Monday 31 March 2008

Baby Boomers...and Building Third Sector Capacity

Did you know that at the next General Election the majority of people actually voting will be over 60! And yet politicians continue to concentrate on youth and kids. The only time we hear of old people is as a problem! A drain on resources. Decrepit. Costing the health service too much.

As I get older (and as a member of the baby boomer generation) I intend to be working for a few more decades. Perhaps not a 5 day week but I ain’t a retiring typ ! And there will be many of us. Active in the community. Talented. And wanting to give something back. So perhaps the politicians should start to think of older people in a more positive light.

I get this interesting snippet from Stephen Burke, acevo member and acevo trustee. He runs Counsel and Care we are thinking of how the third sector can start addressing the challenges and opportunities of age.

I made this point to Hazel Blears - the wonderful energetic Secretary of State for DCLG at our acevo North lunch in Manchester. Members at the lunch were nodding in enthusiastic agreement.

I was speaking at a dinner Stephen Burke had organised. And I had come straight from a Board meeting of the Adventure Capital Fund. We are putting in place the new arrangements for FBE. In 2 weeks we are doing a series of regional events - Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle. That will be interesting! From April 1st we are in business. Making investments. Supporting third sector service delivery. And we will have new processes that put an emphasis on speedy response, prompt assessment and decisions and getting the money out into the hands of the sector.

Now its not all lunches and networking as an acevo CEO. I spend most of last evening catching up on emails and tackling the nitty gritty of life as a sector CEO. Always on the look out for money and opportunity. My new FD is getting to grips with the new budget we have to put in place and I'm trying to organise a strategic away day for our staff and Board. It’s a real asset that we have both fantastic staff and a supportive Board of sector giants. They are good to me! You might imagine that a board of only CEOs might be a tough one. But not a bit of it. They add real value.

I have to deal with a really notty problem faced by a member wanting advice and support in facing potential closure. This is a key part of the job. I guess a bit like being the CEO union convenor! But if I can be helpful then that is a job worth doing. It can be tough sometimes for a charity CEO. The comradeship of acevo is an important feature of our work. And it is humbling to remember what it can be like at the coal face

I have a note from Simon Hebditch marking his last day. This prompts me to think the opportunity there may be for a merger or alliance between Capacity Builders and Future Builders. We need to reduce the number of bodies and bureaucracy in the sector. And perhaps at the very least there is scope for more joint working. FBE and CB are both in the business of capacity development so it might make sense. I shall pursue.

And whilst in Manchester I meet one of my members who is a Capacity Builders trustee, she suggested we have a joint meeting of the Boards to discuss how to work together. Great. I will pursue but first will email Chris Pond as the Chair to get his view. He is also a member and a great guy- knows what is needed to drive forward change

And the weekend gets off to a great start when I get an invite from the PM to attend a conference where there are to be no less than 15 heads of State attending. And a former Head of State. Its a weekend so that's a posser eh! Well, not really. This is a fantastic opportunity but also a great tribute to where acevo has got to nationally and internationally. Let's hope we can get the third sector featuring in the discussions.

Wednesday 26 March 2008

Back to work: a growing acevo and meetings at Number 10

Spent Easter in Malta; where Easter is done with Catholic abandonment. A two hour Stations of the Cross for a start and an exuberant Good Friday procession where the statues come complete with velvet robes and wigs. Not to mention the hooded penitents dragging chains on Easter Day. I went to Pontifical High Mass in the Cathedral Church of the Sovereign Order of the Knights of St John. And then to Easter Communion at the Anglican Cathedral. Nice to see the mothers’ union selling jam and marmalade in the crypt afterwards. It was a great treat. And a spiritual uplift too.

Malta is a splendid place. The southern Mediterranean with English characteristics, such as punctuality! A relaxing time before getting back into the work fray.

Whilst here I have been keeping in touch. My trusty blackberry lets me know the news - like an email from Simon Hebditch to tell me he is resigning form Capacity Builders. A shame. He has had to put up with a lot of hassle and indeed, bullying from vested interests. But he tackled the dreaded hydra of the Hubs, this has been an inglorious episode in the history of the sector. A large sum of public money put towards building the sector's capacity and too much wasted in bureaucracy, consultancy and endless meetings.

Acevo argued from the start this was a doomed approach. We wanted an equivalent of the very successful improvement agency of local government. And after four years of patchy and sometimes less than satisfactory work we have finally got to an approach that might work. Good luck to the next CEO.

