Tuesday 31 March 2009

On the way

Just boarded the Acela Express for Washington. Note we take the train rather than the plane thus demonstrating a small contribution to saving planet earth.

Yesterday was a five day meeting. We started with the Non Profit Finance Fund; based in NYC but nationwide. Its been making loan finance available to Non-Profits for 30 years. We swapped stories about loans and I talked about the work of Futurebuilders. They were surprised at the length of our loans - they have a maximum of seven years. Ours they described as UNTWNT ones. You not there - we not there. Indeed!

The Deputy Director of the Ford Foundation was a delight. A great conversation and we agree to demonstrate our FCR business model - she was fascinated by our FCR campaign. She had great insights into the US scene.

This was built on at lunch when we met the great Howard Husock, Vice President of the Manhattan Institute. Lunch met the two key Bubb criteria for a great lunch; good food in agreeable surroundings and an intellectually stimulating discussion. We were at the Harvard Club and I went for the crab cakes, again. Howard was an award winning broadcaster (three Emmys) and our conversation ranged from the Statute of Elizabeth, through the legal status of The Church to public sector reform. He was fascinated we were meeting with the White House's new Centre on Social Innovation. As indeed we are, as we make our way back to DC.

Final stop - The UN. No, not an appointment as Peace keeper in Darfur, but a meeting with their Democratisation Fund and their interest in our Euclid work in Eastern Europe; building civil society through developing Leaders.

During the course of the week I have been attempting to purchase stamps to send postcards. This has been a great reminder of how public service is so often designed for the benefit of those who work in it rather than the customer. I visit the NYC post office; a building of such magnificence one could only assume it was built to serve as a part time Cathedral should St Patrick's be out of action. Its magnificence is in direct proportion to its use as a place to sell stamps. The line to the small number of confessional booths where the Grand Members of the US Mail await their penitents is long. It is policed by a Security Guard, there no doubt to ensure no unfortunate spitting or irreverence. I make do with an automated box but feel cheated.

Time for Change Mr President. Time for public service reform.

Watch Obama getting on his plane for London as I head for the train to the White House.

See Matthew Taylor has blogged about third sector governance. The need for reform. Taking it seriously. A message ACEVO has preached for years. To read his article on his blog click here.

Good to have his support. There is simply too much complacency on this in the sector. When it goes wrong, or is flawed, it is bad.

Monday 30 March 2009

White House calling

It was when they served up the cup of hot water and the tea bag at breakfast that I started thinking of Charlbury. How I would be sitting down with the Guardian, a delicious croissant from the splendid Good Food Shop and a properly brewed pot of tea, Hound gently sleeping at my side. Instead an admittedly passable Brunch in a deli in Chelsea, downtown Manhattan. It's true, there's no place like home! Spoke with partner- off in Scotland celebrating Auntie's 80th, though with a damaged knee! Not happy! Prefer to be here.

But whilst eating I had spotted a charming Dog shop across the road. Now New Yorkers love their dogs. And they are pampered. Dog shops cater for all your doggie needs. So The Hound has a marvellous new leather collar and cute knitted coat for those chilly days. The Hound is holidaying again at my sister Sara's; its becoming like her second home.

We had a good meeting at The British Consulate on Friday. A bit disconcerting to be greeted by an enquiry as to whether I had enjoyed the Opera. But no, not MI6, but the power of the Blog. Glad it was being so avidly read. And yes, the opera was superb. Roberto Alagna in the title role. A superb tenor, at the peak of his power, we were lucky to see him.

Whilst there we got news we have been asked to go to the White House Centre for Social Innovation to meet with the newly appointed head. It will be a fascinating meeting. It means having to reschedule other meetings and get the train back to Washington but if The White house calls it’s the least we can do. That will be our last meeting before getting onto the plane back to the Mother Country.

I went to Mass at NY's Anglican Cathedral of St John the Divine. A contrast to the Washington Cathedral. Whilst they finished theirs in 1990, NY's is still being built. And whilst Washington is the 5th largest in the world, NY will be the 3rd; when it is finished (and it shows no sign of that yet). A good service: high Church, incense etc and a good Sermon. Though quite why the Dean thought he should parade around the Altar when there was a perfectly good Pulpit I really don't know. He told a rather moving tale.

He said he had spoken to Vanessa Redgrave the night before. She had said how moved she was when she heard that a small girl had been saved because her parents had realised there might be a problem (because of what had happened to Natasha) when she had banged her head and she complained of a headache. Rushed to hospital; they caught the blood clot.

Well, Barack heads for London on Tuesday and I head for the White House!

PS: My article for Philanthropy UK, where I have been asked to tell their readers the three books that have most inspired and shaped my thoughts on philanthropy, is now out. To read it click here.

Friday 27 March 2009

Baltimore crab cakes and ideas.

Meeting today with the truly renowned Prof Lester Salamon at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. He is the pre-eminent guru of the non profit sector in the States, and a strong advocate of the role of the sector. He has been pushing a very similar line to ACEVO on how the sector can generate jobs and help lead recovery. We swap articles. He gets a copy of my recent Lecture.

He wants to see the Obama administration "renew the compact" between government and sector.

He has established what he describes as a "listening post" where he can contact several thousand non profits around the country to pick up on what is happening on the ground during the recession. It’s worth taking a look.

They have also published a "Forward Together" manifesto on the role of the sector "for the change we need".

