Monday 29 September 2014

Social Investment Summit - photos!

Well we had a fantastic fringe meeting with our new Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson. A great chance to welcome Rob to his new brief and to hear a lively debate between David Gauke (Financial Secretary to the Treasury), Clare Pelham (Leonard Cheshire), Caroline Mason (Esmée Fairbairn Foundation) and Nick O'Donohoe (Big Society Capital).

Here's a few photos...

David Gauke, Rob Wilson and me.

David Gauke speaking.

Nick O'Donohoe answers a question.

(Part of) the audience.

Events, dear boy, events...

.... Macmillan once laconically observed.

And so it was this last weekend. So we now have a new Civil Society minister, Rob Wilson and I'm glad to say I will be meeting him at lunchtime when he comes to the Acevo fringe on social investment (supported by our good friends SIB and BSC).

I'm proud  that we have a top quality fringe programme here at Conservative Party Conference. Tomorrow we launch our "Blue Book", the second in our series of conversations with key politicians and opinion formers on their views of the role of the third sector (in association with our friends at CAF). The Blue book has contributions from a range of tory thinkers; the launch of its counterpart The Red Book was the 'must-attend' event at Labour; we're expecting similar things here.

Tomorrow we have a stellar line up of the Blue Book authors. All, that is, apart from the person who contributed the Foreword, our former Minister. Even without that curiosity it's very much worth getting a copy, as events aside, there is a lot we need to be doing to reset the relationship between the sector and politics. I'd delighted that this ACEVO-CAF project has led the way.

I shall Blog more on this tomorrow.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Labour, Ed and the Red Book

As usual, Labour Conference this year has been fascinating and tiring in equal measure. Unlike recent years though we're doing a bumper programme of ACEVO fringe events - the largest in many years.

We started well on Sunday night by launching The Red Book of the Voluntary Sector with our friends at CAF. Do read the book - it's available here. And I do have to note my preference for 'third sector' over 'voluntary sector'.

It was a brilliant event. We had 11 speakers in an hour and many Parliamentarians dropping in and out during their first night of conference schedules.

As Ed Miliband says in his introduction to the book (and referring to his time as the first third sector minister): ‘This collection of essays shows the depth and vibrancy of thinking across the Labour movement on this important issue and makes a vital contribution to the debate in the run-up to the next election.’

Speeches ranged from Dianne Hayter's outline of Labour's historic relationship with civil society to Will Straw counting the costs of austerity in his prospective parliamentary seat of Rossendale and Darwen.

Overall, the event gave me hope that Labour is listening and engaging with our sector. Like the equivalent Blue Book and Yellow Book that we're launching in the next couple of weeks, we'll push hard to convert this willingness to listen that the three big parliamentary parties have shown into a willingness to engage with our sector when the next government is formed after the 2015 election.

I'll blog further about our other conference events but thanks to everyone who came to our events and please do read the Red Book!

Friday 19 September 2014

Devolution isn't off the menu, Prime Minister!

It was a relief frankly when the final vote came in. We remain a United Kingdom. I was worried at the implications for the many ACEVO members who run UK-wide charities, or indeed have UK in their titles, not to mention ACEVO itself which is a UK body with members throughout the country.

What we do now know is that there will be further devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. What will be the implications for civil society? 

Look back first to the Localism Act debates in 2010-11, when the government introduced more power for localities. David Cameron was clear that the Government were giving more powers to local councils, and that in return they expected those councils to give more power to citizens and communities. Hence the establishment of a community 'right to challenge’ the current delivery model of public services, and the right to acquire community assets, among other powers that were opened up to community groups and charities.

The challenge in designing all these new rights is to find institutional structures that can make them a reality. The 84% turnout in the referendum shows that communities throughout the country will rise up and engage with political issues when the issues matter and when people have meaningful power. But what is essential is that the full potential of existing charities, community groups and social enterprises is used to give a structure to new community rights of challenge and ownership. The risk otherwise is that knee-jerk ‘devolution’ ends up, as I said earlier this year, ‘replacing public sector monopolies with private sector oligopolies’.

That means that the new Devolution Commission, announced by the Prime Minister from Downing Street this morning, must hear from existing civil society institutions. Charities and voluntary groups need a voice at the table so that new devolved powers don’t just entrench the role of the State at a local level but truly expand the potential of citizens to associate through civil society groups, in communities both of place and of interest.

Our existing public services increasingly face the challenges of demographic change and increasingly complex needs. Change is needed and charities, community groups and social enterprises can help by expanding their delivery while combining it with our unique role as advocate for our beneficiaries.

