Posts By: Kaye Wiggins

Homeless Hacks fundraising challenge Day Two

Day two of the Homeless Hacks fundraising challenge, and things are proving difficult.

I’ve created the Virgin Money Giving fundraising page – the charity we’re supporting, Action for Brazil’s Children, asked us specifically to use the Virgin site, not Justgiving (I wonder how many other charities do this?)

But the site is driving me mad. Parts of it are ‘temporarily unavailable’ whenever I try to use them. The site froze up when I tried to save the blurb I had written, so I lost it and had to write it again.

It took about half an hour to upload a picture onto the site. And the function that lets you email your contacts directly from the fundraising page is so frustrating that I ended up emailing my friends and family from my own account, and pasting a link to our page.

When I was writing the email, I had a bit of a dilemma: how strongly should I ask for sponsorship? I’ve heard plenty of people complaining that they’re inundated with sponsorship requests and feel guilty turning people down, so I didn’t want them to think I was pestering.

In the end, I opted for a clause at the end of the email saying people shouldn’t feel obliged to sponsor me but that if they did it would be much appreciated.

It’s been a day since I sent the requests, and we’ve had some really generous donations. But I’m very wary of not wanting to let the charity down by missing the £300 fundraising target we’ve been set, so we can’t afford to get complacent.

Sophie and I will keep blogging and tweeting and see how far that gets us. If the cash flow has dried up by tomorrow, we’ll have to think of offline ways of raising it – and pronto.

If you do want to sponsor us, visit our page.

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Sleeping rough for charity – a good idea?

Every now and again, it helps to look at things from a different perspective.

By covering the fundraising patch at Third Sector, both my fellow reporter, Sophie Hudson, and I have grappled with the arguments for and against various forms of fundraising, the complex regulations that surround raising cash and the various fundraising strategies that charities adopt.

In short, we’ve become fluent in the language of the professional fundraiser: we know our PFRA from our FRSB and our ROI from our attrition rate.

But this week we’ll be seeing things from the other side: that of the beady-eyed, enthusiastic donor. We’re taking part in a charity challenge – to sleep rough in Spitalfields market in London. In November. Oh, and to raise £150 in less than a week.

The event takes place on Friday, and it’s for the charity Action for Brazil’s Children.

We’ll be blogging, tweeting and sharing photos and videos during our week of frantic fundraising and on the night. Our attempts at sponsorship and sleeping rough might be an invaluable chance to see what donors really think and how charities could improve their events fundraising. Or they might be a disastrous, humiliating failure.

Either way, it’s for a good cause.

If you’d like to sponsor us, go to our Virgin Money Giving page.

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Tory minister praises Labour council shock…

After a 28 per cent cut to the budget for local authorities was announced in the comprehensive spending review, David Cameron warned councils across the country not to cut funding for the voluntary sector first.

His concern, he has said on several occasions, is that some local authorities will “pull up the drawbridge” and protect their own staff by scrapping grants to charities.

But Lambeth Council leader Steve Reed set out a much more radical plan for saving money, in a speech at the launch of an Acevo report on personalisation last night. And the voluntary sector is at its core.

Lambeth is planning to become the first “co-operative council” in Britain and has been in talks about what this means for more than a year. Talks have become more urgent, however, since the council learned last month that of the £80m it will have to save over the next five years, £40m would have to come from next year’s budget.

So, here’s Reed’s plan. The council will set up pilot projects in which charities and community groups deliver public services. Over time, there will be more and more of these until a “tipping point” is reached and most of the council’s social services are being delivered in this way.

When this happens, the council will be a “service enabler” and a “support platform” that the voluntary groups delivering public services will be able to use when they need it. The council will no longer be a service provider.

It’s a big vision, and big questions about funding for the voluntary groups will need to be addressed. But if it works, it could provide a model for councils across the country and a lifeline for the thousands of charities threatened with closure by local council cuts.

And the biggest surprise? The Conservative Nick Hurd heaped praise on Lambeth’s Labour council at the event last night. “I want to congratulate Steve Reed for this really important work,” he said.

Reed responded:”It’s not the first time Hurd and I have shared a platform and said things that are so similar. This is starting to get worrying…”

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‘Compulsory volunteering’ should be embraced by the voluntary sector

Many volunteering charities will, no doubt, recoil in horror at the prospect of compulsory community-based voluntary work for unemployed people.

The idea is part of the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s plan for welfare reform that will be announced in more detail this week. Under the plans, some jobseekers would be told to carry out four weeks of compulsory unpaid work, and could lose their benefits if they refused.

