Posts By: Kaye Wiggins

The ideology behind changes to National Lottery funding is sound but the logic isn’t

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport confirmed yesterday what the sector has been expecting for a while: the Big Lottery Fund’s share of National Lottery good cause money will be cut from 50 per cent to 40 per cent and arts, sports and heritage groups will increase their share to 60 per cent.

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Charity websites are self-centred and confusing

In the past seven days, I have written two stories reporting that charity websites have been criticised as inaccessible and frustrating to use.

The first was on a report by the agency Bluefrog claimed more than half of the UK’s 100 largest charities used hard-to-read design styles on the legacy giving sections of their sites.

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Should academics provide fundraisers with practical tips? I don’t think so

Third Sector columnist Cathy Pharoah reignited an old debate when she told a Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy conference last week that there was a gulf between how fundraisers and academics think about philanthropy. Pharoah is co-director of the centre, which is part of Cass Business School.

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The time is right for charities to shock again

The headline finding for the voluntary sector in the latest annual report of the Advertising Standards Authority is that the number of complaints about non-commercial organisations more than doubled last year.

The figure had already increased by 150 per cent in 2008, from its 2007 level.

But this year’s list of the top 10 most-complained-about ads contains only one charity entry: the deliberately-provocative bus adverts by the British Humanist Association, which carried the slogan “There’s probably no God”.

The doubling of the figure was probably due to complaints about non-commercial groups that are not charities, such as the Christian Party’s adverts that mimicked the atheist bus campaign but read “There definitely is a God”, which was the most-complained-about advert of the year.

Children’s charity Barnardo’s, whose ads showing newborn babies with cockroaches coming out of their mouths and children being hit have featured prominently in previous ASA lists, was nowhere to be seen. Neither was the British Heart Foundation, whose image of a woman with a plastic bag over her head was eventually banned, nor animal rights charity Peta, which equated feeding children meat to child abuse.

So, what’s happened to charities? Have they abandoned shock tactics because they’re becoming less effective?

Or are they erring on the side of caution because money is so tight at the moment, especially in many charities’ marketing and communications departments? Spending large sums on an advert that is later banned might be difficult to justify to a board of trustees.

I hope the recession hasn’t made charities more cautious and timid in this way. The sector’s riskier campaigns, when executed well, are lively and challenging and get people talking. They set charity adverts apart from those that are pushing products.

And now, more than ever, charities could get away with being controversial. The public would understand, if they were prompted to do so, that charities and their beneficiaries are having a particularly tough time in the recession.

I think it’s time for the sector to produce a few more Barnardo’s-style shockers.

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Nick Hurd claimed to be serious at his first meet-and-greet, but mutterings were audible

Earlier this week I went to the first meet-and-greet by Nick Hurd with the sector since his appointment as the new charities minister.

It wasn’t exactly at the coalface: it was a small gathering of around 50 senior charity staff at a smart central London hotel. But it was a good debut for Hurd. He charmed his audience by joking that the Downing Street launch of the ‘big society’ agenda was the first, and probably the last, time he’d have his bum on a seat at the Cabinet table.

He said he was not allowed to use the phrase ‘third sector’ any more because “the boss doesn’t like it”. And in a short speech, he reiterated his three priorities. You’ve guessed it: making it easier to run a charity; getting more resources to the sector and making it easier for charities to work with the state. “I know I keep repeating this, but I’ll repeat it until people understand,” he said.

The chatter after Hurd left (he dashed straight off to speak about workplace giving at a House of Lords dinner) suggested the sector has warmed to its new representative.

Guests welcomed his 18 months’ experience shadowing the post, saying they hoped this marked a break from Labour’s revolving door of third sector ministers. And they were glad that the rhetoric about supporting charities, at least, seemed to stem from Cameron himself.

But they raised doubts about whether Hurd’s well-intentioned words would translate into anything tangible. One senior figure expressed frustration that Hurd seemed to see volunteering as a catch-all solution without understanding that supporting volunteers and paying their expenses could cost charities as much as the minimum wage.

And many expressed serious concerns that government grants would be cut before they were due to expire, and that Cameron and Hurd’s enthusiasm for involving charities in service provision would not filter down to local authorities if the private sector offered similar services more cheaply.

