Tuesday 30 June 2015

The Bubbs en famille

Assiduous readers of the Blog will realise it's that time of year again, when the Bubb's decamp en mass to Hope Cove in Devon.  I'm here for a long weekend with my siblings, parents and assorted nephews and nieces.  Hope Cove is a gorgeous spot, an idyllic fishing village surrounded by the rolling lush hills of the Devon countryside.  The cliffs are particular spectacular and what's more, they are third sector cliffs.  Owned by the National Trust, which is one of our most treasured environmental charities.

Today a visit to Dartington Hall, another great charity and of course the home once of that famous progressive school.  Now a centre for a range of activities, showcasing local crafts and artist, not to mention Dartington glass as well as a centre for social entrepreneurs.  However, I was not able to actually visit the Hall and famous gardens because of their ridiculous rule that bans dogs, even on a lead. Such a shame they exclude so many animal lovers from these delights!

And although the mobile is all a bit dodgy, the wifi makes emailing and blogging simple!  Never time off for a CEO.

The Hound and her cousin Bertie at the cottage in Hope Cove. 

The Hound goes to Church; discovers they do biscuits!

Monday 29 June 2015

Constructing a Coordinated Response on Fundraising

The recent attention given to fundraising has acted as a wake up call for us to sort out the best possible standards for what we do in asking for money from the public.

I have been spending time consulting my CEO members about how we tackle the issues raised in parts of the media about fundraising practices. ACEVO convened a particularly good breakfast  round table at the Charities Aid Foundation with senior CEOs which helped clarify the actions we need to take. Of course not all my members do public fundraising, many do small amounts, and some of our bigger best loved charities like the Red Cross, BHF, Macmillan and  cancer research charities for example do a lot.

A general consensus has emerged that, while this is not a crisis, we must treat this seriously. As David McCullough of RVS commented , the age of deference is over and people/media are more happy to have a go at institutions of all sorts. It is also clear that there has been no impact in terms of giving and not many complaints so far. However there was a strong feeling that we need to take this seriously,  or we may risk damage to the sector's reputation. Ultimately this may result in the loss of self regulation; John Low pointed out there is provision in the Charity Act for Ministers to act on this and it does not require further legislation.
In any case it is right we take time to review what we do so as to ensure the highest possible standards and rigorous ethical standards. David Bull of Unicef pointed out that we must put our beneficiaries first.

There are varying views  on what exactly should be done on fundraising. Some make the point that less asking means less giving and for some major charities door to door/ chugging/ mailing and the like is a significant source of income. Lynda Thomas CEO of Macmillan cancer care said they do a great deal of door to door fundraising but their teams are trained to handle requests for advice from people on the door step who have concerns about  cancer. Indeed it's a great opportunity to tell people about the brilliant advice and support they offer and it generates significant requests for this. They provide help and support and sign post to important advisory services. I know other charities like the British Heart Foundation say the same.

On the other side, there are some charities that work with the elderly have concerns over activities like door to door fundraising. Age UK for example, are clear they will not use many forms of fundraising because of concerns about vulnerable older people.
One thing is sure;  CEOs need to be on top of their fundraising and keeping an eye on how they operate, and what they do. This is one of the pieces of advice ACEVO has been giving to CEO members generally. Good time to check out what methods are being used and how it operates, especially if using other agencies.

I've heard a strong view that we must speak with one voice on this issue and so the umbrella bodies must be united on this.

As a consequence ACEVO, NCVO,the Institute of fundraising , and finance directors  are getting together to develop a guidance note of advice for trustees and CEOs in fundraising charities. I'm sure the sector will welcome such a display of unity on this issue and help us reassure the civil society Minister and others we are serious about tightening up oversight.

It was good last week to see Rob Wilson talking about the value of self regulation and he was right to be saying we need to act. We have and we are determined to get this right.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Young Epilepsy

Just coming back from an inspirational visit to see the work of Young Epilepsy at their base in Lingfield. Here they run a school and college for people with the most difficult of forms of epilepsy, provide residential homes, hospital and diagnostic faculties, a farm and horticultural centre.  Set up in the 19th century by 2 Anglican priests who bought the magnificent site for £5k it has grown and adapted to modern day demands for a particularly vulnerable community who cannot prosper or learn in mainstream schooling and who need high levels of emotional support and care by highly professional staff and teachers.  They also do important research and they campaign for a better deal for young people with epilepsy.