Charities and voluntary groups, as well as private firms, will be encouraged to bid to deliver the scheme.

The familiar (and quite reasonable) cry of, “if it’s compulsory, it’s not volunteering!” must be ringing out across their offices.

But charities need to move past this instinctive response. Helping people back into work is exactly the sort of area this government wants charities to play a bigger role in, and “compulsory volunteering” – call it community service or unpaid work if you’d rather – is how ministers are going about it.

Many in the voluntary sector believe passionately that they can do this work better than the private sector. Yes, there will be practical difficulties and yes, the principle might be awkward.

But if it turned its back on the policy, the voluntary sector would do a great disservice to those in need of its support.

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Cameron needs to start getting the party’s rank and file excited about the big society

The big society was the big theme of the fringe events at the Conservative Party conference this year.

All kinds of groups managed to shoehorn the phrase into their events: health charities, think tanks, social enterprise groups, local government bodies, housing firms and welfare-to-work providers all used the magic words. So did Starbucks, by hosting a debate on big brands and the big society.

David Cameron’s speech to the conference gave the big society a similar prominence. I counted nine uses of it.

But the reaction from the audience suggested party members were less enthusiastic about the idea than the Prime Minister was.

Cameron had, as expected, received loud applause for his statements on foreign policy, the deficit, Labour and Europe. But his big society announcements, including a Citizen University and International Citizen Service (which were among a very small number of new policy announcements in the speech) got a lukewarm response.

Granted, those statements were not designed to be rabble-rousing in the same way that statements on the Lockerbie bomber and Labour’s failings were. But they seemed to pass by unnoticed, with quiet, polite applause at best.

They seemed to have been written into the speech as padding, or – worse – a way of bringing in some light, happy policy news when the spending review was preventing the government from announcing anything else.

The big society was undoubtedly popular among the policy types, the think tanks and the lobbyists at the conference. But it’s not about them: the philosophy is based on grass-roots, local activists getting passionate about an issue and taking action. If it’s going to catch on, Cameron needs to start getting the party’s rank and file excited.

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Big society: is the anti-red tape message getting through?

Is the government’s much-vaunted anti-red tape, common-sense message starting to filter through to the world of local authorities?

At a big society-themed fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat party conference this weekend, an employee of Wirral Borough Council cited an interesting example of the message reaching the grass roots.

She said a local community group had called to ask the council’s permission to erect a gazebo at a fundraising event it was holding. She admitted that she had groaned inwardly at the prospect of the health and safety checks she would have to arrange, and the forms she would have to fill out, in order to grant the permission.

But when she contacted another council department to make the arrangements, the response was surprising.

“Just let them get on with it and tell them to use a bit of common sense,” the official said, much to her approval.

Is Wirral a rare exception, or are councils around the country cutting red tape in response to the government’s big society agenda? And do charities welcome this, or are they worried that they’ll be the ones to blame for any accidents or mistakes that result from it?

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Volunteers were the heroes of the London tube strike: London Zoo could do better

I was very impressed by the work of volunteers during the tube strike in London yesterday.

I set off on my morning commute expecting chaos. But at both Victoria and Earl’s Court stations, there were plenty of cheery, easy-to-find, orange vest-clad Transport for London volunteers advising travellers how to reach their destinations.

I didn’t have to wait long to speak to one, and neither did the other commuters, none of whom seemed stressed. Perhaps the strike triggered good old-fashioned British stoicism. But the volunteers definitely played their part in keeping what could have been a reputational disaster for TFL under control.

But volunteers don’t always work wonders for the reputations of companies and charities. A few weeks ago, I went to the London Zoo’s Zoo Lates event, at which hundreds of people spent the evening drinking Pimm’s, eating burgers and wandering around the animal enclosures – a brilliant fundraising event for the zoo.

As my friend and I strolled through the monkey enclosure, we noticed an over-zealous volunteer marshalling the crowds.

“Stand back from that tree!” she shouted at one couple. “It’s the monkey’s space!” Another group of visitors was told off for spending too long looking at some baby monkeys.

The response was interesting. “Ignore her,” one visitor said. “She’s only a volunteer and she’s getting hung up on her own power.”

The zoo volunteer was obviously not working the wonders for the zoo’s reputation that the Tube volunteers were working for TFL’s. My instinctive reaction was that it came down to volunteer management – shouldn’t organisations vet their volunteers properly before they let them speak directly to the public on their behalf?