It is also worth a look at the main journal for the sector in the States "Nonprofit Quarterly" (the editor spoke at ACEVO's last International conference). The latest edition has an interesting article by Paul Light called "Four Futures"; looking at strategies to use to thrive in crisis. He says now is the time for organisations to transform their running and vision. Flexible approaches and innovation. Maximising use of new technologies. Social enterprise and seeking out new contracts and funding streams. And above all collaboration. "It is in the friction between unlike bodies that brilliant breakthroughs are made".


The same edition has a map of the non profit sector in the States for those that are interested. And an advert for ACEVO! No jokes - I am not on commission.

I also get an update from Lester on the new White House Centre for social innovation. It is to be headed by the woman who ran the Google Foundation. I am giving Lester a briefing on Futurebuilders to feed into the White House new centre. Be good to build links.

We have lunch in the Johns Hopkins Club. I'm told that as it is Maryland I have to have crab cakes. So I do. And then onto the train for New York City for a further round of meetings. I'm blogging as we make our slow way up the Eastern seaboard.

I also get reports on a very successful ACEVO conference on heath and social enterprise. We have also launched a new strategic partnership with the Tribal group - a headhunting and resource organisation with offices around the UK. The third sector practice is now led by the magnificent David Fielding, head hunter extraordinaire, who has become well known to ACEVO members. He did such a great job for me in getting a top class Futurebuilders Board I'd strongly recommend him any time.

But all work and no play would make a chief executive very dull so its Cav and Pag at the Metropolitan Opera tonight. I’ll keep you posted!

Thursday 26 March 2009

Reflecting on difference. But learning.

"It’s too good to waste a crisis". Been picking up lots of info on how non profits here are tackling recession. A number of the key top umbrellas are taking the ACEVO line that now is the chance to think different, to experiment and seek out new opportunities. But that is not to ignore the very real pain of falling income and rising demand. So they are also gearing up support networks and website help. We are making links for our own "recession support" website which ACEVO has developed as a sector wide help tool. We plan to make links.

It has been a 7 a day meeting schedule. My voice is beginning to give out as I extol the virtues of ACEVO as the UK's most influential sector body. So much too talk about. Though our transatlantic cousins don't let me talk for too long!

I get an email from a member who wants to know about the book I'm quoting on the need to trash 3 year plans. It is "The non profit strategic revolution" by David La Piana http://www.nonprofitstrategyrevolution.org/

La Piana is also the States guru on non profit mergers. We have got a copy of the book and guide produced for one of the top non profit umbrellas and are looking at how we can translate for our members. Like in the UK there is renewed interest in mergers and alliances here. Clearly a chance for cross atlantic learning.

And emerging news from the White House on policy for the third sector. Obama is establishing a Centre for Social Innovation in the White house. Names have just emerged about who might lead this and we are picking up the gossip as we go along. People are excited. It’s a fruit of the Obama campaign and his recognition of the ideas and new ways of thinking and working he has seen from community and non profits. So there is a big shift from the Bush approach of only supporting faith based groups (and ones who toed the evangelical line) to a broad third sector.

And he is talking of the idea of an "Office of Social Innovation and Civic Action" again based in the White House but a bit like our dear OTS. Exciting - I email a briefing for Liam Byrne MP who arrives States side soon. Not sure the Embassy here will pick all this up so best to get a third sector briefing in as well. They are interested in how ACEVO got Blair to set up the UK model.

I get an irritating email from my Deputy Dr Kyle (who is looking after the flock in His Masters absence). Apparently he is off for a meeting with the PM on the G20 Summit as I'm not in the UK. He says he will send a photo. Humph. But a bit later another email arrives to say that we have been filming Kevin Brennan MP for our website and they have noticed he has a cool photo of me and my Chair, Lesley-Anne Alexander with Kevin at our Annual Reception, on his mantelpiece. I'm flattered. He is a good advocate for our sector. Thank you Kevin.

Today has been meetings with the top federal sector wide bodies. There are simply not ACEVO or NCVO type bodies here. Its a sector of nearly 2m organisations, many only operating at a State or County level. So no real umbrella wide representation, though there are a number of Washington based bodies who take on a representational role. And they are powerful.

The evening glides to a close. A reception for Association executives and then I take my Director of Strategy (Fab Jobsworth as he is now to be known after the spoof blog designation) to my Washington Club for dinner. An enormous steak - New York style - but with a stunning Napa valley Cab Sav. And we started with a Chardonnay from Sonomo valley to die for. Wines from California are truly great. It was a deserved reward for a day toiling in the vineyard of third sector travails.

And a good end to Lady Day. The day we remember The Annunciation of Our Lady.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Remembering Roosevelt, watching Obama

We are staying in a cute Bed and Breakfast just 12 blocks short of the White House but it was looking like I'd only see it from the back of a cab en route to yet one more meeting. But today our lunch meeting was rescheduled and we had a couple of hours to kill. So a hot dog or the White house? I ditch the lunch.

I was also keen to see the Memorial to FDR - one of the greatest of the American Presidents and whose New Deal projects should be a model for our Government today. It's a memorial spread over 7.5 acres and incorporating panels that remember his achievements and record his speeches.

One panel commemorates the founding of the Conservation Corps. This is an idea for this century too. The "green army" we have been urging on our Government. The great thing about FDR was his vision, ability to think big and to deliver. The contrast with the tentative £9.5m volunteering plan from DWP is stark. The Lecture I gave with DEMOS talked about the role of the Works Progress Administration. They created a massive jobs programme, even funding arts and culture. A real achievement. And a great Memorial.

