Wednesday, 26 October 2016

What would the National Trustees body do?

The national survey of trustees conducted by the Charity Futures programme, Third Sector, and nfpSynergy indicated strong support for a new national trustees body. It follows that we should consider what such a body should actually do. It should have clear aims and a distinct role not already covered by NCVO, ACEVO, or the Association of Chairs. NCVO already has a governance department, and ACEVO ran a governance review service: there is also the Governance Hub, which produces the Code of Good Governance, which includes input from a whole host of bodies.

Many sector commentators already complain that there are too many infrastructure bodies. Only with a very defined purpose, funding structure, and place in the conversation would a trustees body enjoy wides support. It is not jumping the gun to hypothesise what role such a body should take. Fully 25% of our respondents thought that “a national body supporting trustees” would be “very useful”, while another 36% thought it would be “useful”.

The question did not imagine what that support might consist of. Different respondents likely interpreted it in different ways, projecting their own ideas about infrastructure support onto the question. Such a body could do any number of things, and the questions we had posed just prior to the one concerning trustees bodies probably affected what respondents were thinking: they included online training, better general training, trustee handbooks, and a trustee e-newsletter or group. There was most supports, 82% positive responses, to the generic idea of “Better training for trustees”, which doesn’t get us far.

How would such training be delivered? Seminars, workshops, awaydays, off-line courses? Would we have online video lecture series, mentorship programs, a grand centre delivering cutting-edge governance literature? How much extra time are trustees willing to devote to self-improvement? Would it be useful to have more governance appraisal services, provided at an affordable rate? Would funders and philanthropists have a more contributory role? Can charity boards learn from the composition and practices of the private and public sectors? If such a body did spring into being, how would it communicate with the public what it was trying to do, and assess whether it bolstered third sector leadership?

All of the ideas above feel worthwhile but uninspiring. A few hours of tuition or a quickly forgotten best practice document won’t have the impact we want. We need a body that is seen, unlike the Charity Commission, as a mentor, not a monitor. Perhaps there are many more innovations to come, or perhaps a carefully crafted mixture of the options above is the best that can be done.

The weighty challenge of governance demands joined-up big thinking. Marginal improvements and small scale initiatives on their own won’t be enough. They need to be set in this wider context, or small-fry thinking might become a habit. It would be a disaster if the mentality that can only justify minor interventions seeps into how foundations fund capacity. So the answer may well lie outside the sector and certainly may be about big philanthropy.

Trustee concerns reflect our sector’s broader problem themes. There remains a tendency to think too narrowly, e.g. contemplating governance simply as a question of trustees and processes, failing to recognise that it is as much to do with values and cultures – about how organisations are governed. That governing covers executive and staff behaviour, not just board meetings. Governance geeks, who just focus on the minutiae of process, are not only wrong; they are dangerous. They risk driving out the passionate spirit which (alongside professionalism) should be the sector’s hallmark. 

These are all issues that will need to be mulled over, indeed considered in great detail, before anyone dives ahead. But this work can be really valuable if we arrive at the right answer, or even as an answer that is mostly right. If we improve whole sector governance by a small margin in back-office, unsexy ways, this would translate into an imperceptible rise in quality of our whole sector’s operations. Intervening upstream to avert another Kids Company, pre-empt an Age UK or resolve a Terence Higgins Trust situation before it became an emergency: that would be a great boon to the sector. More, helping each board that had been merely muddling along, keeping their charity afloat, to really strive and explore how to deliver the very best: that is worth spending time to work out.

This is why, without any doubt, Charity Futures is now shaping up to be more than a two year journey - Woodford Investment and I are in this longer term. But perhaps our most important contribution – at least in the early years - will be to encourage others to join us in asking these questions and looking for answers. We will become clearer with time, and this gives us our best chance of delivering something meaningful.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Surveying the landscape: how do trustees feel?

