Monday, 22 August 2016

The delayed success of the ice bucket challenge

In August 2014 Twitter feeds, Facebook walls, and television screens were filled with celebrities and ordinary people dousing themselves with buckets of icy water. The viral trend had been started in America to raise money and awareness for Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gherig’s Disease and Motor Neurone Disease). Millions of people participated in the challenge, which raised over $220 million in America and much more elsewhere.

However, the charity sector was not unanimous in celebrating the challenge as an example of modern fundraising and campaigning success. Many commented that the challenge was a fad, was failing to produce sustained interest in disease research, was making people feel good about themselves for relatively little effort (“slacktivism”, “clicktivism”), or was cannibalising donations, diverting gifts that would have been given anyway from more deserving causes to ALS.

There were other critiques: that this was a callous waste of water, that ALS was a disease of minor importance when several African countries were experiencing an Ebola epidemic of historic proportions, and simply that people were sharing the videos and taking the challenge without donating money or educating themselves. These can now be addressed in turn.

The boost in funding has now delivered intermediate results. The American ALS Association received 13 times more contributions than in a normal year and distributed them among six research projects. Work by Project MinE, which involved 80 researchers in 11 countries mapping the genomes of over 15,000 people, has identified a new gene which contributes to the disease, NEK1. This discovery is a step towards better treatments and a possible cure. Barbara Newhouse, the American ALS CEO, told the New Yorker “We’re seeing research that’s really moving the needle not just on the causes of the disease but also on treatments and therapies.”

This shows there are tangible results from people’s donations. The level of fundraising success was a story in itself, but the positive consequences arising from spending that money has public relations value for the whole charity sector two years later, confirming in donors’ minds the validity of contributing to charities that focus on research rather than services or direct giving. Project MinE received under one tenth of the funds raised, meaning other breakthroughs could arise from other scientific work.

Other criticisms are contradictory. The fact that there was an Ebola outbreak in 2014 simply means that more should have been done, and should be done, to encourage support for tropical disease charities. It is an invalid argument to suppose that just because it is sad one cause is being ignored, other causes too should be.

According to Giving USA, donations in the US rose almost 6% in 2014, which implies there was no cannibalism effect. At a rough estimate, about $12 was raised per video uploaded, suggesting that for every individual who made a video but failed to donate, there were many more who contributed. The English language version of Wikipedia saw views on its ALS page leap 18 times higher than normal, with similar increases in Spanish and German versions. It would be churlish to deny that the challenge raised awareness and understanding of the disease.

In awareness terms, the ice bucket challenge was also a success in starting the very conversation of which this blog is a part. Major newspapers and websites featured countless think pieces and debates on the relative impact of different charities, on what individuals’ strategies for giving ought to be, and how social media could or should be used by charities in the future. It is wrong to disparage the campaign for its primary focus on celebrity and fun — without this focus, there probably would have been no story at all, and no conversation. Moreover, the challenge engaged under 30s, the demographic that the third sector typically struggles to enthuse for volunteering or donation.

We can see reflections of the success in recent attempts to capture the enthusiasm of the 2014 craze. This year, mental health advocates in America and Britain are consciously trying to recreate the ice bucket challenge with the “22 push-up challenge” campaign, which has three admirable aims. First, to raise awareness that’s 22 military veterans take their own lives each day, second, to raise funding for mental health support, and third, to promote public fitness in a participatory, mutually supportive manner. It has already delivered stories in the Sun, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror and the BBC.

While it may not have been perfect, the ice bucket challenge shows the potential of social media for fundraising in an engaging way. It does not appear to have had the negative effects or attributes that critics feared, and indeed has begun to deliver results.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Wasted 800m.

What a disgrace. The NAO reports that the cost to the NHS of keeping frail elderly people in hospital when the no longer need to be there is 800m. But let's not forget there is a greater cost - that of the health of those people. We all know that hospital is the last place you should be if you are not sick. For older people this is serious. People who stay too long in hospital emerge with muscle wastage and malnutrition. I'm afraid that in many cases the standards of care on elderly wards is poor. And sometimes shockingly bad.