As the details of Lord Smith’s Commission begin to take shape I hope this important ingredient is included in the mix. 

Lord Smith, William Hague and everyone else: you need us.

Monday 15 September 2014

Give charities a seat in the boardroom!

A startling intervention on the shallow approach of big companies to the charity world came as a welcome surprise this weekend. Britain’s biggest companies have a superficial relationship with charities and volunteering, the Bank of England’s new chief economist said, as reported in The Times and The Economist.

Speaking at the Pro Bono Economics lecture, at the charity he helped to found, he made a strong plea for greater interaction between the non-profit and for-profit sectors. The Times reported that:

Andy Haldane used his first speech since taking up the job to criticise companies for failing to recognise the full value of charities, which he believes contribute as much to the economy as the entire energy sector.

He singled out in particular the dearth of boardroom members drawn from charities. The presence of only one non-executive director from a charity in the entire FTSE 100 ‘is not consistent with volunteering having entered the corporate bloodstream’. There was also no excuse for one-third of FTSE 100 members having no volunteering programme for their staff, he said.

The only FTSE 100 board member from a charity is Jasmine Whitbread, the international chief executive of Save the Children, who is a non-executive director at BT. However, she spent much of her career in the corporate world before joining the charity sector.

Charity chief executives often preside over huge budgets, have to motivate people willing to work for nothing or very little, manage services all over the country or abroad, and have to build and protect their brand.

In the Pro Bono Economics lecture, Mr Haldane said that volunteering in the UK might amount to as much as 4.4 billion hours per year, not far off 10 per cent of the total hours put in by the paid workforce. In terms of value to the economy, it could be £50 billion per year, or about 3.5 per cent of GDP — similar to the size of the UK energy sector. However, too many companies failed to appreciate its value, he said.

‘My suspicion is that many companies are still not close to recognising fully the benefits from volunteering,’ Mr Haldane added.’And let me illustrate that with one startling fact. Among those FTSE 100 companies, how many board members are drawn explicitly from the voluntary sector? Precisely one. That is not consistent with volunteering having entered the corporate bloodstream.’

He predicted that companies would wake up to the value of charities and have far closer relationships with them, largely to recruit and retain the best staff.

Younger people have shown that it is a pre-requisite that the company they work for does more than just make money, he said. ‘Generation Y, born from the 1980s onwards, place a much greater weight on a diverse career experience, with a strong social dimension, than their predecessors. And generation Z, the millennials, are unlikely to buck that trend. Where they lead, companies will surely need to follow.’

Mr Haldane was formerly the Bank’s head of financial stability, a position he held during the banking crisis. The lack of diversity on banks’ boards was said to be a factor in the crisis. Critics said that it led to ‘group think’, a culture where no one challenged anyone else’s view.

An excellent way to start to tackle this problem of groupthink would be to bring in the talents of charity CEOs. 

Most big British companies have corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes, which make donations to charities and encourage staff to volunteer their skills. Many now have special days where staff can take time off to do voluntary work. But this is generally superficial and may even just be patronising to the people whom staff go to work with. It makes board directors feel good but it neither helps them really understand the sector nor care for its future. I have met too many of them who think running voluntary organisations is ‘just a bit of charity work’.

Yet many of ACEVO Chief Executives run complex voluntary organisations,  where thousands of people operate in highly ethically-conscious environments. Their ‘bottom line’ is far more complicated than a mere profit/loss and investment calculation. They have learnt also to earn and keep the public’s trust, while managing some of the biggest brands in the world. As an aside, I’m pleased to see this theme is on parliamentarians’ radar at least; it crops up several times in our Red, Blue and Yellow Books of the Voluntary Sector, the first of which is launched at Labour Conference this Sunday.

It is time these good people were sitting on the boards of our top companies. Years ago I was asked to sit on the ‘Tyson Task Force’ which looked at board room diversity. A good report emerged but the recommendations were weak and amounted to little more than exhortations. That was a decade ago. Little has changed. Now it’s time more was done to reform boardroom governance in the City. And this won’t happen without legislative change. So I’m pleased that our party conference programme will start off one part of this debate; promoting greater dialogue between charity CEOs and politicians. Next it’s the turn of the boardrooms themselves…

Friday 12 September 2014

Investing in Leadership

Frankly, our sector is often pathetic when it come to leadership development. Trustees think this is all about training for staff—and often chief executives think spending money on themselves is selfish. We need to get a grip on this. I was fascinated by an article I was sent by a colleague which had an extract from an article by Ira Hirschfield of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Foundation based in San Francisco. I reproduce extracts here:

"Less than 1 percent. That’s the portion of overall foundation giving that went to leadership development between 1992 and 2011.