For all the talk about charity leadership and governance, we actually know very little about what board volunteers think, what their training and backgrounds are, how they experience their roles. Past attempts to reinforce the quality of those guiding our sector have, in effect, been crafted half-blind. No wonder they have not always had the hoped-for impact.
That is why, with nfpSynergy and Third Sector magazine, Charity Futures has run the first comprehensive national trustees survey. We’ve been asking board members how confident they are in their own groups’ skills, what challenges they face, what support they receive and what are the best new ideas for support they’ll actually use.  By using social media, Third Sector’s readership and ACEVO’s member list, we’ve achieved a good snapshot of charities large and small, wealthy and modest, old and new.
Our results – together with choice commentary from yours truly - will be out next Wednesday. The survey promises to push the charity leadership conversation forwards and help us beef up the back office.
And on 22 November, we are holding a seminar with a range of sector experts on governance to help us digest these results and look at next steps. This is all part of our efforts to discuss widely with people and organisations to get their views on what an initiative in governance might look like and how it might work (and indeed who might fund it!) 

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Speaking truth to power, part II

As I have blogged just recently, it is often said that one of the core duties of a charity is "to speak truth to power". It’s a phrase that originated with the Quakers in the 18th century. The charge that they were given to speak was threefold:
  • To those who hold high places in our national life and bear the terrible responsibility of making decisions for war or peace,
  • To the  people who are the final reservoir of power in this country and whose values and expectations set the limits for those who exercise authority,
  • To the idea of Power itself, and its impact on life.
There is an obvious link between the work of the Church and faith groups, and the work of charities in acting as the moral conscience of the country and a thorn in the side of the powerful on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised.

Of course this sometimes means we are both attacked by Governments and politicians who argue we have no business playing politics. Former Archbishop Williams has talked of the "illiteracy" of many politicians about our role and this is but an example of that. If Christ turfed the money changers from the Temple, would the Churches not be failing in their duty if they did not point to the gap between the wealthiest in our society and the poorest? Is that not true for charities?

It is sometimes argued that charities should "stick to the knitting". In other words we should run soup kitchens or food banks for the poor but keep our mouths shut about the causes of poverty. Fortunately neither the Church nor charities will cease from these essential roles; both delivering services to vulnerable people and the most damaged communities and holding those in power to account. 
Cardinal Nichols' trenchant criticism of the effects on communities of welfare changes is a powerful example of the role Church leaders can play and one to be applauded. The work of churches of all denominations and other faiths is also a great example of community cohesion. Our Muslim communities have a strong and abiding charitable tradition that mirrors that of the Christian tradition. So the example being set by Archbishop Longley and other faith groups in Birmingham offering the Muslim community solidarity is another example of the role Churches can play in fostering stronger communities.

Historically the link between faith and charity is strong and continues to be binding. Charitable giving is one of the core duties of a Christian. From early times the Church has encouraged and supported charities. Indeed many of the earliest charities were run directly by the Church. One of ACEVO’s members, the CEO of St. John's Hospital in Bath, is running an institution set up by the monks and which, as they say, "through centuries of change (…) has remained true to its purpose. Founded in the 12th century it is still providing comfort in old age for those in need." Pope Innocent III in 1215 gave a letter of authorisation for the collection of alms, writing, "with works of great mercy and for the sake of things eternal so sow on earth what we should gather in heaven, The Lord returning it with increased fruit."

