Happy new year all. Here’s a quick run through a few areas in which I hope to up the evangelising in 2012.
1. Be funnier. My co-workers will tell you that for me this is nigh-on impossible, that I am already inhabiting a comedic zenith few can dare to dream of hoping to reach. But in broader terms I think the voluntary sector has a bit of an image problem and a few more jokes might help.
This might seem counter-intuitive given what we’re facing as 2012 rolls into view – cuts to our organisations and public services bedding in, rising unemployment, increased demand for our services and worse to come in the next 12 months for anyone requiring housing support, social care, legal advice and a range of other vital services.
Yet we all understand the value of humour in campaigns, comedy and other walks of life. Trying to replicate this in the VCS might seem a bit niche but it can be done. Look at the popularity of Robin Bogg. Piety is admirable but can also be a major turnoff. The Labour Party have a thing or two to learn about this, Boris does not. Lets be sharp, scathing, satirical, self-depreciating. Let’s be the funnest people in the room. Let’s be hilarious.
2. Collaborate. I’ve got little time for those that bang on about how amazing social media is, especially if they eulogise more than actually achieve. But in networking, brokering relationships and organising it has been a game-changer. It’s easier than ever to find experts, specialists and like-minded folk from whom to learn, share and be more effective.
In whatever you do you – as an organisation or individual, formal or otherwise – lets exploit these channels and see what gems we can unearth, that magic element that might give us a whole new opportunity or perspective. We have the chance to be more effective, to learn and to avoid pouring our energies into brilliant ideas others may already be advancing.
3. Stop moaning about ACEVO. I speak for myself here as this is something I need to get over. ACEVO really annoyed me for most of 2011. As someone who thinks we have a collective interest in strengthening the voluntary sector it saddens me that one of our major national umbrellas doesn’t take more opportunities to collaborate, or do more to use its considerable position to further the interests of the sector as a whole.
But ACEVO also have their supporters, and according to some should be credited for their influence in bringing about major initiatives such as the Future Jobs Fund, largely welcomed by much of the voluntary sector and our communities.
Perhaps I’ll combine this resolution with the funny thing. How many ACEVO staff does it take to change a lightbulb? One to draft the press release explaining how lightbulb change is a central issue for Third Sector Chief Execs? Another to Establish an independent Commission on Lightbulb Change (completely bypassing the National Association of Councils for Lightbulb Change in the process)? A third to keep the Today programme and a high profile Labour MP on speed dial? You get the idea.
4. Plan my personal giving. I really enjoyed Karl Wilding’s piece on myths of charity giving just before Christmas. In particular I was intrigued by the stat around how much average households gave to good causes annually (1% of household income for the richest, 3% for the poorest). It made me realise a) I probably don’t give even 1% of my income away (some evangelist) and that b) I rarely think about my contributions strategically.
This year I’ve set myself a personal budget for charitable giving, earmarked a number of causes I want to support, planned some smaller regular donations which better allow charities to think ahead, and even left a small budget to support the ridiculous fund-raising physical challenges through which my more masochistic friends periodically put themselves, all because they have ADD on account of their mothers never really loving them.
5. Sell the voluntary sector. Not as in ‘out’ or ‘to the highest bidder’ but in the popular imagination – to your friends, family and colleagues in other sectors. I’ve been struggling for years to successfully explain to my own family what the voluntary sector is and what I do in it, and I had a further such experience before Christmas that has prompted me to sharpen my narrative. I challenge you to think about how you introduce yourself to people and how you describe your job / volunteer role. Any room for improvement? Make it sing. Lets take every opportunity to articulate the value of what we do.
By way of an institutional example, you may remember last year’s story of Volunteer Centres reporting ‘exploitation’ by Work Programme providers – they were alleged to have sought free services for their clients on WP contracts. Outrageous as this clearly was, I couldn’t help but think we missed a trick to shift the argument in our favour. Here we had, in effect, a service a private sector provider valued sufficiently to seek to take advantage of. We were right to challenge and ensure VCS services aren’t seen as free, or valued as disposable, but we could have gone further.
Our volunteer infrastructure bodies could have chosen to respond to this by putting together a low cost, great value service package selling entry level support to primes and their kind, taken it to the media on a wave of pubic outrage and gained the higher ground. If successful it could have opened up new revenue streams for volunteering infrastructure, badly hit by cuts pre-dating the current rounds. Such a move would also have served to re-enforce the valuable role the VCS plays in the supply chain of supporting our most vulnerable in society.
This kind of example for me exemplifies everything the sector needs to do in 2012 – to set our own agenda and to get back onto the front foot.