Our first meeting was with the CEO of the American Society of Association Executives. 75,000 members and a Centre for Association Leadership. We have links and talk about work together in Europe. They "connect great ideas and great people" so they say. A neat strap line; just ripe for plagiarism.

But the most fascinating meeting was with Directors of the National Democratic Institute. They work across 100 nations but we particularly talk about EUCLID's work in the Balkans. We will work together on ideas for expansion. We talk about the role that civil society leaders can play and how the leadership role needs support.

Dinner with Richard Brewster, formerly CEO of SCOPE, and now lecturing in the States on Non-Profits. He follows the news from home and I am able to fill him in on the latest battles and gossip.

Back in time to watch Obama's televised Press conference. What is amazing is how the entire Press conference is carried on main TV. Inconceivable that the BBC would run other than a small extract of a PM press conference in the UK. He talks about "finger pointing" though not orgies. Has he been reading my Blog? He looks tired and got tetchy with one reporter, though most questions are tame and unctuous. No John Humphreys there I'm afraid.

He has started to get real criticism. But he is still clearly hugely popular. Difficult to avoid the shops stacked with the T Shirts and the memorabilia.

Logging in to do my Blog I notice a posted comment from Saul Alinsky's biographer. Apparently it is his Centennial and just six weeks ago the celebrations started with a commemoration at Chicago University. She is interested in coming to the UK to have a celebration of Alinsky here. That would be cool. I hope to make contact. Let's make that happen.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Community, Leadership and knife prodding

"Community Banks Boom"; the headline on CNN news today. Apparently the community bank sector here is growing rapidly. They make a point of knowing their customer, or "old fashioned banking" as a manager said on the news piece. And they support and invest in their local communities. So they are trusted.

What a great start to the day. Let's see more of this approach. As the Chair of the Adventure Capital Fund I have seen at first hand how valuable an investment into local community enterprise can be. Wouldn't it be great to see a real growth in community banks in the UK. Attacking the big banks where it hurts. And no nonsense on bonuses.

And "breaking news" on bonuses. $50m has now been given back by the AIG executives! And the money will go to charity. So how about a move to force our guys to do the same? I made exactly this point in my SKY interview in February.

ACEVO has a lunch coming up with Yvette Cooper MP, Chief Secretary at the Treasury. We shall lobby her. Here was that Congress threatened to legislate to tax the bonuses. Let's see our Government being robust too.

One rather brilliant campaigning non profit, "ACORN" had the great idea of organising a bus tour of the "rich and shameless", i.e. a tour of the houses of the AIG executives. A great media coup. It all added to the pressure for an act of redemption by the bonus takers.

I also got the lowdown on how the Social Reinvestment Act has worked. This is legislation that requires Banks to reinvest in poorer communities. It has ensured a strong banking programme to put money and loans into deprived areas. We need that legislation here. That statutory obligation, plus a Social investment Bank could ensure a surge of capital into our sector to help us create jobs and support recovery. Let's see Government taking this more radical approach. If you take over the banks let's see them reformed. This is what the Treasury review on banking should be looking at. Are they?

Had five meetings today, starting at Georgetown University to talk about a research project on leadership competences.

Good to see Andrew Watt, now working at the American Association of Fundraising Professionals, but better known to many when he was at our very own Institute of Fundraising. He has been in The States now for three years and gave us a great run down on the sector here, over our Bison Burgers! I spot he is a regular subscriber to our very own "Third Sector" magazine so he keeps up on the gossip. I give him more.

The US voluntary overseas aid effort is bigger than the entire French aid budget; an interesting fact from the CEO of "Inter Action" which is the umbrella body representing all the major US relief and development NGOs.

We meet the national body, Grantmakers for Effective Organisations,who are interested in how to develop a Full Cost Recovery tool in the US, based on the gold star ACEVO model.

And our meetings concluded with a great meal but, not so much because of the food (and a superb Sonoma Valley Sauvignon), more the company. An inspirational guy, Jeff Nugent, the CEO of The Centre for Inspirational Leadership, who came up through the community banking movement. He takes us out to talk about their leadership programmes for the NFP sector. They train both current Leaders and emerging ones -especially in the black community. I'm so impressed I ask him to come over to speak at our Annual ACEVO Leaders conference.

We talk about the work of Saul Alinsky: the Guru of community organisations who taught Obama. I have brought a copy of his "bible" for community activists, "Rules for Radicals" over with me. I recommended this book to Liam Byrne MP recently. His work is sadly unknown in the UK, even in our community sector. Have you heard of Saul Alinsky? I'm going to get him better known!

He does rather win me over by telling me about a major new management book which unpicks the myth of the three year strategic plan. It's no use. You need to confront the challenges of the immediate and judge them by your core values and mission. Intuitive leadership. It's a model that appeals. We talk about how those organisations that understand the need to change now that we are in recession will survive. A three year plan, drawn up in the good times, probably needs junking. But trustees are often strangely attached to three year plans. I prod Seb, my Director of Strategy, with my knife - he is rather fond of three year plans himself and lovingly tends our own. But a brilliant guy for all that.

Monday 23 March 2009

Dateline: Washington

Arrived in Washington for a week of meetings (25 in all!) with Not-For-Profits and Foundations, Think Tanks, academics and administration officials. Although planned for some time, it will be particularly useful to check out how the recession is playing out here, both for NFPs and for the Government. My splendid Director of Strategy, Seb Elsworth, is with me to keep me in check and ensure no diplomatic incidents!

