The United Kingdom’s House of Lords Select Committee on Charities was appointed on 25 May 2016 “to consider issues related to sustaining the charity sector and the challenges of charity governance.” The committee has issued a report, Stronger charities for a stronger society (HL Paper 133).
There are some good points in the report. For instance, the committee recommends that government funding of charities be “based on impact and social value rather than simply on the lowest cost.” The committee also encourages government “to recognise the added benefits of charities’ involvement in service delivery, and urge local authorities to consider grant programmes wherever possible.” And the committee also highlighted a great observation about risk aversion in mission-based organizations:
371. We also heard that risk aversion and a lack of organisational flexibility were a problem. NAVCA said that “charities need to be bolder, and boards need a greater appetite for risk, if the sector is to adapt and deliver greater impact in a changing world.” Rebecca Bunce from the Small Charities Coalition highlighted the consequences that resulted from trustees not understanding digital technology sufficiently.
372. Helen Milner said that trustees who were risk averse on digital tools were approaching the issue from the wrong starting point: “If they are saying, ‘Digital feels like a risk’, they are asking themselves the wrong question. They should be saying, ‘What is our strategy? Where do we want to be in three years’ time? How are we going to get there? Do we want to help more people and how are we going to reach them?’ Digital ought then, naturally, to become part of that solution.”
I really, really love that observation. Expect to see it quoted frequently by me in the future.
But, for the most part, the report is full of observations that should have been made 20 years ago – and were made 20 years ago by various consultants and nonprofits, myself included. I’m glad that a government body is realizing that “We are living through a time of profound economic, social and technological change and the environment in which charities are working is altering dramatically,” as the report says. But that’s a statement that could be said in the 1990s, when public access to the Internet exploded.
The report also never mentions virtual volunteering by name or concept, and that’s incredibly disappointing; virtual volunteering is a practice that is more than 30 years old. When this report talks about “digital technologies” being used by charities, it’s only to build awareness, not to support and engage volunteers. Meanwhile, on an online discussion group I’m on for managers of volunteers, the discussion last week was about the best platforms for training volunteers online. What a shame that the authors of this report are so out-of-touch regarding nonprofit, NGO and charity use of online technologies to engage and support volunteers.
The report also sees volunteers only in terms of economic value:
“The charity sector relies heavily on volunteers and many charities told us that they could not do their work without them. 372 The Association of Volunteer Managers suggested that the economic benefit of volunteering could exceed £50 billion a year, 373 while other witnesses highlighted the value of volunteers in community cohesion.”
Do I have to say yet again that this talk of the economic benefits of volunteer hours are why so many labor unions and others are turning against volunteer engagement? Do I have to say yet again that no volunteer says, “I really want to volunteer so I can save money by not being paid!” It’s true: deriding the monetary value of volunteer hours is now my mission in life…
Initiatives opposed to some or all volunteering (unpaid work)
& online & print articles about or addressing controversies regarding volunteers replacing paid staff