Epilepsy is the most common childhood neurological disorder.  I didn't know this but on average there's one diagnosed child in every primary school and five in every secondary school.  It's a condition that is widely misunderstood and I have to say I found my visit hugely educational about the problems and challenges young people face here.  And good to hear first hand from the headteacher about how much progress can be made from, for example, the young lad who arrived feeling isolated and alone, unable to do much on his own and not wanting to learn but who thrived in an atmosphere where he was with other young people with the same challenges and a highly skilled group of teachers who understood how to teach him.

I was extremely impressed by what Young Epilepsy are doing.  It was a pleasure meeting, albeit briefly, some of the talented team there; the creative artists, the band on the pirate ship, the headteacher and one of the consultants who ran through brain scans with me to demonstrate the effects of spasms and fits on a persons' life chances.

At winter Narnia- in the creative arts area of the school!

At the new barbecue and patio area at the college

There is much debate about residential provision.  After my Winterbourne work I am a particular skeptic but I could see here how that is important in development terms. What I liked was the way for older pupils or students they have aimed to create a student campus feel to the accommodation that is nearby the college they attend.  And of course for the many young people and students here - over 200 - this will range from those who don't stay, those who live in term time and those, a much smaller number, that are there 52 weeks.  They are particularly keen that the family link is maintained in those cases.

I was struck by the commitment and enthusiasm for the task that people I met brought to their job. It brought home to me again how people in our charity sector are motivated by a vocation and passion for what they do.  And what a difference they can make to people's lives and well being.

It was good for me to see first hand the work being  done and the impressive spread of the facilities and resources at this 60 acre site at Lingfield.  This is vital to a very vulnerable community.

It puts in context the demands for curbs on fundraising - this is a charity that receives significant funding from health and local government but that spend is under pressure.  Many councils now want to limit what is spent.  So much of what they do is paid for from the generosity of the public.  And fundraising curbs that damage the ability of charities to fund raise from the public could harm beneficiaries.  The challenge for charities like Young Epilepsy in the face of coming budget cuts is not to be underestimated. 

Monday 22 June 2015

Islamic Relief

Interesting comment from Zac Goldsmith MP recently. He said,

'Islamic Relief is a dazzling organisation. Its strength comes from its ability to work at the grassroots with thousands of volunteers, mosques, youth organisations – with members of all religions and none’.

(Zac G at the IR Ramadan dinner last week).

We need more Parliamentarians who understand the power of Muslim charities generally to work in communities.

Friday 19 June 2015

Extremism - Getting a Real Grip.

Ramadan has begun and as ever, during this holy month, the Muslim community in Britain gears up its giving commitment. But at the moment, there will be little heard about that. Instead, we are confronted daily with the reality of young people being coerced into extremism, people from our own communities, within our shores.

I think there is a connection between these two things, and this connection has been sadly underexplored. Following my field visit to Pakistan with the Muslim Charities Forum earlier this year I've been convinced you can only win the battle against extremism if you fight with both hands. So on the one hand, security and legislative means. On the other, there is a development approach. You need to understand the role of Islamic charities, civil society organisations and how the leadership of those organisations is developed. The attention of the media and Government has been relentless on the former and they say very little - nothing in fact - about the latter.

All too often community leaders are looked at through a single prism: the old fashioned view of the bloc-vote-mobilizing demagogue. We hear horror stories of clan systems being used to sway peoples and sway the political system: 'biraderi' as it is known. David Aaronovitch wrote an interesting critique of this kind of community leadership yesterday in which he explains the relative toxicity of the concept.

But there is another kind of community leadership. Charities and social enterprises, often with young, progressive people at their heart, who mobilise groups through common purpose and affection - rather than biraderi bloc voting - to do good. This is the kind of community leadership that gives the concept a good name. And we hear nothing about it.

I wrote recently to Theresa May on these points. As a result I will be having a meeting with Lord Ahmad at the Home Office on Monday 6th July, to press these points. I will be joined by Jehangir Malik of Islamic Relief who will represent the Muslim Charities Forum. Jehangir is a young, dynamic charity leader who is determined to modernize leadership in the Islamic community. He sees a new generation of young people ready to change the perceptions and practices of their civil society. More power to his elbow.

I do believe that change is possible. It was fascinating to see the remarks of Michelle Obama in Tower Hamlets.  She said that people too often see only the veil and ignore the person and deride the religion.   Baroness Warsi was vocal on Tuesday about the need for the Government to be seen to “stand alongside” Muslim communities rather than a “policy of disengagement”. George Osborne at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday spoke about preventative measures at the community level to tackle extremism. David Cameron gives a speech in Slovakia today in the wake of the reported suicide bombing by Dewsbury’s Talha Asmal and the apparent departure of the Dawoods to Syria. The PM rightly argues there is a link between extreme social attitudes and the path to young people heading to join up with IS. As he says:

“This paves the way for young people to turn simmering prejudice into murderous intent. To go from listening to firebrand preachers online to boarding a plane to Istanbul and travelling onward to join the jihadis...