It's the 4th Sunday in Lent; Mothering Sunday or Rose Sunday as it is often known, when the Priests wear rose coloured vestments. I spotted the Pope on a newscast here resplendent in a shimmering pink Chasuble; not a statement of his solidarity with the gay community unfortunately! We went to the Communion service at the National Cathedral which is Anglican. Obama came here for Prayers on Inauguration Day. Though the American Anglicans are impossibly PC (gluten free wafers I ask you!) the service was still much as it would have been in any Parish Church back home.

Indeed, when you get there it's as though you have been transported back to an English Cathedral Close, not unlike York Minster in fact. This is a Cathedral built in the traditional Anglo-Gothic style. Bodley, the English architect recommended by The Archbishop of Canterbury started it off in 1907. It was only finished in 1990; when I was here in 1974 they were still working on the West Towers and Rose Window.

It's a triumph of voluntary effort married with the professionalism of the skilled craftsmen and workers who built a Cathedral in the same way all our English Cathedrals were constructed: though this one has a gargoyle of Darth Vader. It took over 90 years of voluntary fundraising and not one dime of Federal help. The result is magnificent.

The similarities with the UK don't end with the Church though - the news here is all about the recession and in particular the row over the massive bonuses paid to the huge insurance giant AIG who have been bailed out by the taxpayer (or "you the taxpayer" as the newscasters always say). Congress is threatening to introduce taxes to claw them back. News is also leaking out of other banks who were bailed out and yet also payed large bonuses, and there are arguments about whether the Government should have known and stopped them. Amazingly AIG are also contesting a tax bill with the US Government! Obama is facing his first real criticism. His press conference on Tuesday evening is being heavily trailed.

So the arrogance of the banking and finance sectors is truly global. I guess I will see just how global are the issues facing the third sector.

Thursday 19 March 2009

Jobs,, Gongs and sector blues

Well , in fact Kevin Brennan MP was not wearing a shamrock at the Book Launch . Though he did have a green tie . Just as Obama did ! But I in fact was sporting my shamrock ; picked up some at Stockwell tube station no less. Was looking a bit bedraggled by the time I got to the Board meeting of Futurebuilders that evening .

I have to say that the Board non exec directors at Futurebuilders are an impressive lot. Strong contributions . No waffle . A lot of business conducted in a 2 hour session .A good recruitment by our favourite search consultant David Fielding , now leading the Third sector team at Tribal . But also may have something to do with an efficient Chair; or we shall see what Directors think as we are having a Board and Chair appraisal process . I will be marked by my colleagues , always an interesting process.

But the key news is the unemployment figures going over 2 million , and with all the indications we will move to 3 m soon . In that context the role of the Third Sector in a major job creation programme becomes ever more pressing . We are following up with DWP the ideas from the informal report I submitted to James Purnell MP. I have now talked through these ideas with Liam Byrne MP too . I think the unique mix of both jobs and full time volunteering opportunities is what the country needs and the sector can offer .

Tom Flood and Rupert Evenett ( respectively CEO and Chair) of BTCV , the largest green volunteering charity have ambitious plans for a "green army " of volunteers , up to 500,000 to tackle environmental works like parks and open apace regeneration to , home energy and security support for communities. The BBC do a great piece covering this story after we release the plans and ideas in an ACEVO press release .

This work is important and rather puts in perspective a dismal story in Third Sector magazine about the demise of the Third Sector Leadership Centre . I do regret that NCVO decided that they wanted to carry it forward themselves. I always thought this was a good example of us working together , so it is sad to see it ending in such a way . The reality of the breakdown is that 3 people lose their jobs and a great joint initiative that both NCVO and ACEVO worked on has ended.I still do not understand why NCVO decided not to consult us properly and then to end the partnership by submiting plans on their own.

Our members have the right to expect better . And in a testing time for members it is a bad example to set. So acevo and ncvo need to learn lessons . The irony of the front cover of Third Sector carrying this story alongside a piece about research from the Charity Commission on the need for collaboration will not have been lost. My only hope is that we botho learn lessons rather than indulging in a finger pointing orgy . I am discussing with my Chair what we need to do in acevo to learn and to move forward. I am sure that Stuart will be doing the same .

And I end today with a 3 hour session of the Honours Committee for local government and the voluntary sector where we are making our recommendations for the Queen's Birthday Honours . A good spread of names from our sector . the Honours system is a great way to acknowledge and support the heroes in public life .I wish more people in our sector would put names forward . I always think it is a privilege to serve on this committee and to help advise on the recommendations for our people. It is a good committee , with the Permanent secretaries from 5 government departments as well as a range of non executives like me . the process is easier and less secretive than you might think . Go to the Honours section on the Cabinet Office Website for details.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Preparing for Recovery

Google report they have had 54m hits for "economic recession" in the last few months, but only 28m for "economic recovery".

We can't afford to get hooked on how dreadful it all is, even though that is what the News incessantly reports. The Charity Commission have put out some interesting figures from a survey they conducted with a range of charities.

58% of charities say they have already experienced falling income. 64% of charities with income over £1m say their work will be affected adversely.

And yet only 3% say they have considered mergers or alliances as a way forward. This is surprising. And disappointing.

I can understand the issues that surround this. I was recently roundly told off by a member who objected to my call for more partnership, alliance and mergers.