In that context, Hurd’s words were perhaps carefully chosen: “I hope to send a serious message about our will and our serious intent.”

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What the sacked chugger told me

Last week I interviewed the face-to-face fundraiser who was dismissed by development charity EveryChild after he left a folder containing donors’ direct debit details on a street in Norwich city centre.

The incident sparked an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office, which enforces the Data Protection Act.

But when we met, he had a bigger story to tell: a view from the front line of face-to-face fundraising. It was a story of targets, job insecurity, rivalry and frustration as even the best-performing fundraisers worried that a few bad days could cost them their jobs.

This led fundraisers to do things that were “ethically dubious,” he told me, such as pestering and pressuring members of the public and signing up friends and family members, knowing they would cancel their direct debits.

Charities will argue that everyone works to targets these days, and their beneficiaries would lose out if fundraisers didn’t raise funds.

But I think this approach is misguided. Street fundraisers are the first point of contact between a charity and the public, and it only takes a few bad apples to discredit the whole system of face-to-face fundraising which, if done well, can be a good source of income and an effective way of spreading a charity’s message.

The reality is that, like the EveryChild fundraiser, most street fundraisers are unaccustomed to the world of work. They’re young, enthusiastic, idealistic and often deeply committed to a charity’s cause – a great asset for the sector.

But they don’t respond well to being treated as cash cows: this fundraiser told me he felt “expendable” and was treated as “a statistic”. And when things go wrong, they go badly wrong, tarnishing charities in the eyes of people who could otherwise have become valuable donors.

Charities should adopt a different approach: they should lower the targets and reward fundraisers for building good relationships with members of the public, even if those people do not sign up.

They should see fundraisers as ambassadors and awareness-raisers too, perhaps combining ‘prospecting’ with fundraising so fundraisers can offer people the choice of giving immediately or being added to a list of supporters.

Granted, it wouldn’t raise as much money in the short term, and there’s no real guarantee that it would in the long-term either. But happy, committed fundraisers who are less prone to misbehaving – and more inclined to support the charity when they’re older, wealthier and more professional – could be just what the sector needs.

And what of the EveryChild fundraiser? He told me yesterday that he’s got a job at another charity, but not in street fundraising. I expect he’ll do well.

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Cameron pushed his big society, but his charity audience was not convinced

Yesterday I watched David Cameron give a speech about his big society agenda at a meeting hosted by think tank the Centre for Social Justice. 

Previous announcements by the Conservatives about the idea have been relatively well-received by much of the national press, so I was interested to see how an audience that consisted largely of voluntary sector workers would respond. 

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David Cameron’s National Citizen Service is likely to interest only middle class and motivated teens

Volunteering was at the top of the political agenda for a brief moment yesterday, when David Cameron used his first major press conference since the beginning of the general election campaign to announce his party’s plans for a National Citizen Service scheme.

Under his system, 16-year-olds would be encouraged to spend the summer after they leave school doing a residential volunteering placement and some extra volunteering hours in their local communities. Charities, social enterprises and private firms would apply to the Government to become providers of the placements.

There will inevitably be practical concerns about all of this: would the process of applying to run the scheme leave charities competing against private sector firms? And would businesses use the opportunity to source free labour to cover staff holiday?

But there’s a bigger question here, about the ways in which politicians use volunteering to meet their social aims.

The type of volunteering Cameron is planning sounds remarkably similar to Labour’s community service scheme for 14 to 16-year olds, being run by volunteering charity v. The main difference, it seems, is that pupils at schools running Labour’s project have no choice but to volunteer.

The Tories’ plan is optional, and therefore likely to attract the type of teenagers that are already drawn to volunteering. They’re motivated and enthusiastic, and can afford to spend time volunteering rather than taking on paid work in their summer holidays. And they already do the Duke of Edinburgh Award and Cathedral Camps.

Nobody likes the phrase “compulsory volunteering” and there are serious doubts that it would work – Cameron admits that he had wanted to make national citizen service compulsory, but changed his mind on the advice of youth groups.