“If you’re a troubled boy who is angry at the world or a girl looking for an identity, for something to believe in and there’s something that is quietly condoned online or perhaps even in parts of your local community then it’s less of a leap to go from a British teenager to an ISIL fighter or an ISIL wife than it would be for someone who hasn’t been exposed to these things.”

"We are ignoring the fact that the radicalisation starts with the individual.”

Clearly the politicos 'get' the fact that radicalization begins with community disengagement. But nowhere are they mentioning the items that foment engagement: charity, civil society, the next generation of young leaders who are primed to do good. There does not yet appear to be any significant shift in policy or extra help from the Government to tackle the problem and to empower those people, charities and communities who can.

That's where we come in. We believe that the Government does need to look at how to support communities in tackling extremism. One way to do this is to support the role and work of Muslim charities who are prominent in communities.  Instead of supporting them they face a whole range of problems that hinder them. That needs to stop. We need the Government to now back the rhetoric by firm action to support progressive community leadership. The non-toxic sort.

In ACEVO's election manifesto 'Free Society' we called for government to work with us on developing this kind of civic leadership in the Muslim community and to develop a commission with us to make it happen. We've taken the first step to realizing that manifesto idea; we fully intend to see it through.

Thursday 18 June 2015

Gagging the Archbishops!

No, I'm not think it of doing that. Or suggesting some outré practise with gaiters...

Andrew Purkis, former ACEVO member and now a superb blogger, has provided a fascinating reflection on the current debate around campaigning.  As he points out the Churches are often highly political.  Pope Francis intends to be highly political in his Encyclical on climate change.  On a number of occasions church leaders have spoken out for the poor and against the Government. Long may they do so.  Long may they ignore nonsense from the tabloids, which try to make them out as loony lefties, or in the pay of Labour. Surely the root of the Christian doctrine is a campaigning spirit on behalf of the poor and disposed. What else was the Sermon on the Mount about or the Song of Mary. 

So I recommend it to you.  I have certainly recommended it to the Commission as they contemplate their review of CC 9.  

Here it is in full. 

