Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Giving White Paper: One Year On - an analysis

The government recently published its “Giving White Paper: One Year On” report, outlining progress since the white paper was released and plans for the next couple of years. 

As I wrote an analysis of the original paper I felt a similar look at this progress report was a good idea.  What follows are my initial thoughts and I’d love for you to add your own via comments at the end.

Giving isn’t just about money

One of the most striking aspects of the new paper is the relative paucity of reference to volunteering compared to a year ago.  It seems government, like many in the sector, seem to be (increasingly?) blind to the fact that people give time as well as money.  In fact many give both – and volunteers give more money than non-volunteers – but this is ignored with an almost sole focus on giving money apparently at the heart of government thinking.

Thanks in part to the Give It Back George (GIBG) campaign, the much vaunted – and often delayed - Giving Summit appears to have focused exclusively on giving money, and within that been dominated by the GIBG which, according to the treasury, only concerned approximately 340 donors.

In the new One Year On paper volunteering gets little attention.  There is mention of it in respect to criminal record checks and proposals for these to be portable (although it is still unclear if these would remain free to volunteers).  There is also, and quite interestingly, mention of volunteering in regard to Waitrose who are apparently extending their ‘green token’ scheme so customers can vote for which organisations they want Waitrose staff to volunteer for.  Quite what Waitrose staff seem to think about being voluntold by shoppers is conveniently glossed over. And of course we have National Citizen’s Service which, it should be noted, is only partly about volunteering and largely about conditioning young people into how government thinks they should be.

There is, at first sight, some glimmer of hope as government refer to a priority for the coming year to be supporting providers of opportunities to make giving easier, but further reading reveals this to only be focused on providers of opportunities to give money.

Government’s complicity with many in the sector to make giving synonymous only with giving money is a worrying development, not least because it supports the sidelining and subordination of the giving of time at a time when we perhaps need volunteers more than ever and where donors (of money) are in ever shorter supply.

Baby Boomers

Last year I welcomed the White Paper’s inclusion of baby boomers in addition to the ever present focus in the UK on young people volunteering.  As I noted at the time, demographic shifts in the population are resulting in many more older people than younger people, now and in future.  Couple that with the interests, motivations and expectations of the boomers being very different from their parents (who have been the mainstay of many organisations core volunteers for years) and we have a growing market of potential volunteers who need much more consideration. 

Whilst everyone’s favourite (former) Big Society Czar Lord Wei has recently proposed a National Citizens Service for retirees, the One Year On paper fails to mention boomers at all.  Instead we get a sole focus on youth engagement, including volunteering – socially engineering a generation of givers through expensive national programmes that, in Opposition, the Tories promised would not happen on their watch.  I’ve already highlighted my anxiety with constantly talking about volunteering to a generation facing unprecedented levels of youth unemployment and the government doesn’t say anything here to alleviate those concerns.

Quality and ease of giving

Last year I acknowledged the original Giving White Paper for giving attention to the importance of the giving experience.  If people give – time or money – and have a great time doing so, they are surely more likely to do so again.  Conversely, if they don’t have a great experience not only may they not give to that cause or organisation again, they may in fact be turned off giving altogether.

A year on and this focus on the giving experience is gone, replaced by the increasingly dominant view that the priority is to make it easier to give, with apparently little focus on the quality of the experience.

From my perspective, this approach over the last year has resulted in an almost bewildering array of new (mainly) websites through which people can find opportunities to donate time or money.  Does this ever expanding number of websites make it easier or more confusing?  Does it result in more giving, or do we simply see people pledging to give (as with the recent Jubilee Hour) but not always following through on that pledge?

In her July 2012 Hot Topic, Susan Ellis look at whether such a focus on pledge programmes and calls to action really make a difference to volunteering or whether they are, in fact, just the Emperor’s New Clothes?

It is all well and good for government to highlight the work of Future First who are helping schools develop alumni programmes which, One Year On suggests, will create a pool of 75,000 volunteers.  The key questions, however, are; what will 75,000 volunteers do in our schools?; how are schools being supported to develops opportunities for these volunteers?; what resources will schools have to manage these volunteers?; etc. etc.