Foundations ask a great deal of the organizations we support—to strengthen community, meet urgent needs for services, solve complex environmental problems, influence public policy, and build and sustain movements for change. In short, we hope grantees will deliver transformational results for the people and places they serve. So it’s striking how seldom we back that up with funds to help organizations develop and strengthen the ability of their leaders to meet those high expectations.

People are not born with everything it takes to manage and motivate a team, build coalitions, and lead change—and are certainly not born knowing how to be good board members. These are skills that current and future leaders develop as they are doing actual work. Leaders who have the opportunity to reflect on their strategies and hone their skills make better choices, develop innovative solutions and forge stronger collaborations.

This is what leadership development is about—and to the extent that foundations decide it is important and fund it, then we and our grantees will be better positioned to achieve our goals for impact.

The private sector allocates billions of dollars to leadership development because they know that skilled leaders are a powerful investment. In light of the social sector’s relatively small investment, I think it’s worth asking whether we are capitalizing leadership effectively.

At the Haas, Jr. Fund, we view investment in leadership as a core strategy to accelerate our foundation’s impact. An important question we ask ourselves is: What kind of leadership is needed at the individual, organizational, or network level to achieve our program priorities, and how can we invest in that?

For example, to advance the foundation’s goal of establishing gay marriage rights, we allocate substantial funding specifically to strengthening the leadership capacity of individuals and organizations central to the movement. We also partner with the Arcus Foundation and Gil Foundation to bring more diversity to the LBGT movement, supporting an initiative to help talented people of color advance into senior leadership roles—the Pipeline Project.

Given limited grantmaking resources and competing priorities, it’s reasonable to probe the added value of investing in leadership. Evaluation is one way to address this; for example, we did a formal evaluation of our Flexible Leadership Awards that showed how the program boosted impact.

It’s also important to hear what grantee leaders themselves have to say to funders on the matter. Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, explains: “It’s like adding protein powder to your other grants. If you want your other grants to be successful—if you want your grantees to do the best job in meeting their deliverables and moving the ball forward in their movements—you have to invest in leadership development.”

I hope their reflections will inspire more of us to explore what lies behind philanthropy’s chronic underinvestment in leadership and see new possibilities. Investing in leadership doesn’t just deliver higher performance; it can also deliver a better, more equitable world."

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Winterbourne update

A number of key meetings last week and this. First, with Norman Lamb MP, the Care and Support Minister (who will, incidentally, be speaking at our Lib Dem Conference event). He was the politician who made the brave pledge to move people with learning disabilities into the community and away from institutions like Winterbourne. The pledge has not been honoured, and I know he feels deeply about that, but he was right to make the pledge and right to be holding NHS England's feet to the fire (and indeed mine) on achieving it now. I was able to outline the key planks of the work we are doing in the steering group. We discussed the issue of closing facilites: clearly some are not for the NHS to close, but I argued there is a duty to spell out the journey that means we will close institutional care - so that care and support in the community is the norm not the exception. Of course this means we have to develop community facilities, and the third sector's role here is crucial. We also need proper crisis support. But clarity on the objective is crucial. 

And I saw Norman again at a summit organised by him and the third sector organisation ‘Change’, which I have blogged about before. Philippa Brangan was able to demonstrate what work they do in promoting and supporting professional work for people with learning disabilities. What came across to me is the crucial importance of securing a transfer of power from the state to the citizen in the work we do on a commissioning framework. Norman raised the question of giving people ‘the right to challenge’. Music to my ears. In fact when I presented my report on ‘Choice and Competition’ to the Cabinet during the Health and Social Care Act Listening Exercise, the right to challenge for citizens in their health service was a key recommendation. The NHS Constitution  states that ‘the NHS belongs to the people’ yet this is hardly evidenced! So we will look at the potential for empowerment, challenge and personal budgets. However personal budgets require choice. That requires a bigger provider market and so the role of the third sector - as advocates and campaigners as well as providers of citizen focused services becomes even more crucial.

The clock is now ticking as we aim for our last meeting on the 27th October and all of the discussions with PLD and families to support that. I was able to report to the Department of Health assurance group (chaired by Norman and Gavin Harding, who has been an invaluable member of my steering group) on Monday about what we are up to. Frankly we need to focus on outcomes as what I'm told is people with learning disabilities want progress and action, not more discussion. Exactly what Gavin emphasised on Monday. And what we will try to do at our meeting later today. 