Many of our great national charities have their roots deep in the founding impetus of the Church; the children’s charities: Barnado’s, the Children’s Society and Action for Children are cases in point. One of the earliest hospices in the country, St Joseph’s in Hackney, was founded by the Sisters of the Poor. The work of the great international NGOs such as Caritas, Cafod and Christian Aid is sustained by the faithful and not simply through giving but through active support for their campaigning role; to mention just one example of that, "Make Poverty History".
So, at a time when the gap between the rich and the poor remains so large, we need a renewed sense of purpose between the Churches and charities in our common goal of giving voice to the voiceless. Similarly faith groups and charities continue their work in providing care and welfare services for those in need. Our role is growing as the State draws back from provision. Often this is because of an increasing understanding of the role of citizen and community focused charities, but also because the deep funding cuts demanded by austerity have eaten significantly into the safety net of our welfare state. That role will continue to grow and with it the much greater responsibilities that entailed. And as Archbishop Longley reminded ACEVO members in his speech to us, poverty encompasses so much more than just worldly goods. As he said, "poverty includes isolation, loneliness, fear in one's environment, being deprived of opportunities and lacking a voice". So we have that common purpose in delivering basic support and care as well as speaking out.

When the translators of the King James Bible were examining the Latin texts for the famous injunction of 1 Corinthians 13.13, there was much debate on the term "caritas". Modern translations use "love" but the King James scholars stuck to charity. Just a few years before they were deliberating, there was also debate on the role of charities which led to the great 1601 Statute of Elizabeth on Charitable Uses. I like to think they eschewed the use of "love" for charity as it is in charitable actions and approaches that we demonstrate the love we must have for one another and for God.
"And there abideth faith, hope, charity; these three, but the greatest of these is charity"

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Speaking truth to power - or whispering?

Our sector is supposed to pride itself on its ability to "speak truth to power" but frankly at the moment you would be hard pressed to see many examples of it.

I was proud to be part of the marvellous coalition of organisations that fought the Lobbying Act and made such a change to it. We also worked closely with our colleagues to fight the nonsense of the contract gagging clauses that still lurk around Rob Wilson's in tray. But the reality is that the real threat to the sector is our own self-censorship. 

In the big debates of the moment you would need to look hard to find the charity leaders’ voice. On Brexit for example we took a craven line in the referendum debate and now are failing to effectively challenge the rise of xenophobia and hate crime. There are honourable exceptions of course, and the organisations promoting the cause of migrants and refugees is a great one, but by and large we have failed to come together to promote the tolerance and inclusivity that our sector espouses. Where for example was the voice of the sector denouncing the appalling "foreigner employees" speech of Amber Rudd? 

Then we come to the horrendous crisis in our health and social care system. This strikes at the heart of where our sector has traditionally been active. Many, many third sector bodies are prominent in service delivery and advocacy. What is happening with the care of the frail elderly in hospitals around the country is scandalous. I have seen this at first hand with my father who has just spent over two months in hospital, where I have seen the strains on the system. 

Chris Hopson, who speaks for NHS providers, has been a great example of someone prepared to tell the truth publicly about the crisis. On Monday we had Jeremy Hunt on the radio denying there is a problem and insisting that the planned cuts – so-called efficiency savings – will go ahead. This is disastrous, and anyone who knows what is happening in A&E or in the care system realises the need for more resources. 

But where are the sector leaders in the media pointing out the crisis we face? Demanding action? There is a curious silence when we need a voice. Sometimes leaders think you work behind the scenes to get action and don't use the media. This is a wrong approach. 

The media is an essential ally and a great negotiating tool. The media is not a nasty thing you wheel out when all else has failed. Politicians respond when they feel there is public pressure and concern.  Thinking you can make change through discussion and meetings alone can be a flawed approach. A judicious use of media to give voice to genuine concern, to articulate what beneficiaries are experiencing and to demand action, is part of the process of getting action. Hopson has brilliantly shown how this is done by exploiting media on behalf of his NHS provider members whilst engaging seriously with them on solutions. Politicians and ministers, and therefore officials, respond when there is a crisis and you are there both demanding action publicly, and there to offer a solution. But they also need to fear you. A charity leader uses media to extract change because people trust us and listen to us and that is something many politicians don't have.
But there is a second and perhaps more fundamental reason why we need the media.  A charity is not there simply to deliver a service or act as an agent of the State.  Our beneficiaries want someone to champion them and articulate their concerns and demand change. They want to hear that. They want to see it.  We are not simply there to work behind the scenes, necessary though that is as well, but to speak truth to power in a way that reassures our beneficiaries that we are on the case. 