"Objectionable " I was told. And I understand that third sector bodies proudly protect their brand and mission. They don't want to be "gobbled up" by some big charity as the said member complained.

This is not just understandable but right. Yet there are ways in which mergers can protect and enhance the brand. The arrangements for Child Line and NSPCC are a case in point. And other organisations have pursued an alliance route that marries both the savings of merger with the protection of the brand and unique way of operating.

But if we are to be strategic as CEOs we must look to the potential of alliances. A full on merger may not be right, but partnerships or other ways of working together may be a good way to beat the recession.

And rather than planning for a recession, it makes sense to plan for recovery. Thinking ahead to work in different ways or new approaches. This is the time that innovation often flourishes. So the best third sector bodies will grow and expand. The State will need third sector services more than ever - so contracting will continue to grow.

Now today is St Patrick's Day. Today all those proud of their Irish heritage wear the shamrock. When I was a lad my Grandmother always had shamrock posted to her from her home in Union Hall so I used to wear my shamrock to school. (An interesting fact: my mother and Third Sector Minister Kevin Brennan's father were born in villages in Co Cork no more that 20 miles apart!)

I shall be seeing Kevin later today at a launch of a book published by the John Smith foundation (on social enterprise and service delivery ) He and I have written Chapters for this new publication. Will he have the Shamrock I wonder?

Monday 16 March 2009

on vegetarianism and capital ?

It was a good job I asked . My final meal in Slovenia before returning to the warm embrace of Our Blessed Isle : I asked what the House speciality was only to discover it was Horse meat . And the alternatives were not exactly appealing ; tender goatling and rabbit . Now don't get me wrong , I am not a vegetarian , but somehow eating a bunny rabbit or a goat just does not seem right . This is absurd , because I did order the cow , but beef sounds so much better?

And so good to have confirmation that I am getting older ; as I bought my ticket to the Slovenian Art gallery exhibition of Mark Chagall from the pleasant young man on the desk , he enquired " are you a senior"....fortunately with a quizzical look that implied perhaps I wasn't . Which I am not . Yet .

But now back into the swing of things , catching up on post ; a nice letter from the Prime Minister on the role of the sector in recession for example , and then a meeting of the Futurebuilders strategy group. We had a presentation on the scope for a social enterprise stock exchange . It was fascinating . They want FBE support and we will look at it further . It is yet another way we can expand access to capital for our sector. We actually sit on a major asset base in our sector ; some £210 billion if I remember right from the brilliant NCVO Almanack statistics ( a book well worth having on your shelves by the way ).

Think of how we could capitalise charity shops for example , if we had access to stock issues? So we will explore further . I do want to see Futurebuilders using its base and experience more widely , and working with others expert in this field ,to open up the capital markets . There is huge scope . Do we have the ambition to do it ?

Friday 13 March 2009

Leader to Leader

One of the more satisfying aspects of my job over the last few years has been the way ACEVO has been able to support third sector leaders in other countries. And to learn from them.

Today I am a guest at the launch of the Slovenian third sector leaders network, taking place in Ljubljana. At the moment the title is the Slovenian Association of NGO Managers but they are looking at something more snappy. They like the Italian one of "Leader to Leader"; which sums up exactly the founding idea.

This will be the 3rd national ACEVO to be established - with the 4th, in Japan, happening in September. I hope that one day we can look to a strong international network of leaders - crossing all continents - which gives ACEVO a clear global focus and establishes leadership learning across borders.

This morning we were at a meeting with the Secretary of State, in the Slovenian Prime Minister's Office, to talk about how the third sector/Government relationship works in the UK and how EUCLID will operate to support leaders here. They are considering establishing an Office of the Third Sector at the centre of Government so I was being quizzed about size, money and scale. They also want to support EUCLID's work across the Balkans and we are hoping to establish a link post here to coordinate our activities across the Balkans.

I had an interesting talk with the Minister about the increasing role the sector plays in delivering public services. He is particularly keen on how to develop new environmentally focused industries and hopes that the current crisis will provide a chance to do that. It's the same focus I think our Government needs to take, investing in the growth industries of the future. He was also talking about how they wanted to get a more EU focus on such activity. Now that's a task and a half!

It was an energetic discussion. Coming on top of the success of the major civil society conference in Albania (which was even carried on national TV News) it makes a satisfying end to the week. The power of Leader networks. But now I'm keen to get back to a good cup of tea and my wonderful Hound, who has been sorely missing me. As the years pass, the allure of travel palls beside the comforts of one's home and hearth. Or am I just getting very old?

Wednesday 11 March 2009


"Democracy is too important to be left to the politicians". So said the British Ambassador to Albania at the opening of our Euclid conference for Albanian civil society this morning. It is true. All research shows that for a democracy to function effectively you need a vibrant civil society. Sponsored by the FCO, Euclid carried out research into the Albanian civil society and this report forms the basis of our conference today.

Tirana is an interesting place - rampant capitalism meets old style Communism. The combination is not attractive. I ventured out yesterday to the National Art Gallery. It was closed. Open tomorrow? I enquire. No. Thursday? No. When? Maybe May!

Indeed most of the churches and museums here are closed. Why waste time on culture when there are forests to be torn down and ugly concrete apartment blocks to be erected. One such monstrosity I saw yesterday had an enormous sign proclaiming "shiten apartment". Exactly. Though, I suspect, the word may have a different usage here?

Indeed I even had the uncharitable thought, when wandering disconsolately from the Art Gallery, that Comrade Hoxha would have had the galleries open.