We have heard a lot about the NHS financial crisis. So why on earth is no one in No 10 or DH or NHS England looking at the plans that ACEVO developed with the RVS, Red Cross and Age UK to work in casualty and on wards to support medical staff in ensuring frail elderly people don't get admitted to a bed when they could be supported to go home and when they are on a ward, working to get them back into their home or in a care home.

There are schemes in existence that do that. Talk to the Red Cross. Talk to RVS about what they do.

I gave the PM a plan for this over 2 years ago. It didn't happen. Then in the political uncertainties of a winter crisis before an election we had a pilot scheme , brokered by the Cabinet Office and part funded through OCS. It was a success.

But winter crisis came and went. And so did the imperative behind using the success here to roll out a national programme. I'm going to write to the PM again to offer the support of our great charity tradition in helping sort this problem.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Beware the Tomb Raiders.

Having helped set it up I take a proprietal interest in the work of the Office of Civil Society. Of course with public spending constrained the OCS could not be immune but you would think that with such reduced resources they would be concentrating on the job which is our sector. But no, in an somewhat under key announcement last week they said they were establishing a task force on "Mission Led Business". In other words, the commercial sector, usually the realm of the Business Department.

So what is going on? No one, least of all me, would object to moves to encourage CSR. But the signs are this is about an attempt to subvert the use of social finance by leeching resources from the third, non-profit sector into the private sector.

And those who use the term are fond of claiming the boundaries between the private sector and our own are blurring. The problem they have is that a business may be mission driven today but gone tomorrow - taking their assets with them. How many examples of good business with a social purpose then taken over by equity firms or others do we need to demonstrate the dangers. You can't escape the fact that the real business of commerce is to make profit for shareholders.
I made this point strongly at the Board meeting of Big Society Trust yesterday. I'm sure the real purpose of this task force is to pave the way for a blurring of the mission of Big Society Capital so that social fiance is available to the commercial sector. The work in OCS is indeed being led by the social finance team.

Well, let's be clear about Big Society Capital; the legislation prevents investments in commercial bodies. We have to beware any attempt to get under the radar and find ways around that mission to drive up access to capital for our sector. There is a good piece on this by Social Enterprise UK. See here. We will be united on the BST board in watching any attempts to move off mission. BSC must remain mission driven. And that's about social finance for the third sector.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

A Journey...

I've been a fan of the Today programme since I was a kid (indeed I'm on it enough!) But I never dreamt it would be responsible for the next stage of my career. Last year I did a interview on the lessons from the demise of the Kids Company. I said that this was an object lesson in charity funding: neglect the back office and front line delivery suffers. I said that funders need to remember that money must be spent on building infrastructure in top leadership and governance. Listening to the Today programme was a philanthropist who couldn't agree more and got in touch with me. And so half a year later I'm stepping down as the CEO of ACEVO to lead a new programme to build better governance.

The philanthropist in question has decided to remain anonymous - not seeking publicity or branding. Its an old tradition much rarer in these days when people demand "transparency" but there is a strong Biblical injunction not to boast about giving;

"When you give to the poor, don’t blow a loud horn. That’s what show-offs do in the meeting places and on the street corners, because they are always looking for praise."

Or obviously, I prefer the King James version;

"Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward."

So Bible trumps transparency!

Inevitably I think back to the near 16 years I've spent at ACEVO. It all began at a party in Notting Hill. I was chatting to 3 stalwarts of the third sector; Susie Parsons, head of The Lighthouse, Judi Clements, head of Mind and the indomitable Val Amos. I'd been approached by a head hunter to apply for the ACEVO CEO post. I wasn't sure. They told me it just wouldn't suit me; too staid and traditional, "why, they even have Scottish country dancing at their conference"! So that was the clincher. A challenge!

