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Published 13 June 2011

We need to create a culture of ‘asking’ as well as ‘giving’.

The

eagerly awaited Giving White Paper has arrived. Within it are a plethora of ideas aimed at making it easier and more attractive to give time and money to good causes.

The government has agreed to more than £85m worth of initiatives ranging from a £10m Social Action Fund, which will be used to support "the most promising ideas" for increasing levels of donations in priority areas, to a £30m infrastructure fund. A further pot of money will also be available in the form of "Challenge Prizes" worth up to £100,000 each for ideas to tackle volunteering, while £400,000 is to be made available to trial a reward scheme that will offer vouchers and discounts at local stores to those individuals who do good deeds within their communities.

But although there is much to celebrate, the white paper does not go far enough to introduce measures to create the culture of giving that the government is so keen on. Indeed, some in the sector have commentated on how it feels almost as if it is trying to nudge people away from long-term regular gifts towards short-term, ad hoc, microgiving.

Take for example the 'Round Pound' schemes, such as that offered by the Pennies Foundation, which provides shoppers with the option to round up their bill to the nearest pound and donate the pennies to charity. While there is much to be said for making it as easy as possible to give, there is also the risk tools such as this will create compassion fatigue - people may think they have done their bit and as such be deterred from signing up to larger, regular gifts via direct debit - the bread and butter of many a charity's income. Research into the potential impact of such tools is therefore needed if the sector is to measure their success.

Nor does the paper contain any suggestions for creating a culture of 'asking'. Fundraisers know only too well that if you don't ask, and ask well, you don't get. A campaign highlighting the critical role of fundraising in generating income for good causes, along with the fact that it costs money to raise money, would go a long way in helping the public understand more about how the sector operates. It might also do something to address the negative and very unhelpful stories about mechanisms such as face-to-face fundraising of which the mainstream media are so fond.

What the government has done, however, is recognise that it needs to lead by example. Ministers have agreed to undertake a One Day Challenge that will see them donating one day a year to volunteering while Cabinet Ministers are to speak in state schools to help raise pupil's aspirations (although there is no mention of increasing the amount of money ministers donate). There will also be work undertaken to increase payroll giving uptake and volunteering opportunities by civil servants.

But by far the idea that offers the most potential for the voluntary sector is the Giving Summit in the autumn. On the agenda will be topics including how to use technology to better advantage, the role of corporates in supporting charities, and importantly, impact reporting. The opportunity to bring together charities, businesses, government and philanthropists to exchange ideas, to network and to build connections is a hugely valuable one, particularly if it is repeated on an annual basis and allows the sharing of best practice. Realistic outcomes of this event could include charities finding funding partners, of new giving mechanisms being developed and people becoming excited about giving and spreading the word to their peers.

What is important now is that action is taken and ideas are implemented. Increasing giving - of either time or money - is not going to happen overnight. This is a long-term strategy so it is with cautious optimism that we watch and wait for progress.

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