But such thoughts were soon suppressed when I found that the one exhibition open was in the former Communist HQ. It was chilling. A simple exhibition of what actually happened under the unpleasant Hoxha regime. Pictures of the show trials. The clerics and dissidents who were shot. But perhaps the most shocking was a film showing a firing squad. The poor victims dragged out. No dignity afforded to them. And shot like dogs. With people around prodding their bodies afterwards.

In the gardens around the Gallery were scattered various discarded statues of "heroes of the working class". One I rather took a fancy to; it would have looked glorious in the ACEVO office and be a constant reminder to the staff to work ever harder, Stakhanonovite like, for the greater glory of the workers of the third sector.

It is amazing though how interested people are about Euclid. Click here for a link to the website. The selling point is that it is an organisation of leaders. The individuals. Not the organisations. So people come together in a peer network without organisational baggage or politics. And as the Prime Minister reminds us often, this is a global financial crisis which we must tackle globally. So our third sector must also act and think globally.

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Jobs, funding and attacks

We have seen the actions Obama is taking to create jobs in the States as unemployment rockets. He is clear, the State must provide funding to create jobs.

The UK unemployment figures for March are bound to show unemployment shooting up here too. It's time for action. It's time to gear up our sector. This cannot wait.

I see that The Big Lottery Fund have just announced the conclusion of round two of their " BASIS" funding. This was a great scheme, set up to support the development of capacity in the sector. 119 projects supported. Worth £50m. They are to be applauded.

As a funder of our sector they have often been at the forefront - introducing Full Cost Recovery before many other funders for example.

They also realised that for our sector to grow we need capacity support. So often funders are seduced by a glossy project that appeals to some trustee and forget that the boring day in, day out, task of paying the rent and the cleaner that need support too.

So let's make sure they continue to keep the funding pledge: that 70% of their lottery money goes to our independent third sector. Not as a Ministerial piggy bank, or to propping up Parish Councils. And let's hope the Tories too keep the pledge on the funding side and not reduce our share as worryingly seems to be the net effect of their proposals.

Though one idea the Tories must implement, and that is to remove the BLF from its imprisonment as a non departmental public body and set it up as an independent charitable foundation.

I may be in Albania but news reaches me of an unpleasant attack on Futurebuilders by Triodos and Charity Banks. Complaining of the FBE winning the DH tender to run the Social Enterprise Fund. They say the decision is "questionable at best".

Now what exactly is the problem? Is the suggestion that the Department of Health have done something improper? Government tendering is held to very strict rules and subject to rigorous audit. The process can be challenged through established procedures. Is there is suggestion that an error or mistake, or worse, has been made? It is a very serious allegation to say the decision is questionable and it is therefore proper to ask those banks to justify this statement. What aspects of the process exactly are they questioning? Are they saying the DH did not award the tender to the best bid?

Or is the suggestion that the Department should not award the tender to the best bid? Whatever happened to old fashioned courtesy: as in "congratulations on your win - it must have been a terrific bid".

Or am I naive; surely if the best bid wins this is also a win for our sector? One of the less pleasant aspects of our sector is a sometime inability to celebrate success. Far better to have a good old whinge.

Now to be clear, no organisation is immune from improvement and can always learn. But what I object to is that the two Banks made no attempt to contact me as Chair of FBE, or our CEO, to raise any issues. The first we know about it is the press release.

And I note the unsubtle smear about us being a "Government funder". Actually we are not; FBE is an independent organisation, with independently appointed Directors and the Chair is hardly a lickspittle! Indeed as the CEO of Charity Bank knows, one of his Trustees sits on the Investment Committee of FBE.

They also claim we are "unaccountable". Exactly how may I ask? I am again very open to discussion about how we can improve our processes and our accountability. If there are lessons we can learn from how Charity bank and Triodos work by all means let's talk, but first of all we need to hear what the issue is?

In a recession what third sector organisations need is for us all to pull together. Not divisions. We need to ramp up investment to third sector organisations. We must work together to do that. So if the CEOs of Triodos and Charity Bank would care to pick up the phone, I'm sure a dialogue is preferable to press releases?

Monday 9 March 2009

Letter from Tirana

Yes, that is Tirana, as in the Capital of Albania. EUCLID - the European Third Sector Leaders Network set up by ACEVO - is running a conference on leadership development for the heads of the incipient Albanian civil society. It opens tomorrow with an introduction by HM's Ambassador.

A strange country! It must have been very weird when run by mad Enver Hoxha. On the way from the airport we drive past numerous of the 700,000 bunkers he had built. Some are now painted in jolly colours! Still, it occurred to me that must have been one hell of a job creation exercise. Might not catch on in rural England, but perhaps a pilot in Lambeth as unemployment rises?

And it was here in Albania that they perfected pyramid investment schemes. As the guide book amusingly puts it, "the banks offered a rate of return that people with any experience of Western capitalism would have known was unsustainable."

When the pyramid banks collapsed in 1996 they rioted, burning the banks and state offices! We are so much more civilised. Why we give our errant bankers nice pensions and big bonuses so they don't get cold in the winter.

I'm in a hotel on what must once have been a pleasantly wooded mountainside overlooking Tirana. But developers are rapidly chopping down the trees to replace them with jerry-built and depressingly ugly buildings; most of them without planning permission and funded through the proceeds of organised crime.

It is clear that in the emerging democracies of the Balkans, a strong civil society is needed to ensure a democracy that actually means something to communities.