"In much public discourse in the UK, religion and faith organisations are regarded as a different subject from "the voluntary sector" or "charities".
This might seem odd.  After all, charities for the advancement of religion account for about one fifth of all registered charities.  One pound in six given to charity goes to religious charities, so this is not only an integral part of the sector but a very substantial one.
When Conservative MPs attack campaigning by charities, however, they are thinking of the likes of Oxfam, War on Want, Shelter, RSPCA, the IPPR or welfare charities criticising benefit cuts. They are not generally thinking of the churches.
When historians like Colin Rochester suggest that many voluntary organisations these days "apart from not distributing their profits or surpluses as dividends, are indistinguishable from private sector companies", or the University of Birmingham team led by Matthew Hilton conclude that "Ultimately, NGOs have pursued a politics of pragmatism, in which their expertise on a single issue has been the basis of their authority, rather than their allegiance to any wider belief system", they appear to have excluded faith organisations from their thinking.
Similarly, you will not find Bishops, priests, Imams and rabbis integrated at all consistently in "voluntary sector" gatherings such as NCVO or ACEVO meetings.
There are reasons for this separation. In important senses, religious organisations are distinct in character. They have their own mind-sets, cultures and organisational networks with a history that goes back long before the concept of "the voluntary sector", or the Charity Commission, were born. 
Some kinds of religious organisations see themselves as pursuing their faith over and against a hostile world (rather than as part of it), while many people in secular organisations share an assumption that religion is something for consenting adults to do in private if they must.  They may find it embarrassing or actually malign. It is a divisive subject, so many secular organisations are most comfortable keeping it at arm's length.
So it is all the more important to remember that the churches and other faith organisations are independent voluntary organisations organised around a charitable mission.  Moreover, they are no longer "exempt" charities.  They are now fully subject to Charity Commission regulation.  In particular, they are subject to CC9, the Commission's guidance on political activities by charities.  I am not sure that either the churches and other faith organisations, or secular charities, or the Charity Commission itself, have fully taken on board the implications.
One is that the rather muddled "tough guy" rhetoric of the Commission's board since 2012 on the subject of political activity would bring them into headlong confrontation with Britain's church leaders.
Here for example is the Archbishop of Canterbury earlier this year:  "The business of proclaiming the Good News of the saving love of Jesus Christ...and the business of seeking to transform society go absolutely together.  They are indistinguishable...two sides of the same coin. You do one: you do the other" (Church Times, 27 February 2015). So much for sticking to his "knitting", as recommended by Commission Board member Professor Gwithian Prins.
Or take the Catholic Social Teaching as enunciated by the present Pope.  He recently attacked "trickle down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. [This theory] has never been confirmed by the facts.  [It] expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.  Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting." (Church Times, 1 May 2015).
If Cardinal Nichols were to promote this teaching, would this come under the heading of the vaguely phrased "politicisation of charities" which the chairman of the Commission, William Shawcross, has identified as a threat on a par with terrorist infiltration, fraud and abuse of the vulnerable?
Or listen to the Archbishop of York in January 2015: "Like the old Testament prophets, I suggest, it is essential for religion to speak truth to power.  And so speaking up for the poor, the widow and the orphans flows from what the Church is and what it's for.  And it's important for power to hear this religious voice, even if what is said is uncomfortable to hear....Concern for a society that addresses problems of poverty and other injustices in society flows out of an evangelism that has the promise of God's kingdom at its centre" (Church Times 23 January 2015). 
Now place beside this (and other passages by both Archbishops in the book "On Rock or on Sand?" edited by Archbishop Sentamu) the Commission's recent injunction to the wider charity sector as part of its comment on a Tweet by Oxfam:
“Particular care should be taken to ensure that any material does not damage the charity’s reputation, that messages are appropriate and in pursuit of its objectives and do not have any risk of being misinterpreted or perceived as party political (my italics)“.
Not only did the Archbishops fail to eliminate any risk of being perceived as party political, they were, as so often, actually accused of being party political by the Daily Mail: "The apparent priority of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his colleagues is playing left-wing politics....How depressing that - when not obsessing over gay marriage or female bishops - [the Church's] chief function now would appear to be delivering sermons direct from the Labour Party press office".
So quite clearly in breach, Your Graces. And so it has always been: the sun comes up in the morning, Bishops are attacked by certain media and MPs for being left wing and "political". Thus, if taken literally (which is usually the way regulators should be taken) recent Charity Commission statements would surely (in the event of complaints) mean slaps on the wrist or worse administered by the Commission to the Archbishops, Cardinal, and many other people speaking out as part of their religious faith.  There is something deeply inappropriate, even impertinent, about such a prospect.
To avoid such an unwelcome confrontation, the answer is for the Charity Commission to drop the tough guy rhetoric, amend the poor drafting of the comment on the Oxfam Tweet, refrain from any more destabilisation of the existing guidance, and stick with the principles and formulations of CC9 as it is.
The sector - the whole sector, including religious charities - can live with CC9 and it gives the Commission all the scope it needs to protect the reputation of charities. Both secular and religious charities should reach out across the barriers and make common cause in resisting repression of their role in magnifying the voices of the powerless and playing their full part in democratic debate. ". 

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Scotland the Brave!

Always good to be in Edinburgh - one of the world's great cities and its wasn't raining....

Here for a joint ACEVO/ACOSVO meeting to discuss the future of our sector and cross border relations. ACOSVO - The Chief Officers of the Scottish Voluntary sSctor - is our sister organisation here, and I have been working with the redoubtable Pat Armstong, their CEO,  over the last decade in building partnership. We had a pleasant dinner and chat about future joint work - particularly how we can mobilise SNP MPs on issues that affect our third sector generally .

Me and Pat Armstrong, CEO of ACOSVO
The context of the referendum and the election have given added spice to the discussion with a range of the leaders of cross border charities operating in Scotland.  There are over 900 registered with the Scottish regulator OSCR and although they form only 4% of the total registration in Scotland they account for some 80% of turnover.  So we had people in the room from well known charity brands like Oxfam and Crisis. And I was joined by 2 of my trustees Kate Welch and Kate Mcdonald, so we could outline some of the plans ACEVO has in its " Big Conversation" consultation. 

An invigorating discussion.  We touched on recent travails on pay and fundraising with the general view that we should keep all this in proportion.  Its not a crisis but it is something we must watch. The Scotland Director of the Institute of Fundraising was there and I had a good chat afterwards about how we respond.

Some interesting reflections on a warmer climate for charity in Scotland and a better approach from Government and indeed their regulator.  Though one member did warn that the SNP is an unforgiving beast and you cross them at their peril.