It was a strange beginning. An office in Harrow for goodness sake. 9 staff. A very old fashioned voluntary sector feel but I set about the task with gusto. Moving to London proper was top of the list and we were soon in Victoria and beginning to grow. The high point in our development was when my then Chair John Low and myself were being photographed atop the office, Parliament in the background and celebrating our 2000th member. At the high point we had over 40 staff. Alas, like so much of our sector times have changed, austerity has wreaked havoc among many charities and ACEVO has not been immune to those pressures. But our voice and our presence is as strong as ever. Promoting the value of sector leaders, our delivery role and our advocacy.

There are so many anecdotes to tell. Many will wait for the autobiography but some highlights now. In the golden days I remember being in No. 10 with my board members meeting Tony Blair to discuss how the third sector could help reform public services. He was late. I'm told by "a source" that when he went into his office for his briefing he looked at the file and said, words to the effect "what the f ... am I doing meeting the voluntary sector". I guess as well you might. When he returned to his office he was reformed - he said we have to do this. And that was the start of the Office of the Third sector, Ed Miliband's first job and the third sector service delivery white paper. Shortly thereafter Blair came to a packed out hall to a conference on "future public services" to hear me talk about how to reform public services through our third sector. Blair was great. As always. Though he managed to forget to announce the key part of his speech when he was to launch an initiative with RNID!

Fast forward some years and I was standing next to David Cameron to launch his "Open Public Services" white paper. I quoted Machiavelli to him, much to his amusement!

I've had many conversations with our current PM over the last 6 years. He happens to also be my MP and we sometimes chat over the vegetables at the Farmers Market in Charlbury. One slightly awkward moment was a chat the day before I knew that the Times were running a front page story headed "Big Society is Dead". A story that Nick Hurd reminds me they have since run on a number of occasions. But nevertheless that didn't stop him asking me to head up the task force on choice and competition in the NHS during the infamous "pause" on the Health Bill. I well remember the day I became the first, and so far only charity leader to address a meeting of the British Cabinet. I had 2 minutes. And though I shouldn't be immodest it was a powerful contribution. Brilliant was what one Cabinet Minister said, but I mustn't blow my horn! I have framed my notes from that event.

But its not always been a happy relationship. Once, following an explosive piece in The Times on my excoriating analysis of government cuts on our sector I has a visit form Eric Pickles. He told me of the PM's displeasure in graphic terms and suggested I might reform. Clearly that was a sobering conversation and I talked to colleagues on what to do. But the consensus was clear. Your job is to say it how it is. Its your members you should worry about, not politicians.

But  its the contact and interchange with members that's been one of the highlights of the job. Our sector has some incredible people; strong leaders committed to the cause and its always been fun meeting and hearing from them. One thing is for sure - no ACEVO member holds back on their views!

I'm not sure how it will feel in June when I no longer have that CEO role. I'm not sure I'll miss the managerial aspects of the CEO role and I will relish the opportunities for innovation and creativity that come with my new role.

The funder has put his trust in me to deliver a major and important initiative to boost better governance. A 2 year programme and who knows where that will lead or where my next challenge will be.

It's 15 years since I took up the reins at ACEVO and I'm 63. But I've never felt like retiring! I'm not the retiring type, and still too energetic to retire. There is much to sort. Recent media scrutiny, pay, fundraising and the Kids Co debacle did convince me we must do something to support better strategic leadership and governance in our sector.

Indeed I know, from the far too many ACEVO cases of CEOs in trouble with bad governance, that something more is needed. And I'm glad to say that a philanthropist thought so too, and is giving ACEVO a substantial donation to enable me to lead a "charity futures programme". This will look at how to build what we have been describing in our ACEVO strategic plan as a "charity excellence hub". Looking at a big intervention that boosts support for charity infrastructure.

To do this effectively, I am going to stand down as the CEO and, whilst remaining in ACEVO, I will lead this project from July for 2 years and probably beyond.

I'm excited by the ambition of the project. My 15 years have taught me that our sectors' leaders need the level of support and development that other sectors take for granted. And when we face the challenges of delivery against constrained resources and attacks in the media and elsewhere, great leadership and good governance become so much more important.