What we need is not more schemes to dress up volunteering as something sexy and new. 

What we need is not new campaigns to try and encourage more people to give. 

What we need is organisations to be encouraged not to cut their volunteer management posts at the first sight of tightening budgets.

What we need is investment (by organisations primarily but government showing willing and leadership wouldn’t hurt) to increasing the capacity to involve volunteers in ways the meet the goals of volunteer involving organisations and fit with the interests and availabilities of people in our 21st century society.

We should be transforming the country’s attitude to giving time by giving people great opportunities which they enjoy engaging with and want to do again and again, not by developing more and more websites or running campaigns to show willing but little action.

Sadly however, there is nothing in One Year On about volunteer leadership and management.  Nothing.  The support of the last government for volunteer management now seems a distant memory.  We appear to have it all to do again.

Impact measurement

In keeping with the zeitgeist, the One Year On paper makes reference to the importance of impact measurement in stimulating giving.  To an extent, this is a good thing.  Organisations that can demonstrate the difference the contribution of time and/or money can make to their mission are in a strong position to secure support, especially if they can demonstrate how people can make such an impact through giving in ways the fit with their complex and busy lives.

However, there seems to be little acknowledgement of the need for any kind of assessment of the impact of the work the government has supported over the last year.  We’re not saying there hasn’t been any, but with £millions spent and £40million more promised to "mobilise large numbers of people to get involved with good causes", it would be good to see some evidence that what government has supported and wants to support in future has/will actually make a difference to all forms of giving in the UK.

Which leads on to…

…Civil service volunteering

The One Year On paper makes passing reference to the government’s pledge last year to get thousands more civil servants volunteering.  But that’s all we get – a mention of the proposal.  No report on progress.  Has anything happened?  What impact has it had so far?  Or is it a case of the sector must do impact reporting but government doesn’t have to?


It hasn’t been a great year for volunteering infrastructure since the launch of the original Giving White Paper.  We’ve seen some Volunteer Centres close or scale back their services and most recently there has been the announcement of the “loss” of Volunteering England as they merge into NCVO.  This could be a good thing for volunteering as I suggest in my blog on the proposed merger, but even if it is we will still see the loss of a distinct national infrastructure body for volunteering (in England at least) as opposed to the voluntary sector, the first time we will have no such body in over forty years.

The One Year On paper is relatively silent about infrastructure, at least in terms of its importance in enabling volunteering to happen.  As I’ve highlighted already there seems to be a focus on technology and website as a short-cut solution to good brokerage.  Whilst investment in long standing sites like Do-It is welcome, not everyone is online, not everyone wants to find out about volunteering online and sometimes we know face-to-face support for those who want to volunteer is far more important and necessary.

Local volunteering infrastructure gets two main mentions in the One Year On paper.  First is in regard to the government’s Transforming Local Infrastructure Fund.  Yes, this fund should have some positive impacts on volunteering locally but it is primarily focused on infrastructure support for the voluntary and community sector and that is not the same as support for the volunteering sector.

Second, is the reference to an opportunity for "pioneering Volunteer Centres to test ideas for modernising their offer" via funding from the NESTA innovation in giving fund.  On the face of it this is much more positive but the key question is what does this mean?  What is a pioneering Volunteer Centre?  What does modernising their offer mean - more brokerage done online?  So a cautious welcome until we see the detail.

Finally, towards the start, the One Year On Paper states that:

“We have also got to recognise that this a time when many people feel they have less time and money and may be reluctant to do more”. 

Interesting considering recent research seems to indicates that the act of volunteering makes people feel like they have more time.  As the researchers put it:

“Ultimately, giving time makes people more willing to commit to future engagements despite their busy schedules.”

Perhaps the thinking that inspired at least some of the Giving White Paper is already out of date?  Or is this an area where evidence based policy making isn’t really done?

So, what do you think of the One Year On paper and the issues it raises?

Do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve said?  Why?

What are your observations on the government’s attempts to get people to give more, whether time, or money or both?

Let’s hear what you have to say.

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