I'm afraid Theresa May is deeply unengaged in the current crisis and will not until she starts hearing us on Today or the front page of the Mail or top of the news. The NHS didn't do the pilots in A&E two years ago simply because I presented Government with a neat paper. They did it because they feared the damage a winter crisis could do. We have failed to capitalise on that. Never fall for the trap governments set when they tell you won't get anywhere if you go to the press. That secures compliance, not action. 

I'm reflecting what I am seeing in the media and also on 15 years of working with politicians and getting results. When the Blair government wanted to make a major policy impact on charities, Number 10 was able to ignore many sector leaders. Those that were consulted – myself included – were those whose public backing was vital to success, and whose public opposition in the press could have been a serious thorn in the side. A charity leader needs to be in a position where they are too dangerous to ignore, and they can provide answers to sort major problems.

Bob Kerslake, former chief of the Home Civil Service, was quoted in Civil Society last week, pointing to the power of the sector and to remember we are more powerful than politicians. He sums up my position brilliantly:

"You have to stand apart and have an independent voice, and in my experience in government they respect those who stand up and challenge even if they don’t like it. The worst thing you can be seen to do is cower in front of government because, eventually, they will get you.”

Friday, 16 September 2016

Charity leadership and existential crisis

It’s no fun to think about the apocalypse, and even less fun to think about slow-moving threats to our civilisations. Countering both is nevertheless a key task, one that cannot forever be put off until tomorrow. It may sound a grand claim, but charities are absolutely at the forefront of unearthing and delivering solutions to these macro-scale events. For this reason, their leadership really needs to be the same calibre, their governance the same quality, as other sectors boast.

Take the old age crisis. In a few decades the ballooning size of the over-70 population will have changed the landscape of the state, with Britain, America, Japan and Germany especially affected. Pensions will not go far enough to cover the elderly’s living costs, let alone inflated health bills. To hope to maintain the standard of life to which Western citizens are accustomed, there need to be structural changes in the tax, welfare, community and health sectors. Public policy gurus are flummoxed.

Charity is already at the vanguard of innovation and best practice in the different aspects of responding to this challenge. Local or national, charities are exploring innovations promoting better care, whether that be social or residential. Charities provide important services for the elderly – medical help, mobility assistance, backing to personal independence, and a supportive community. They coordinate volunteers to aid those in trouble, help fight loneliness, and just bring a bit of human warmth.

Taking a wider view, our largest charities are crucial drivers of medical research and technological advancement, whether that be treatments, live-extension innovations or palliative breakthroughs. Charity funding is behind possible solutions to protracted problems including stem cells, genome mapping and nanotechnology.

There are further existential threats that come from antibiotics losing effectiveness. Scientists hope to find new powerful antibiotics in unexplored areas of the world such as rainforests, where biodiversity is robust: third sector activism and funding protects these areas, aids exploration, and seeks to conserve nature. A linked issue is food shortage: if pollinators like bees, bats and insects suffer catastrophic population decline through climate change, or global warming affects water and soil quality, human crops would fail. Conservation efforts to protect wildlife ecosystems and vulnerable areas across the world help stave off this possibility.

Society can also be imperilled by intercommunity violence, civil strife or terror. Work to help neighbours and those of different faiths and ethnicities live happily and cooperate is a central task of many UK charities.  Some of our most active voluntary bodies strive to help refugees and migrants fit in through language assistance, cultural integration and neighbourliness. This important work forms part of the bedrock for our cohesive British landscape.

It’s clear then that charities play imperative roles in acting to counter each of these major hazards, and lobbying states to take effective action against them, and leading the way in researching best practice. This underlines the need for excellent governance across the board. Voluntary sector leaders and those responsible for charities are not minor players, but chain links in society’s armour.

