities.

To add to this, voluntary
organisations are likely to be under greatest pressure from public expenditure
cuts in communities where volunteering rates are lowest. Matching organisations
with private businesses and professional skills is also a challenge in
economically remote areas, and reliance on match funding may benefit
communities with the connections and skills to tap business and philanthropic
resources. The new localism seems likely to encourage a greater focus on action
in the immediate neighbourhood, which may not be where support is most needed.

This calls for
creative thought about how needs and resources are matched. It will be
challenging to overcome the obstacles to participation faced by some groups.
Pushing those who are already highly engaged to do more might be unrealistic
and could reinforce inequalities in the extent of voluntary action. Closing the
gaps may require a more co-ordinated effort to challenge disparities in the
resources and opportunities which limit people’s capacity to engage.

John Mohan, Deputy
Director, Third Sector Research Centre

I think the latest ad from the ISPCC will set back the cause of fundraising in Ireland

Well, I’ve seen it all now – a child beaten up in front of
me; not in the context of a film I’ve been sick enough to choose to watch, but
in a 60-second TV advertisement in my home while I’m eating my supper. Well, it would be in my home, if I
lived in Ireland. You can see it
for yourself on YouTube ,if you have the stomach for
it.

This ad, from the ISPCC (the Irish equivalent of the NSPCC), is in
my view crude and crass and will set back the cause of fundraising in Ireland.

In the UK, no charity would show this sort of stuff and it
is light years away from any ad the Irish have ever seen on their screens
before. In the UK, it would be banned
by the Advertising Standards Authority immediately.

It tries
to mirror the disturbing but acclaimed and influential ad some years ago by
NSPCC. In that, the cartoon
depiction of a child being abused was just about acceptable, and the outcome
was a determination to expose such
cruelty. But in this ad, you are made to watch the real thing. Slap, smash, slam.

The poor child is forced to spout the mission statement of
the ISPCC. “I have the right to be happy,” he says through clenched teeth as he
is beaten up. “I’ll fight for the rights of children like me.” This is not how a six-year-old boy
speaks. It’s how an advertising
agency thinks he should speak in order to get a message across to adults.

And the call to action is: ‘Join the fight for children’s
rights’. What does that mean? What do you actually want me to do? Well, that little nugget is left to the
imagination. And, if they’re
hoping for donations, forget it.
This is a study in misguided fundraising.

It makes me so angry that a charity and an ad agency have
actually done this.

Stephen Pidgeon is a principal consultant at Tangible and partner in Pidgeon Sargeant

We should be taking advantage of Britain’s faith communities to advance social welfare

The Public Service Reform White Paper is now due in July. However, many charities wonder who among their
number has the skill and scale to benefit from the opportunities that could
come our way?

A creative response to this conundrum is a more imaginative
engagement with faith based institutions than has previously been attempted in
Britain.

Many speak of
‘thinking globally, acting
locally’. In the NGO sector this has meant creating international brands. Oxfam
and the Red Cross operate trans-nationally. Action Aid deliberately relocated
its HQ to Johannesburg. These networks have the capacity to accept large
government contracts and the scale to receive significant philanthropy. Mercy Corps Scotland‘s HQ, for example,
received $19 million from the Gates
Foundation
to buy a commercial bank, turn it into a social enterprise and
create Indonesia’s largest micro-finance institution.

In the UK, private sector outsourcing firms are well
established. Nevertheless, in pursuing the worthy goal of returning bureaucratic
revenues to civic control it would be a pity if mid-sized charities were squeezed by the currently superior
access to cashflow of such companies. Meanwhile, localism might not be
enhanced by an unreflective drift to
dominant monopoly private provision. This is where global links should
be mainstreamed.

Britain’s faith communities sit at the heart of
international networks
incredibly experienced in
advancing social welfare. Jewish foundations drive many social innovations. The
Catholic Caritas Germany provides 24,000 hospitals, community projects, and
social services schemes. Catholic
Charities
is America’s largest non-profit, while Caritas’ global revenues are
£5.5 billion, funding projects without discrimination. Meanwhile,
Australian Presbyterian Mission
Care has already done business
with our Department for Work and Pensions.

The Prime Minister rightly champions corporates who invest
in Britain. Couldn’t the Cabinet Office now organise inward social trade missions from large faith-based
and other charities to come to work with their indigenous allies? Caritas could
build the capacity of Catholic charities here while others could work alongside
Anglican and evangelical networks. Transferring international knowledge and
resources between like-minded communities could facilitate a step change in
capacity and innovation while also inspiring new UK giving to build on the £0.6
billion in unrestricted donations
already found in the Christian
community.

Or does the argument that the charities do not exist to take
advantage of the White paper really amount to a hope that they do not? If the NGO sector can internationalise
at speed and quality, why not the domestic sector too?

Francis Davis is a Wessex based social entrepreneur who has
advised Coalition and Labour Ministers and has his own blog

If you take a place in a marathon and don’t raise what you pledge, then you should pay

Marathon fundraising is a nightmare.I’d
rather run one than fundraise through one again after my experiences this year.

While an exceptional minority raise
thousands of pounds to feed orphans, I’ve found that the majority take the few
places we have and don’t raise enough money to cover costs never mind feeding
orphans – something I’m sure their donors wouldn’t be happy about.

And some others haven’t even bothered to run it.

What they fail to understand is that it’s a
reciprocal partnership.I spend hours calling runners to show appreciation
for their support and help them fundraise.I’ve sent them running vests
which have never been worn and hired post race reception areas which stood
empty after runners stayed at home.

