Following the success of our fringe at last weeks Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow, we were delighted to welcome another large audience of people keen to hear about our people power report to the Old Ship Hotel in Brighton.
Once again we were joined by Toby Helm, Political Editor of The Observer, who presided over another lively debate about the best ways to get more people involved in giving their time and money to good causes in Britain.
CAF’s Chief Executive, Dr John Low CBE, started off the discussion by informing the audience about the findings of our recent report, including the surprising statistic that 24 per cent of people do nothing to support good causes. He warned of the danger of having so many disengaged members of society, and explained that in practical terms it is extremely worrying that so many charities are dependent on just 9 per cent of the public providing the majority of their support.
Next to speak was Julie Hilling MP (Bolton West) who talked about the importance of getting businesses to engage more effectively with charities. She spoke of the need to get more businesses and their employees involved with payroll giving, arguing that the potential money that could be unleashed through this would help charities do so much more. Whilst take-up of payroll giving remains low, research conducted by CAF earlier this summer found that many more people would be interested in payroll giving if given the opportunity, and unlocking this source of income for charities would greatly increase their ability to provide support to their beneficiaries.
We were also joined by David Babbs from campaigning organisation 38 Degrees, who are a mode of people power in action. Mr Babbs explained that his experience from 38 Degrees is that large numbers of people are now keen to make donations online, and keen to ensure that their donations are used in partnership with those from other people to make a difference. He spoke of the supporter base that his organisation has been able to build up, and it is crucial that charities are able to tap into new audiences in that manner.
Steve Reed MP, Member of Parliament for Croydon North and former Leader of Lambeth Council, stressed the benefits of people giving their time to charities, and argued that the skills they may develop through their charity work can help them throughout the rest of their life. This is a strong message to the benefits of volunteering, and echoes arguments that both businesses and charities have made to CAF’s Parliamentary Inquiry on Growing Giving as to the value of the giving of time.
The final contributor from the panel was Gareth Thomas MP, who is Shadow Minister for Civil Society and could find himself holding the ministerial brief for charities if Ed Miliband wins the next general election. He told that audience that the Labour Party will shortly be holding a consultation on voluntary action, and also challenged charities themselves to do more to get people to volunteer. He also emphasised the importance of campaigning organisations, a welcome defence in light of recent discussions about the “Gagging Bill,” and something that David Babbs agreed strongly with. His comments were reported by Third Sector, and their write-up of the event is well worth a read.
It was great to have such a well informed panel offering their take on an important issue, and both fringe events CAF has held during the conference season so far have included a number of great ideas to get more people involved with charitable giving. Next week we head up to Manchester for the final stop on our conference tour, where we’ll be asking the largest party of government how people power can be harnessed to support charities.