We have been recruiting new staff and our new FD started this week. He will be good even if he is challenging to a CEO who is high on vision. We all need challenging FDs to keep us on the straight and narrow

And soon we will have our new acevo North Director starting; Jenny Berry will be a star. We have taken the plunge with establishing acevo North. I have been keen on this for years as I have always felt that we suffer from a certain London centrism. We are establishing an office in Leeds and will build up our membership and events and lobbying. It’s an exciting development. And for me shows acevo again at the forefront of real advance in our sector. This is action not platitude. Less talk about the importance of regionalism and devolution -acevo gets on and puts it into practise.

I have always felt that recruiting a really talented team is crucial to your success as a CEO. And if you have talent you must give them space to perform and to grow. So delegate and support. I think acevo is known for the energy and talent of the team. One danger of having a strong personality is that your organisation can become too identified with you. So it is important to let others develop, to speak for the organisation and take initiatives themselves.

And it was good that whilst in Malta my deputy Dr Peter Kyle dealt with some of the flack from DfID after I had the temerity to tell them off for daring to offer a development fund which prohibited lobbying. I think they were taken aback at my trenchant criticism. (Perhaps saying they were "anally retentive" might have been a jibe too far? Though a sense of humour is always worthwhile even in government I think) My view is that you work closely with government. You praise where it is due. You give thanks for good deeds. You engineer change on behalf of your members through this. But when they do something daft you give them a quick kick where it hurts. "Pour encourager les autres" as was said when they hung Admiral Byng for incompetence.

Flying back on Easter Monday - I get back to do no less than 2 meetings at No 10. In fact acevo has given the Tuesday of Easter week off to staff to show appreciation of the brilliant work they have done in making our 20th anniversary year so successful and in winning all our tenders. But the Boss must work - though somehow meetings at No 10 don't seem such a drag to do on a day off!! One of them is about the third sector/trade union report we are to launch in April. It will be held in No 10 and with a star cast. It’s a great report, authored by Nita Clarke. Watch this space for more on this!!

Thursday 13 March 2008

Budget, Conference and Commonwealth Week

It’s amazing, the breadth of acevo’s membership. I am thinking of getting a dog (after years of having had a cat) and one of acevo’s members is the Chief Executive of the Battersea Dogs Home. Our membership is very broad third sector. It always has been. Whilst others are debating whether they should broaden out to “civil society” acevo has always recruited members from housing associations, unions, and even political parties. That is because we are a chief executive body and what binds us together is the reality of a chief executive’s job – often lonely at the top and where your support is often drawn from peer chief executives.

I sent out my regular “All Members” email on Tuesday. This contained a letter from my Chairman, John Low, about the arrangements for my new role as Chair of Futurebuilders. This is a real challenge. I love my job at acevo and get a real kick out of the work we do supporting and driving forward the Chief Executive’s third sector agenda. But I also need to do a good job steering Futurebuilders back on to track in supporting service delivery through the third sector.

Ten years ago I’d have taken this on with alacrity. Perhaps it is because I have now gone the other side of 55 that I am beginning to worry about proper balance and having a life. And having just been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes I have got to get a grip on a proper diet and do some exercise. My wonderful NHS consultant wrote in his notes that that I have an “indolent attitude to exercise”. An extremely accurate description but I am going to have to take control. Douglas Smallwood, the Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, is an acevo member so I have written to tell him I shall be joining his organisation. However, I have promised not to make any trouble for him. He sent a very sympathetic reply back to me. Thanks Douglas.

Budget Day
A good budget. I think Ed Miliband and Phil Hope should be warmly congratulated on the work they did behind the scenes to get the transitional relief on gift aid. I do hope the sector will show appreciation for this instead of what we often do – whinge. Whinging has its place. However, so does thanks for a job well done.

Phil Hope rings me up to talk through the key items in the budget of concern to members. I am particularly interested in the support for smaller organisations to win contracts and tell him that this is very important for us. John Hutton has also published his Enterprise Strategy which talks about the role of the third sector. John is speaking at our Spring Conference “The Business of Charity”. John is a good Minister and an old friend. He strongly supports the role of the sector in delivery client focussed services. He has set up a taskforce to look at all of this and my Deputy, Peter Kyle, will be a member.

It’s Commonwealth week. Mark Collins, the Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Foundation, is a member and I am attending several of the Commonwealth Week celebrations. I was in the Abbey on Monday for a service attended by The Queen and on Wednesday evening went to the Commonwealth Lecture which was a brilliant exposition of the dangers facing the planet by climate change. It was actually quite chilling. The lack of action by world governments is truly quite shocking. But at least this is one area where the campaigning and advocacy of third sector organisations has helped drive this issue right up to the top of the political agenda. We have pointed out what governments need to do. Now let’s hope the politicians start listening to us.