We had a good discussion on campaigning - a strong view as you would expect that this lies at the heart of charity and must be protected.  Fortunately in Scotland the regulator is not about to "review" this and there is the intriguing prospect that if your charity is headquarted in Scotland you have to register with OSCR but not the E+W Charity Commission.  Perhaps if we get CC charging and a repressive approach on CC9, UK charities might switch their HQ! As ACEVO is a WISE charity (members in Wales, NI, Scotland and England) that's tempting.  Edinburgh's such a cool place to live (in both senses obviously).  Not that we have such plans....Obviously.

There was one member who said there was no doubt that their campaigning role had been down played in the recent election as a result of fears about the Lobbying Act !

Just a few hours before heading off on the tram to the airport - I'm going to check out some of the sights I've not seen before, including the museum on the Mound, in the grand Bank of Scotland premises.  On the way spotted the Macmillan cancer van in a prominent position outside the Scottish Royal academy.  Great to see that ACEVO member and former Macmillan CEO Ciaran Devane was made a knight in the Birthday Honours ( indeed were a number of ACEVO members were honoured - like my vice chair Sharon Allen, David Bull from Unicef and Jeremy Hughes of Alzheimers).


Friday 12 June 2015

Anderson on Terrorism

David Anderson QC has published a weighty report on his review of terrorism legislation. At 379 pages, it's quite a read.  But what I found fascinating is that he devotes a whole chapter to civil society. Chapter 12. It’s worth a read.

His general approach to our sector is very wise. It’s one that the Government would do well to heed, when they are wondering about the value of civil society campaigning. His words could almost have come out of ACEVO’s 2015 election manifesto, which highlighted the need for government to safeguard a ‘free society’, for the sake of informed public debate and good quality laws. He said:

“A wise legislator will proceed however on the basis that the legal framework governing investigatory powers must be sufficiently robust to satisfy not only those who are easily satisfied, but also those who are suspicious of government or who feel deeply any intrusions into their privacy.”

Or in other words, it is very dangerous if the expertise of civil society is ignored because the authorities find it unpalatable. On spying and counter-terrorism as much as on issues like homelessness and social care. When civil society speaks truth to power, as is our right and duty, it can be uncomfortable. But the law and our country is all the better for it. We must defend that right!

Thursday 11 June 2015

No, we ain’t in crisis!

The Chair of the Charity Commission said in a speech this week that the sector is in ‘crisis’. 

This is very disappointing. I would expect the charity regulator to rise above the noise of the tabloids, and make the public case for charities’ work. Their speeches should extol the importance of charities and the vital contribution we make. They should be telling people what they are doing to help us with the work we do.

Firm regulation is a part of the Charity Commission’s and its chair’s job. But just as important is their job to speak out for and support the organisations they regulate. At the very least, they should be leading the public debate, not following the lead set by lurid coverage in the press.

I certainly don’t think it is the Chair of the Charity Commission’s job to court national controversy for the sector he is mandated to support.

Yes, charities should be reviewing our fundraising practices. We are doing so right now, as is the Fundraising Standards Board. Yes, we should highlight the importance of charities’ work being done professionally. But to call the recent news reports “a crisis for the charity sector which is testing the strength and capacity of self-regulation”? That is not true. And it merely makes another lurid headline.

In another part of the speech, the Chair Mr Shawcross talked about the possibility of the Charity Commission charging charities to be regulated. I am not certain that a compulsory charge is really in the best interests of a free and fair society, especially when there are questions about the quality of that regulator’s contribution to the national debate. Even beyond this, I remain sceptical. In a recent ACEVO survey, 75% of our membership were against charging for regulation.

His speech also talked about the Commission’s continued provision of support and advice to charities, arguing that this function is continuing to be provided despite budget cuts and the Commission focusing more and more of its resources purely on ‘hard’ enforcement. Still, this isn’t enough to win the argument on paying to be regulated, if charities do not get many services in return.

The Charity Commission does have a huge task. Staff are obviously overburdened. The Chair is right to be concerned about the Commission's total reliance on government funding. But then why make work for yourself? The Commission appear determined to do a wasteful and unnecessary review of CC9, the guidance on charity campaigning, simply for declarative purposes it seems. By far the most likely outcome of such a review would be to curtail our duties to campaign on behalf of our beneficiaries. They claim this is about regulating social media, but given the difficulty of ‘regulating’ that it seems to me better to approach it through separate, short guidance that outlines good practice used by leading charities.

Charities depend on the public’s trust. I'm afraid I don't trust the current leadership not to want to undermine campaigning. Specially if they continue to be led by political and media fashions. I hope they will prove me wrong. But interventions like the those of the Chair in this now-infamous speech will certainly not help.