But perhaps that would undermine the point of volunteering. Volunteers aren’t one-size-fits-all and they can’t be vetted and controlled in the way paid staff can. They enjoy making their own mark, and if they weren’t enjoying it they wouldn’t do it.

So perhaps charities – and other organisations that use volunteers – need to accept that alongside a reputational bonus, hiring volunteers involves a big reputational risk.

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Was the Charity Commission right not to publicise the findings of its investigation into the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative?

The long-awaited verdicts from the Charity Commission on the last two of the charities it investigated over political activity during the pre-election period are out.

Both the employment charity Tomorrow’s People, which was probed over the appearance of its chief executive in the Conservative Party’s election manifesto, and the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative, which was investigated over claims it emailed supporters asking them to vote for the Labour Party, received “advice and guidance” from the commission about political campaigning, but neither received any further sanctions.

On the face of it, the cases seem quite similar. So why did the commission write a full report and press release on the Tomorrow’s People case, but nothing about the Tony Blair one?

We would never have known about the latter had the complainant, Conservative MP Greg Hands, not leaked the commission’s letter about the case to the Sunday Times.

The commission says it chose to publicise the Tomorrow’s People case because many other charities might find themselves in a similar position and it would be useful for them to understand the rules.

The Tony Blair case, it claims, is so unlikely to be replicated elsewhere that it was not worth publicising.

Granted, very few charities have been set up by former Prime Ministers. But the Blair case was, at its heart, about the sharing of data between affiliated organisations: something that seems likely to affect far more charities than requests to appear in political party election manifestos.

It would be interesting to hear charities’ views on which of the cases they found more relevant.

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This carrot and stick approach to jobseeker volunteering is confusing for everyone

One of the more surprising details to emerge from the story by Third Sector about Calder UK, the firm that has agreed to pay volunteer centres for using their services as part of its welfare-to-work programme, was its method of finding volunteer placements for jobseekers.

The Department for Work and Pensions had made it compulsory for jobseekers taking part in the programme to carry out four weeks of unpaid ‘voluntary’ work, which could be at a business or a charity.

In order to set up the voluntary work, staff at Calder UK had given jobseekers the address of the nearest volunteer centre, without first checking with the centres that they would be able to find placements for them and without agreeing to pay them for doing so. The staff had then told the jobseekers to go to the centre and find themselves a placement.

According to some volunteer centre staff, Calder UK staff had told the would-be volunteers that the firm would “stick them in a charity shop” for four weeks if they failed to find a placement.

If I were unemployed, I would be very confused about volunteering. First there’s the carrot: once people have been unemployed for six months, they are given the chance to improve their skills by doing a spot of volunteering. As far as I’m aware, there’s no coercion involved.

But then there’s the stick: once they’ve been unemployed for 18 months, many are placed on intensive welfare-to-work schemes under the Flexible New Deal. On these, voluntary work is compulsory and some have been told they will lose their entitlement to Jobseeker’s Allowance if they refuse to take part.

The coalition government’s Work Programme may replace both of these Labour schemes. With a bit of luck, any new system will encourage those out of work to volunteer, but will stress that, by its nature, the work is voluntary.

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Not so looney: Lambeth Council’s bid to become a co-operative could be taken up elsewhere

Last night I went to Lambeth town hall in London for the first of a series of public meetings by the council to discuss its plans to become a co-operative.

In practice, the plan means the council will launch a series of pilot projects in which local residents run public services, and will look favourably on other local voluntary and community groups that identify services they think they can run better than the council.

The 70 or so local residents that gathered in the crowded room to discuss the idea seemed keen. But more than one of them said the plan sounded very close to the government’s big society agenda – considered surprising since Lambeth council is Labour-controlled.

Council leader Steve Reed did his best to put some clear blue water between the council and the government. “Big society is about rolling back the state, whereas this is about changing the role of the state,” he said.

He was backed by fellow councillor Paul McGlone, who said: “Big society is people doing something for nothing, and we don’t believe in that.”

Both were keen to say that, despite the recent announcement that Lambeth would cut its voluntary sector funding for young people’s services by up to 35 per cent from January, the co-operative plan was not just about saving money. It was a better, and more cost-effective, way of providing services, they insisted.

Lambeth is a good place to pioneer the co-operative council model: there is already a strong voluntary sector locally, and a tradition of community activism.

But if the plan proves successful, might the coalition government look beyond party politics and encourage other local authorities to do the same?

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