I struggled to even get places, eventually
securing one through a marketing package by advertising Msizi Africa to ‘own
place’ runners on the London Marathon website. Dozens of people
applied.We gave it to someone who pledged £2,500 – but raised £801.Thankfully
the person was apologetic and set up a direct debit to pay this pledge off.

I was sure this wasn’t unique to our
charity and the London Marathon would help charities protect themselves, so I
contacted the organisation and suggested it put a downloadable agreement on its
website whereby the runner, regardless of what charity they’re running for, is
contractually obliged to make up the minimum sponsorship on their credit card
if they fail to fundraise enough.

Its response was I shouldn’t depend on the
London Marathon to raise funds. I don’t, and I’m sure other charities don’t
either, but I felt it dismissed my concerns and I realised I was on my own.

Places for the inaugural Brighton Marathon
in 2010 were easy to secure and organisers were helpful.Four runners
raised £7,000 so we happily bought more for 2011.Three were taken by a
senior banking figure, the founder of a luxury food company and a
celebrity.They told us they’d reach and smash our target – then ignored
months of emails and calls from us.

The former two told us five days before the
race they weren’t running; we never heard from the celebrity.We lost an
immeasurable amount of money as they could have raised thousands.

I wonder what the true loss is for
charities nationwide. If you take a place and don’t raise what you pledge, you
should pay. I would like to see race organisers present this to potential
runners as their policy – if it’s left up to each charity to implement their
own protective measures, runners will simply refuse to sign it and run for a
charity without such an agreement.

Charities shouldn’t have to protect
themselves against so-called fundraisers – we’re busy enough caring for our
beneficiaries.

Lucy Caslon, founder and director of Msizi
Africa, a charity feeding orphans in Southern Africa

Why don’t we talk about time management?

While there’s a massive literature on
time management and how to be more effective at work, I am often struck by how
little discussion there is of this among third sector professionals. We see it
as something possibly to teach our admin staff and we laugh at the public
sector, but we tend, in an unspoken way, to assume that we are optimally
productive.

But are we? I’m certainly not. Well,
not all of the time. I spend a lot of time on low priority stuff. I waste time
on stuff I enjoy rather than needs doing. I procrastinate for England. I often
fail to prioritise for weeks on end.

Yet I do also get it dead right
sometimes. These are the times when I decide on a few important things to be
done, commit myself and plough through it all. This rids me of distraction
and gives me energy. I find a kind of sweet spot of focus, energy and momentum.

My biggest inspiration was years ago
reading Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
Despite the god-awful title, this is one hell of a book for someone trying to
raise their game. I read it on a beach in Goa twelve years ago where I had gone
after one of my many burnouts while developing the early Speaking Up.

It grabbed me for three reasons.
Firstly, it told me what I needed to do: choose a small number of high-impact
priorities, write them down and pursue them exclusively. Secondly, it taught me
that I needed to work consciously on improving my character. Being not just
myself, but my best self. Thirdly, I got from that book a clear sense that it
was down to me what I made of my life – it was about choice not predestination
or script.

One of the biggest takeaways from
that Goa-trip was my annual, monthly and weekly list of must-do’s. I used this
until relatively recently. I like to think that I internalised the habit,
however the truth is, I got a bit too pleased with myself and put this trusted
tool aside too early. My productivity is certainly no longer what it was.

Kids and age have a bit to do with
this. But there is no real substitute for knowing, every day, what you are
going to achieve, writing it down and committing to it. All a bit American for
some of us I know – but I bet it would add 15% to most people in our
sector. And, of course, a
great way to deliver more for less in straitened times.

Craig Dearden-Phillips is the founding chief executive of Stepping Out and a Liberal Democrat councillor in Suffolk

The Big Society Bank should settle for nothing less than £5bn from the bankers

Rumours in Westminster and the City suggest
a deal in the making: the banks make a significant payment to the Big Society
Bank
. In return, ministers shelve ideas about new taxes and restricting
bonuses. I have some advice for the negotiators.

Firstly, this is likely to be a very good deal
for the bankers. Five billion pounds sounds generous but would amount to only
70p for every pound paid in bonuses last year.

Ministers might also recognise the figure.
It is, the Charity Commission says, the gap in third sector funding resulting from local authority expenditure
cuts. Settle for nothing less.

The unclaimed assets, which are already
destined for the Big Society Bank, must not be included in the calculations. These never
“belonged” to the banks any more than the cash in a post office
savings account “belongs” to the post office.

Setting aside the primary questions about
the morality and fairness of such a deal, I am encouraged by government’s
apparent and implicit recognition that something must be done. Let it be
significant.

Local and national spending cuts are
threatening to devastate third sector services for the most vulnerable.
Preventative early action work is particularly suffering as the urgent is
prioritised above the important – a desperately misguided “economy”
which will swiftly and inevitably increase the need for essential and expensive
acute services.

Capitalising the bank with much more than can be drawn
immediately from unclaimed assets and then enabling it to spend on sustaining
preventative work with those most at risk will avoid incurring much higher and,
by then, unavoidable costs – social, financial and ultimately political –
within the lifetime of this government.

And be clear, the new Big Society Bank must
spend as well as lend. I’m an enthusiast for social enterprise and a
supporter
of social investment. The unclaimed assets must, as already planned, be
ring-fenced and lent for this purpose. But many essential services for
the most
vulnerable will never be self-sustaining. It is these services that are
least
likely to survive a harsh winter, and it is the public funding of this
provision
that marks out our economy as that of a civilised and compassionate
society.

A good deal hangs on your best judgement. Be bold.

David Robinson is the co-founder of Community Links, a charity that helps disadvantaged local people