Civil society needs strong leaders. It is a mistake to think that in developing the institutions of the third sector you can only spend money on projects and neglect the capacity of the organisation itself: that means spending money to develop leadership. Now that will be a challenge here, as one tries to distinguish the saints from the sinners; this is not exactly a country dedicated to promoting the common good and the ethical use of public money.

But I left the UK with great news. Futurebuilders has won the contract to run the Department of Health's £100m Social Enterprise Investment Fund. There was strong competition for this contract. We teamed up with Partnerships UK and with the Innovation Exchange in support. It proved the winning ticket.

It's fantastic news and a great fillip for our CEO, Jonathan Lewis, and his team. He and his colleagues put in mega effort to get this right. And it's tremendous to have such a vote of confidence in the way we are now running Futurebuilders. Our engaged investor model, with quick access to capital and minimum bureaucracy is working.

It means that the base we have to invest in promoting social enterprise and third sector service delivery is strengthened - now a £330m capital fund. As we build our sector to play a leading role in promoting economic recovery it's essential to have a strong social investor. Rock on!

Thursday 5 March 2009

Public Services but no sandwiches

A meeting of the Public Services Forum today . This is a forum between the trades unions , employers , third sector and Government . It is Chaired by Tom Watson MP , Cabinet Office Minister and we meet in the Cabinet Office .

Its at 1pm so I arrive early in search of the usual lavish Government hospitality ; you know the sort of thing , curled sandwiches and grease encrusted sausages . But no lunch , not even a paltry crisp . Times are hard . I follow Dave Prentis in and am shown into a room where I discover I am in the trades union pre meeting . I offer to stay . But no . I make my way to the main meeting room and walk in , only to find I am in the pre meeting for Government officials . I am quickly ushered out by kindly civil servant who offers me the consolation of a cup of tea and a biscuit . No biscuit I say virtuously; it's Lent ! So there you go , the third sector marginalised yet again . I sit morosely in a corner.

But at least when I do get allowed into the room I can correct an obvious mistake in the seating plan . They had placed my name plate on the second row. Anxious not to get the civil servant into trouble who had made this mistake I removed it and placed it in front row , opposite the Minister , where clearly it ought to have been . It also has the advantage that I am in front of the great and effective Liz Atkins from NCVO who is therefore able to pass me notes , should she feel the urge , from her place on the second row.

We have presentations from Tom McNalty MP , the Works Minister , and from Liam Byrne MP. I am able to make interventions that stress the role of the third sector in supporting the victims of recession and also in creating the jobs of the future , the jobs that we need in the new growth industries. These Fora are always good opportunities to showcase the work of our sector and our role in public service reform . ACEVO is keen to promote how we can work with Government at central and local level to overcome the social tensions of a recession , but the real advance will be in how we promote the recovery . All in the lecture .

And now its off to my Brother Nick's for an evening at Kew Gardens , in the marvellous Conservatory and their brilliant collection of orchids. And there will not be a curled sandwich in sight.

Wednesday 4 March 2009

celebrating the Adventure

We had a Board meeting for the ACF today . The Adventure Capital Fund was set up as an experiment to see if there was demand for investment loans into community enterprise . When it was set up the founders decided that they should have an evaluation process with action research so that we could learn as an organisation and and the sector draw the lessons from an experiment into loan finance.

Today's Board meeting had an oral report of the final results of the evaluation that has been carried out by a team led by Stephen Thake of the Metropolitan University . It was fascinating . But the overall conclusion was hugely positive. The ACF model has made a big difference . It works . And it is has been copied ; the engaged investor approach where ACF stands by the investee to support in difficult times , but is also prepared to step in and take difficult decisions like tackling bad governance.His final Report will be well worth reading.

So we were in somewhat nostalgic mood . We have appointed 4 new trustees so we had a short induction session on the history since 2002 . And decided we would have a great year of celebrating our 10th anniversary in 2012 !

I have been Chair for 3 years , taking over from Julia Unwin of the JRF. And what was interesting is that we also had a report of a Board appraisal process undertaken into the performance of the Board itself and its Chair. This too was very largely positive. Having a top performing Board and a first class Chief Executive is the key to organisational success . It was an interesting process ; I sat through a presentation where my fellow trustees were rating me and commenting on my performance . It was good .Indeed very good . They recognised my strengths , but also my foibles and areas where my skill set is more challenged .All Chairs should be put to the test like this .

I think any Board that aims to be good at governance must go through appraisal . But the proof of the pudding , as they say, is in the eating . If ACF had not been good it would not have won the tender to run Futurebuilders. And it would not have got the plaudits it has from the National Audit Office for the way it has tackled the task of taking on futurebuilders and getting cracking on new processes and change.

Now you are thinking this is all a tad too congratulatory . No organisation can be perfect , especially new ones. We have to learn and adapt . The evaluation will be likely to suggest some ways to improve . Leadership is all about learning. Adapting. I hope that as Chair I will always be up for change and taking on the difficult tasks . But also using the strength of the resource that is FBE and ACF to pour capital into our sector. In the recession it is the time for us to invest in our communities.

And changing the subject , I arrive home and pick up my copy of "Third Sector " , or do I now call it " Brolly News " ? I turn from the weekly Cook Sermon to the lively back page Matt Little , purveyor of High Class Gossip to the Third Sector. He reports that the Shaw Trust has been given " one to watch " status in the best companies accreditation scheme which feeds into the Sunday Times ( on the basis of their employee engagement ). As Matt writes , this may come as news to the GMB official, who ,after the removal of the CEO, warned that some staff, " were worried about the repercussions of speaking out " . Will the Charity Commission report into this be published before or after the results of the scheme are announced I wonder?