But if the Tories win the election, and want volunteering to be a social leveller, they’ll have to find a real incentive for people from less privileged backgrounds to get involved. It could be cash; it could be the guarantee of a job interview.

But their current plan, which Cameron describes as making the scheme “of such high quality and great benefit that everyone will want to take part,” is not enough.

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MP ‘sees nothing but a fudge’ on phasing out of cheques

If charities thought cheques being phased out by 2018 was a foregone conclusion, they might have to think again.

The Payments Council proposed the move last year and has been consulting charities and sector umbrella bodies, as well as small businesses and other groups. Many, including Citizen’s Advice and the Institute of Fundraising, had come round to the idea that the end of cheques was inevitable and it was better to help the Payments Council manage the process than to campaign against it.

But the MPs on the Treasury select committee, which met at Portcullis House, Westminster, on Tuesday, were less easily swayed by the idea.

“I want to keep cheques,” John McFall, Labour and Co-operative Party MP and chair of the committee, told Paul Smee, the Payments Council’s chief executive, as he pulled a chequebook out of his pocket with a flourish.

“It’s beyond belief that the use of cheques is in terminal decline,” he said, pointing out that they accounted for transactions worth £1.4 trillion in 2008.

Andrew Tyrie, Conservative MP for Chichester, put Smee even more firmly non the spot. “Your members benefit from the decline of cheques,” he said. “What gives you the right to decide this?” Tyrie criticised Smee for being unable to provide an estimated figure for the how much the move would cost consumers.

Smee said the decision had been taken in a transparent way and in consultation with those affected by the phasing out of cheques. He said there would be a review in 2016, by which time the alternatives would have to be “available, accessible and already being used” in order for cheques to be phased out.

But that wasn’t enough to satisfy the MPs. “I can’t see anything other than a fudge here,” said McFall. Sir Peter Viggers, the Conservative MP for Gosport, summarised his view to laughs from the panel. “You and I are in terminal decline,” he said. “But we wouldn’t welcome the setting of an end date to close us down!”

So, should charities stop worrying about how they’ll live without cheques? The committee has no powers to prevent the move, but it has asked Smee to produce an independently verified cost-benefit analysis and then return to answer more questions. Smee was also warned that Parliament could, if necessary, intervene on the issue.

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Smith, Hurd and Willott were given an easy ride at the volunteering hustings

At university we had hustings to help students decide which of their peers they should elect to represent them on their college’s governing body.

They were heated events. We crammed a hundred or so people into a small room, gave the candidates a good grilling and scrutinised every word they said, throwing back difficult questions at every opportunity.

Before I went to the volunteering hustings on Tuesday night – the event hosted by Volunteering England at which third sector minister Angela Smith, shadow charities minister Nick Hurd and Lib Dem charities spokeswoman Jenny Willott pitched their thoughts on volunteering to those in the sector – I had wondered how it would compare.

It was different, to say the least.

Any hopes of policy announcements (entirely reasonable in the build-up to a general election) were unfulfilled. Hurd pledged to “create an environment in which more seems possible for people” and reiterated his ambition to cut through a “thicket of regulation” around volunteering. He hinted at a national citizenship service for young people, but when I spoke to him afterwards he refused to comment further on what this might involve, or how it might differ from volunteering charity v.

Willott’s proposals – for Gift Aid reform (she didn’t specify in what way), “thinking imaginatively about capacity building” and creating a “culture of volunteering” – did little to distinguish her party from either Labour or the Tories.

And Smith’s speech was equally low on policy announcements, with the exception of a commitment to hosting a round table with businesses to discuss employee volunteering.

I thought things might heat up when it came to questions from the floor. But the MPs managed to dodge a difficult question about funding for volunteer centres and said they’d be in trouble with their Treasury teams if they made any firm commitments.

The only moment of friction was over the role of v. Hurd asked the audience whether they thought the Government’s £150m spending on the organisation was justified, and Smith accused him of “wriggling” when audience members said they thought it was.

But the MPs were let off too easily. Nobody expected financial commitments, but some sense of the criteria the different parties would apply when deciding where the axe would fall in future third sector budgets would have been welcomed.

We wouldn’t have given them such an easy ride in our student common room.

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