Friday 5 September 2014

Adam Boulton looks at the charity sky, and a visit to Manchester

Adam Boulton, the ace political commentator for Sky TV, came to speak at one of our ACEVO leadership lunches. These are one of the secret treasures of ACEVO: a good lunch, top class speakers and splendid food and wine to aid mental digestion. And Adam did not disappoint. 

We were lunching in the aftermath of ‘Brooksgate' - where our Minister has quickly learnt how strongly our sector defends its independence. Adam had some wise words about our positioning as charities. He said that what the media want from charities is an independent voice and to hear our expertise. They are keen for facts to back up or to make a story. For the media it is our independence that matters, and so being seen to be aligned with a party, or what may appear as 'too party political,’ will be a problem. 

Of course the boundaries here are blurred. If you campaign on poverty is that seen as aligning yourself too much with the left? And if we point to the injustice created by the bedroom tax is that seen as party political? It can be difficult for charity leaders who want to put across hard and often blunt messages. Increasingly, some seem to assume that being ‘political’ means you’re necessarily taking partisan sides - something which is never the case. Charities speak for our beneficiaries and our missions - never for political parties.

Campaigning is part and parcel of our ‘knitting'. Though I have to say this is a very odd analogy, and for that we do not have Brooks to blame - but rather one of the Charity Commissioners who clearly, unlike Brooks, does not like campaigning and gave a very unwise interview in Third Sector making this silly analogy. My mother, who is a great knitter (her knitted swimming trunks for me when I was a boy were a marvel), would thoroughly object to the analogy as she is a great believer in charity campaigning.  

I had to miss the farewell party for Hurd in Waterloo as I was speaking on the ‘Prometheus’ course for third sector leaders at the Manchester Business School. It was a great session. I talked about the complexities of leadership in challenging times, and the dilemmas we face when we want to grow our delivery role but maintain our independence  and our voice. There is much more public scrutiny of charities and we need to do better in talking about our impact. And we need to balance the need to be professional and passionate about our cause. 

I encouraged the good folk of the sector to take heart; we represent a truly great sector that historically has bound together our democracy and provided social cohesion as well as delivering services that citizens and communities need. The voice of civil society remains crucial to strong public debate and to better law making and policy development. We should not be afraid of the need to campaign hard and to be heard, but there is a skill in doing this, in knowing the balance between speaking out and talking behind closed doors. Courage, mon brave, as someone once said. 

Thursday 4 September 2014

Charities and campaigning: Brooks Newmark tweets

There has been a Twitter storm overnight, after remarks about charity campaigning made by our new Minister for Civil Society at a Conference yesterday. Initially reported in Civil Society, the comments then surfaced on the Guardian front page and in the MirrorTelegraph and Independent. Like many who saw the reports of his words, I was surprised to say the least.

But fortunately I had a meeting with Brooks early that afternoon, so I was able to beard him in his den. We had a robust exchange of views, and what was clear to me was that he is not challenging our right to campaign. Indeed he specifically told me he supports the right of charities to lobby and campaign. He was making the point that this cannot stray into party politics. And of course he is right. It is the the same point I made in a letter to the Times last week, that ‘charities speak for their beneficiaries, never for political parties.’

The Charity Commission explicitly protects the right of charities to be political but not to be partisan. It is our age-old duty to help our beneficiaries and causes both by delivering services and advocating with them and on their behalf. 
There is of course confusion in some parts about what exactly the boundary is between being ‘political’ and being ‘partisan’ - the former being intrinsic to charities’ role in alleviating and preventing injustice and suffering, the latter being the role of political parties. But to be fair to our new Minister, though he might have been more careful in what he said in the context of all the rows on the Lobbying Act, he did take pains to clarify what he meant in a subsequent tweet.

My meeting was in fact very positive. We discussed the importance of continuing to press for public service reform and the role of sector organisations in providing citizen - and community-focused  public services which are also more cost effective, as well as the need for the sector to organise itself better through consortia and alliances. 

And we finished by discussing how we can develop leadership in our sector; a subject on which I found him passionate and engaged. We both agreed on the essential difference leadership makes to organisations and how key that is both to the strategic direction of organisations, and to their operational resilience. I was outlining some of the ideas we have at ACEVO for new programmes for leadership support for aspiring and ambitious CEOs. 

So, my judgment is we have an ally in our new Minister. He is not attacking our right to campaign, and we can take his words as encouragement to keep 
speaking truth to power. The twittersphere can calm down!