I sent a message to ACEVO members yesterday to thank them  for the strong support, comfort and advice over the years. I have tried to be a strong and robust voice for sector leaders. In doing this I always felt I had my ACEVO members with me, urging me on!

ACEVO has achieved great things over the last 15 years. The fact we are a more professional sector, with stronger leaders; our work on full cost recovery; setting up the Office of the Third Sector; promoting the role of third sector service delivery has made a difference. I'm proud of the work I did championing the rights of people with learning disabilities in my report on Winterbourne View. I'm proud to have led ACEVO and made an impact in our sector and on the national stage. A CEO should step down feeling they have made a difference. And sometimes it's been rocky - but if you are a CEO remember you do not make omelettes without breaking eggs.

The great thing is by remaining in ACEVO I will continue to see members, continue to make my views known, revitalise my Blog, but wearing a different hat!

- for reflections on my 15 years and our governance on July 18th; an early evening lecture and reception. I'm pleased that my colleague Stuart Etherington will join me to give his views on the state of governance in our sector. How times have changed!

Monday, 4 April 2016

Europe and the Charity Voice

I have just stepped down as the Secretary General of Euclid, the third sector leaders network, after 10 years. During this time I have become convinced of the importance of the EU and the value it brings to our third sector. It is true that the EU is a ghastly bureaucracy, and that it has a centralising tendency when we need more devolved and decentralised power. I used every opportunity to argue for a Europe of people, not institutions. We made some headway and the EU have made significant advances in promoting social innovation and promoting social finance. The fact we are in the EU provided a great platform for us to promote our civil society and its value - we have been doing this particularly in the newer EU countries where we have organised peer to peer learning and exchanges.

Clearly the EU needs to go further on how it uses and advances civil society but will this happen with the UK outside of the EU?  I don't think so. 

I know how I will vote in June; to stay. But the great thing about a referendum is my vote is simply one among the many. And everyone in our charity sector; leaders, volunteers, supporters, will decide for themselves. Its not for ACEVO to tell anyone how to vote, but it is the job of an umbrella body  to be part of the debate and encourage that debate.

In February, we asked ACEVO members what we should do on the EU referendum. They spoke, and the response was clear. More than half  wanted us to speak out on behalf of staying in the EU. This is a process which we have already begun, as I spoke about the costs of Brexit to the charity sector last month .

The recent Charity Commission guidance is unfortunately another example of them overreaching themselves, and going beyond powers in directing charities in an area where charities must decide for themselves in line with their mission and their view on the effects on beneficiaries . Their advice is already unraveling, but the latest advice is still flawed and many charities have expressed your anger about that advice (announced, I noted, in the Telegraph rather than in the usual way which seems to be another unhealthy development by the Commission). Both NCVO and us are taking this matter further with them. Legal advice is that charities are entitled to take a view. 

For me the one part of the advice - about how issues affecting funding not being ones you can consider - is particularly odd. The naivety that we should be able to just replace one stream of income with another, and that anyway it doesn't really matter how much money we get and this doesn't affect  how well we can fulfill our purpose and meet the needs of our beneficiaries is breathtaking.

International NGOs are particularly impacted by falls in sterling, and the markets have been very clear that a Brexit will hit the pound. This matters to charities. Will the government replace European funding streams that have been crucial yo many charities, especially in regeneration?  Who knows, but it is a key issue for a charity that is facing a financial crisis. A charity that is finding funding so hard they wonder if they can survive is fully entitled to worry about us leaving the EU. And to say so.

There is a more fundamental issue here; trust and confidence on the regulator. This recent advice, coming on top of revelations about contacts with the IEA on the gagging clause and articles by the Chair of the Commission are worrying many in our sector. We need a strong regulator. They must be above the ideological fray. Are they?

Charity commissioners are entitled to their views and to express them 

But the news that Prins, one of the Commissioners, has published a supporting essay for the wretched sock puppet gang will certainly raise eyebrows. Still, we must assume that if a Charity Commissioner is free to express his views on leaving the EU those of us in our sector (the majority I'm sure) must be free to express ours in favour of staying. 