And on the subject of the Press , did you see my article in the Guardian today ? Click here if not. A challenging call to our sector to gear up to meet the challenge of recession and leading recovery. And for a more socially responsible business . My rallying call is one of optimism . the challenges are huge , but I am convinced we are up to them .

Recession Support

Today we launch our Recession Support Website.

Go to www.recessionsupport.org.uk and see.

We have developed this new website as a tool for the whole sector. We decided that in troubled times we have to pull together . So whilst we could have just done this for our own members we thought we should make this as widely used as possible . So this website will have links with other sites . Inside the sector we will flag key items from NAVCA , NCVO and the Social Enterprise Coalition, for example . And we will link with Government Departments . James Purnell has agreed to support the site with information and advice as have BERR. Peter Mandelson is doing us a film clip to be used.We have videos of messages from members. We will have information from local government as well as news and views. But the key is passing on tips and making tools to support organisations available .

So whether you are a Chief Executive or the Head of Volunteering , the Chair of trustees or the Finance Director you can use the site. And you should.

Its unusual for membership bodies to open up sites in this way . But we felt that it was part of that Chief Executive leadership role , to show the way for others. I am asking my colleagues to do likewise . Show we are joined up . Working together.

But its worth a note that my staff put together what is , I'm sure you will agree , a pretty impressive website in 4 weeks ! Yes , just 4 weeks. it shows both the talent and the dedication of my staff team . And it makes me , as their CEO immeasurably proud . We do not just talk about Recession . We are there to do something about it .


Tuesday 3 March 2009

more on The Lecture

Would you believe it ? Walking to the lecture with my trusty staff and it starts to rain . Now you would expect amongst all of us ; employees of an umbrella body , that we would have had an umbrella between us ! But no . the Chief Executive went unshielded from the inclement weather . What would my friend , Robin Bogg make of that I wonder?

I was flattered to get such a great turn out for the Lecture . I hope the messages will go out far and wide .The role the sector can play as an economic force in healing society's wouns, in building recovery and preventing a rpeat is crucial . if you have not yet got a copy see the Blog below and run one off .

I saw Rosie Chapman there from the Charity Commission , and trust she will take back the message about the need for Governance reform and an enabling approach to payment of trustees when charities want this . David Freud , in his as yet unennobled state was there . A great person , and a great mind . Various of my Futurebuilder trustees , The Chair if The Big Lottery Fund ,and lots and lots of members who are the reason I am doing all this . Oh , and my sister Lucy . Lucy ( not to be confused with my other sister Sara who is on her 13th book on teacher induction ) is an accountant and works at Deloitte . She arrived at the last minute to avoid the embarrassment of big brother introducing her to everyone. It meant she missed the rather splendid lunch . Serves her right. But at least I was able to embarrassingly mention to Mary Riley how she should be a partner!1 Brothers eh !!

Good also to see Ian Charlesworth in his new incarnation at Futurebuilders. I notice that on Saturday the Guardian revealed that the Charity Commission have been making use of the so called " spying powers "in the recent surveillance Act . interesting . Not sure how appropriate that is but I'm sure we will be told . Still , I though , if they are using these to uncover what has been going on with the Shaw Trust who so shockingly removed Charlesworth then it may have been worth it . Incidentaly , when will we see the report on their investigation? As the recession bites the need for proper process for Chief Executives and their jobs becomes more important .

Richard Reeves was a superb Chair for The Lecture in the glorious surroundings of the Deloitte Lecture Hall .Richard has nice mix of humour and thuoght provoking ideas. Mary Riley , Senior Partner of Deloitte ,said this is no time for the amateur charity.How right. And Nick Hurd MP was a real star turn . He has an excellent speaking style. Engaging and thoughtful and with a real sense of passion for the cause .He has a strong commitment to sustainability and the role of our sector here is paramount. We are lucky in our sector to have Nick as the sector spokesperson . No doubt he will be in the Cabinet. Alongside Lord Freud .

Then its back to the Office for a warm thankyou to all the staff and a glass of bubbly for the brilliance of the workers who make it all possible . I offer to read them my lecture , but strangley this generous offer is not taken up.......

The Third Sector at the Tipping Point.

I think I was on my nineth draft before I was satisfied. The final draft on Sunday was given a polish during BBC R4 Choral Evensong from St John's College, Cambridge. So the purple prose on fairness and social justice may be a result of that! Then Monday morning, after a final check, I pop up to "News and Things" our local Charlbury newsagents to fax it back to trusty Alison to type up for publication!

And today I gave my Lecture at Deloitte.

The Panel responding included Nick Hurd MP, the charming but brilliant Richard Reeves, of the think tank DEMOS, and Mary Riley, the multi talented star of Deloitte.

You can see the results of my endeavours for yourselves. Click here to read it. I am arguing that:

* policy makers and government underestimate the economic power of the sector.

* the sector is trusted. Business and governments are not.

* the sector should play a lead role in healing the wounds of the recession.

* the sector can play a lead role in promoting recovery (the growth sectors of the future are in education and health, care and sustainability, arts and sport). This is where the sector is strong.

* the sector can help prevent a repeat of the problem by campaigning for better business and better government.

See what you think. And tell me if you agree.