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Why I changed my mind about corporate volunteering

I believe in volunteering: both supporting it and, where possible, volunteering myself. The caveat “where possible” is important. Weeks slip away as I try to juggle work with desperate attempts to exercise, a growing stack of unread books, family demands and finding enough relaxation time to make the week manageable. Voluntary donation of time is difficult when more pressing activities dominate.

Despite these difficulties, the concept of corporate volunteering – the obligatory charity work which some employers require staff to take part in during working hours – initially left me with some reservations. Is volunteering still valid if you’re “made” to do it? I had also been exposed to criticism of the idea of corporate social responsibility, and was somewhat cynical about why a company might choose to be associated with one charity brand over another.

A big day for charity data

You could be forgiven for missing it, but this month was a big deal in the world of open data with the publication of 360 Giving’s Grant Navigator prototype. 360 Giving aims “to help UK grant makers and philanthropists to publish their grant information online in an easy-to-use way” and with their GrantNav tool they have put data about £22bn worth of grants into the public domain.

It is now possible to access the details of more than a quarter of a million different grants covering the past 20 years. You can search by funder or recipient, view some of the visualisations that are available or grab the data to play with yourself. It is, by their own admission, pretty rough and ready, but as a work in progress it offers a glimpse of the possibilities.

It’s official – preventing poverty is not charitable

For some time now, the UK charity sector has been under pressure from government and from parts of the media that want to stop it speaking out. Just as the term “political correctness” is used not to highlight bureaucracy gone mad but to signpost that the speaker is about to come out with something objectionable, so “political” has become a term thrown at charities specifically to put them on the defensive.

Charities should look out for scammers

We often read in the papers of cases where people have been accused of taking advantage of their position as “attorney”. A power of attorney is when one person is appointed by another to manage their affairs, should they not be mentally capable of doing so themselves because of illness or accident.

Just last month, in the case The Public Guardian v JW, a businessman had his power of attorney over his mother’s finances revoked after allegations of misconduct. But this case is one of many, as the courts often deal with unscrupulous characters who have used their positions as an attorney to transfer funds and assets from the person’s estate into their own name. The impact on charities? They’re losing out in cases where they had been set to inherit from the estate in a person’s will.

A focus on fundraising lets businesses off the hook

Last year I was invited by MP David Blunkett’s office to provide testimony in the Charities Aid Foundation’s Growing Giving inquiry, which is exploring the future of giving, charity, and philanthropy in the workplace. Intrigued and excited by the opportunity, I accepted and began preparing.

Ukip’s policies are not anti-charity

I’ve just been elected for the UK Independence Party as a member of the European Parliament. I’ve done voluntary and charitable work for a number of years, from setting up a charity working with disadvantaged young people to hospital radio broadcasting which I’ve done since I was 15.

I’ve fundraised for charities, worked on both a voluntary and paid basis delivering council holiday sports schemes for children and young people. I donate to several charities. My wife and I sponsor children in the developing world. 

Why is the sector keeping quiet on Ukip?

I have been a paid-up member of the Labour Party for more than 30 years and for most of that time I’ve worked in the charity sector, mainly with Christian Aid in various roles including head of advocacy. But throughout that time, I’ve felt uncomfortable about making the following statement:

“If you’re concerned about global development, you must vote Labour”. 

Forget the stereotype of a charity shop volunteer

I was disappointed to see our longest-serving volunteer award come in for criticism in an article by Rob Jackson on the Third Sector blog last week, particularly as it was National Volunteering Week. I want to correct the misconceptions about charity retail volunteering that it presented.

The purpose of the award is to celebrate the people who have donated countless hours to their chosen charity and to highlight the power, reward and life-changing opportunities that volunteering gives to people in charity shops. Most people know that charity shops are staffed by an army of volunteers, but very few know the hidden benefits of volunteering in a shop. Our award aims to tell those stories.

Times have changed for trustees

Ten years ago, big charities were desperate to fill gaps in their non-executive boards. Now, it’s as likely as not that if you want a role as a trustee for a large charitable organisation, you will have to compete for it.

Over a relaxed dinner a long time ago, I declared to a friend that I wanted to put something back into society (I was, and still am prone to clichés after a good dinner). She suggested a charity she was involved with. I subsequently met the chair for a chat, we got on, and I joined the board. It happened to work out fine – it was a good fit. But it could have been a disaster.

A charity for life?

There are a whole range of charities advocating for the rights of children and reaching out to support them. There are youth and education charities that focus on the years of transition between childhood and adult life. But by adulthood, the voluntary sector largely leaves people alone.

If we become parents we might fall back into embrace of family charities. If we have relationship problems we might find counselling and mediation services. But once the kids have grown up we’re left alone once again, until we lurch into the arms of the older people’s charities like Age UK and the Royal Voluntary Service for our final years.