This news will inevitably raise further questions about the Commissions advice and how far this has been tainted by an ideological, not a regulatory, view ? 

Friday, 18 March 2016

The Budget shows the Value of Charity Campaigning

How ironic that the Chancellor announces the sugar levy this week, which is the result of so much campaigning by charities, when his Cabinet Office colleague Matt Hancock wants to make it impossible for us to do that in the future. This is just one example of how the Budget today was not so much a case of jam today, but more of problems down the line.

Compared to four months ago, George cut a dejected figure at the despatch box. Economic forecasts do not look as good as he hoped. He has been left with no choice but to ask the Paymaster General to find a further £3.5 billion of efficiency savings. With government already cut to the quick, the brunt of these cuts will be left to fall on the moist vulnerable in society. And who will be left to pick up the pieces? As always, it will be our nations charities. In the Autumn, George gambled on strong economic forecasts to avoid austerity. Yesterday, that came back to bite him. While he was able to find tokens such as money to tackle homelessness, this was balanced out by severe cuts to disabled people. Ultimately, this was a budget which left our social fabric weakened.

It was also a budget which underlined the importance of charity voice. The sugar tax would never have happened were it not for the countless charities who have raised awareness of this issue. Even some of the charities which are to be in receipt of income from LIBOR fines and the tampon tax are known for their advocacy.

And not all of government would have the charity sector silenced. Yesterday, Lord Hodgson launched his last report into the impact of the Lobbying Act. This Act was a democratic car crash, and silenced too many charities around the most recent General Election. I am delighted that Lord Hodgson has recommended significant reform of the Lobbying Act. This will stop charities being subject to regulation on the appearance of their campaigns, and ensure that they are regulated on their intent. I still want to see the Lobbying Act repealed in its entirety, but these recommendations are a good first step.

In a week where the Government have taken on board the suggestions of charity voice, they should heed the lessons outlined by Lord Hodgson. We need his ideas implemented without delay, and without excuses. Otherwise, how can charities continue to contribute to the national debate, and form stronger policy?

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Time for Change - The Challenge Ahead

Yesterday marked the my report The Challenge Ahead. This is the final installment in my Time for Change campaign, which set out to improve the quality of care and support given to individuals with learning disabilities and/or autism.

First, I would like to thank all involved with this campaign over the last year. With the help of this diverse crowd – which has included everyone from providers to those affected by learning disabilities and/or autism – we have managed to get a real commitment from NHS England to close inappropriate care settings.

But this is not job done. There are still real challenges facing this programme. And it is to these that today’s report speaks.

First, I have called for a Learning Disabilities Commissioner. They would be empowered and obliged to act on behalf of those individuals with learning disabilities and/or autism. This is crucial to ensuring that the promises made last Autumn are kept, and that these people get the support they deserve.

I also call for the Transforming Care programme to be independently evaluated. Without rigorous external examination of the process, there is a risk that we reach 2019 only to find that yet more promises have been broken. We cannot allow this to happen.

This, and the other recommendations I have made, has come from a consultation with individuals affected by learning disabilities and/or autism. By listening to the voices of those most affected, it is possible to ensure that reforms are made with their best interests at heart.

And I was encouraged by what I heard at the launch of this report. Both Alistair Burt MP, the Minister for Social Care, and Luciana Berger MP, the Shadow Minister for Mental Health, supported the need to provide high quality care for people with learning disabilities and/or autism. But this is not just about politicians. We heard from Phill Wills, father of Josh Wills, and two family members of people who were in Winterbourne View. These compelling testimonies reminded us of why this campaign matters – to improve the lives of the people affected.

Finally, I will echo what Baroness Hollins said yesterday – This is just a report. What needs to come next is action.

Alistair Burt MP, Minister for Social Care

Luciana Berger MP, Shadow Minister for Mental Health

Phill Wills, Father of Josh Wills and Campaigner
 For more information on this report, see here.