As regular readers will know, CAF’s Policy and Campaigns team spent the weekend and start of the week in Glasgow for Liberal Democrat party conference 2013. As well as using our stand to impress upon both parliamentarians and activists the importance of people providing the power behind Britain’s charities, on Tuesday night we held a fringe event to discuss how more people can be encouraged to engage with charitable giving.
Chair Toby Helm, Political Editor of The Observer started the event by introducing the panel, before asking CAF’s Chief Executive Dr John Low CBE to tell the packed room about our recent report. Dr Low told the audience that Lib Dem conference, and the important role given to party members, makes it distinct from the other two party conferences and gives them a real voice. He went on to explain that British people are extremely generous, and that civic engagement is the most important factor when trying to ensure that giving is a social norm.
Next to speak was Baroness Jolly, who spoke of the importance of schemes such as Payroll Giving to make it easier for people to give to good causes. She also argued that charities should ensure that volunteers are treated in a professional way, which can mean giving them defined roles and responsibilities, which often works as a way of making them feel part of a movement and will encourage them to continue to volunteer.
Stephen Gilbert MP was next to speak, and made the point that charities have far more supporters than political parties, so that in some respect the Lib Dems should be taking their lead from charities. He argued that too many charities duplicate services, and that some charities see local authorities as givers of charity aid, when instead they should focus more on donations. He suggested that larger organisations such as councils should be able to make Payroll Giving opt-in instead of opt-out, and questioned the logic of the Treasury budgeting for unclaimed Gift Aid, but then not actually passing that funding onto charities.
Finally recent by-election winner Mike Thornton MP suggested that there needs to be an organisation that helps small charities with admin, so that they can focus on providing support to their beneficiaries. He told the audience about his positive experience with charity days whilst working at Barclays, and argued that medium sized firms need to be targeted to give back ton the community in this way. Interestingly, in light of recent work carried out by CAF, he argued that nudge theory could be used to encourage people to give, and this could tackle the belief held by some that the state does, or should do, it all.
Mr Helm then opened the event up to the audience for questions, with panellists challenged to voice their opinion on a wide range of issues affecting the charity sector. Baroness Jolly made the point that charities should focus opportunities at young people, with Dr Low telling the audience that if you get someone giving at a young age, they tend to be engaged for life. Mr Gilbert challenged charities to ensure that more money is spent on beneficiaries, and Mr Thornton raised the possibility of governments encouraging charities to do more collaborative working.
The panel were then questioned by Esther Rantzen, who argued that more businesses should engage in mentoring work with charities. She also spoke of her experiences at ChildLine, and suggested that charity mergers can work as long as there is mutual respect on both sides. Baroness Jolly suggested that the Childline and NSPCC merger had created an organisation greater than the sum of its parts, and Mr Thornton argued that more charities should be able to merge back office functions whilst keeping their charities as separate organisations.
The panel then discussed whether charities should be focusing on those who give a lot, those who give a little, or those who are currently not engaged with charitable giving. Dr Low argued that the key is encouraging the ‘Middle Givers’ to give a little bit more to good causes, and Esther Rantzen spoke of the importance of charities using their passion for the work that they do to show more people the value of their work, and encourage more people to give.
A lively event, the fringe was well received by the audience, with all speakers making informed contributions about the future of charities. We’ll be discussing the same issue at Labour Party conference in Brighton next week, where Mr Helm and Dr Low will be joined by Steve Reed MP, Julie Hilling MP, David Babbs, Executive Director of 38 Degrees, and Gareth Thomas MP, Shadow Minister for Civil Society. Our event is outside the secure zone so do come along to hear what our panel have to say. We’ll be in the Tudor Room, Old Ship Hotel from 1230-1400 on Monday 23rd September for what promises to be another fascinating discussion about getting more people powering Britain’s charities.