 We need them to be the best they can be.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Our ancient charities

One of the oldest charities in the country is Sherburn House in County Durham.  It was founded in 1181 by a wise and forward thinking Bishop Pudsey of Durham; he also gave them lands that still generate income for this great charity today. It consists of a care home, almshouses and other facilities, as well as a grants programme for the county. It even has its own Act of Parliament under Elizabeth I, passed in 1585 (which came about as a result of some past fraud, nothing new there then!) 

I visited recently and had a great day meeting with the CEO Pauline Bishop and key members of staff, as well as looking around the site and meeting with the trustees. It was fascinating to see the old chapel, still functioning as an integral part of the charity, and they even have their own chaplain (a woman, so they may be ancient but they are up to date theologically). There is an old plaque in the chapel marking the tomb of a former chaplain who, the plaque proclaims, preached to King Edward VI. They even have their own cemetery and a lovely woodland surrounds the site. I was shown the Elizabethan chalice and flagons and patten from the 18th century, which are part of the treasures of the charity.

The trustees are considering how to update their governance arrangements and they very well understood the need for good governance in the light of all the recent publicity. They have their own history of problems and misdemeanours in the past and are clear they wish to be a model of good practice so, for example they are looking at the number of trustees they have, currently 16, terms of office, and the knotty issue of trustees who are nominated by other organisations and therefore may not always feel their responsibility lies with the charity rather than the nominating body.  I've come across this issue before and whilst the legal position is clear, i.e. you must put the charity interest above that of your nominating body, this is often not the reality.

We often forget that our country has a magnificent and proud history of charity, dating back to at least the 7th century. Many of our old charities have their origins in the Church but have reformed and moved with the times, but are still serving their beneficiaries in the way that Bishop Pudsey envisaged some 900 years ago. 

We should celebrate our great history. At some stage in my life I intend to write a history of charity. There is nothing around since the 60s accounts written by Harvard professors. We need a proper history. I'm collecting the material gradually and have even spent a month in archives in the Bodleian in Oxford and at Lambeth Palace. It's a project for my retirement, though that is years off I'm afraid. 

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Governance in Norfolk!

Happisburgh is a stunningly beautiful village on the coast in north Norfolk. But woe betide you if you pronounce it as it is spelt because it is of course "hawsbro". Though I rather like "Happisburgh" pronounced as you would think. It sounds rather New England like...

Anyway I spent 3 days there recently staying with old friends Denise and Stephen Burke, old stalwarts of our sector. Indeed Stephen used to be one of my bosses as an ACEVO trustee (I use the term in a rather loose sense!).

So we mixed business with pleasure and spent some time visiting charities and social enterprises in north Norfolk. First up was Age Concern Norfolk, a well-established and prominent charity. We had a really interesting discussion on governance issues with a good CEO, Hilary McDonald, who clearly gets the need for strong governance in the charity world. 

Then onto the Benjamin Foundation in Norwich where the new CEO Tony Ing has been in post for a year since he took over from a founder CEO. Although that brings its own challenges it was great to see the charity willing to confront and explore the next steps in their journey. It was interesting to explore some of the issues around "founder syndrome". As I know from my time at ACEVO, this has sometimes led to very problematic governance. The drive and determination of a founder in the early stages of creation and innovation need to give way to a more steady state professional style operation and it's a challenge to make the transition carefully. Good luck Tony. It's a great charity and doing impressive work with the homeless in Norwich and Norfolk.

A contrast was meeting the CEO of a social enterprise in the community transport world. Matt Townsend, a CEO who relocated from the inner city London world of social housing to run North Norfolk Community Transport, brings a wealth of talent and experience to this new challenge of trying to provide an effective rural community transport system. They’re lucky to have such a strong and impressive CEO.

And finally on to a learning disability charity where I met the founder and current CEO Helen Dalton-Hare. She rather made the point that not all founders are a problem as she was buzzing with energy and commitment. She runs About With Friends, which she set up because she saw that many people with learning disability had no social life or many connections with the community. And she provides support and training for employment in an area where there is such huge discrimination and ignorance about learning disability. I bought jam! Provision for learning disability in Norfolk is pretty poor and she was rightly rather leery about the so called "transforming care" agenda. We all need the pioneers and advocates of the third sector who see a need and are determined to tackle it.

Overall I think these visits bolstered my belief that what the sector needs is an authoritative source of advice and support on governance. So my work in "Charity Futures" is important. I got a strong feeling of interest and curiosity about what I'm up to. There was strong agreement this we need to "sort governance" in our sector. But it is also clear to me that this is such a big canvas there is no point in jumping in with solutions at this stage. So my journey of discovery will continue. Interesting that the picture on governance in our sector is not significantly different in a largely rural area from what we see in London or nationally.

And finally I can recommend Happisburgh. Come and see the wonderful lighthouse. And the looming church and the pub where Conan Doyle wrote one of his Sherlock books....

Perhaps the biggest lesson overall from the visits was that people generally find it difficult to know where to go for advice and support on governance. Once upon a time the Charity Commission had more resources to provide that support. They don't now and in any case have whittled their emphasis to regulation, not advice. That has left a gap. So where do people go for advice on a scheme of appraisal or induction? Authoritative advice on what is good practice?

Stephen Bubb

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Sharia compliant governance

Since my appearance at the "Living Islam Festival" in Lincoln I've been thinking and discussing how we develop stronger governance in our Muslim charity world. The UK has some very great Muslim charities and the fact is that the Muslim community is the most generous of our communities in terms of its giving. During Ramadan over £100m is raised for charity. They put their Christian compatriots to shame in how they support charity. This is something we should celebrate. But we don't.  Instead, especially since Brexit, we have seen a rise in intolerance and hate crime.

However that is not to say there are no problems. It is clear that the Muslim charity world has grown exponentially but its governance has not. We can see the same problems of founder syndrome that beset other charities. Many of the boards of trustees are too large and often too old. But there is appetite for change, and we need to support and encourage that change.  One of my criticisms of the Charity Commission is not that it is not doing its regulatory job, but that there is a perception of fierce and disproportionate regulation when what we need is more support and encouragement. We need to work together to change that perception.

Since my Lincoln visit I have been speaking to various Muslim leaders and charities. In particular, I have accepted the role of one of the patrons of the Muslim Charity Forum, a great organisation that is working to develop leadership, and I met their leaders recently to talk about how we can develop their umbrella role in the sector.

The Cambridge Muslim College is a particular treasure. I went to see the Dean and Academic Director over August. It was one of those meetings where you get a flash of the blindingly obvious. If we are to make inroads into governance reform and development in the Muslim charity world, we need to develop what we can describe as Sharia compliant codes of governance.

There is nothing in our current Code of Good Governance that is inimical to Islamic teaching, indeed the underpinning ethics of the code are found in the tenets of Islam. However the code is expressed in the language of the Anglo Saxon world of management-speak. It is however easily translated into the language and teachings of the Koran. Indeed the development of Islamic charities has close parallels with the teaching of the Christian faith.  One of the 5 pillars of Islamic faith is charity or giving, just as in the Bible we are taught that giving is essential to the Christian life.

And this applies also to the development of leadership and management training; again the texts here are so often driven by an Anglo Saxon, usually American approach, when we could root the learning in the traditions of the Islamic world.

So there is work to do.  But we must be clear: if we are to encourage our Muslim communities to play a full life in civil society, an approach based on tolerance and respect is needed. Unfortunately we have a government-driven approach based on counter terrorism and legislation which undermines efforts to support our 3m strong Muslim community.

So now my task is to work with colleagues to see how we can develop this "Sharia compliant" approach. Of course it may raise eyebrows... I remember the speech of the former Archbishop of Canterbury when he talked of Sharia but then again we do need this debate. 

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!