A White Paper White Out?

“Has the government's giving agenda run out of steam?” asked the Guardian in a recent readers’ poll following the publication of the ‘Giving White Paper One Year On’ (or GWPONO for short – and it is short on substance and wow factor).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the content of the paper was mainly rehashed projects, many of which were nothing to do with the Government’s agenda and which were already happening regardless, 75% of readers answered “Yes, it’s all too low key and ‘incremental’”.

The irony of launching this updated White Paper in HM Treasury a couple of weeks ago was not lost on either the Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, or his audience; given the recent crossed swords between the sector and Mr Osborne over the income tax relief cap. And perhaps a few of the invited audience will have wondered, as I did, whether this was just the latest damp squib in the Government’s waterlogged Big Society fireworks display.

The plethora of ideas mooted in the original White Paper have now coalesced into three main themes: social action (with the announcement of an additional £40 million for the Social Action Fund for campaigns to ‘inspire and help millions’; establishing giving as a social norm – with an added emphasis on businesses; and supporting ‘the providers of opportunities’ – whatever that means (it sounds like some alien confederation Captain Janeway might come across in Star Trek!).

Rhodri Davies (Policy Officer at CAF) gives a good summary of the GWPONO  in his blog and acknowledges that it’s all pretty yawn-making stuff. So the original question of whether the agenda has run out of steam is a valid one, and an important one. Exhausted though many of us are after fighting the good fight on Give it Back George we should not give up on the giving agenda altogether, especially when there is new money available.

What we should be doing is badgering the Government on its commitments and suggesting new ways of working together to actually achieve some of the outcomes which we know that we really need in the sector.

One of these outcomes is around corporate giving. DSC is this year launching a campaign around getting businesses to give more, and we will be keeping you updated with regular news on this as it develops. So we applaud the focus renewed focus on business giving, but with just a few caveats:

  1. Connecting business with charity. Business in the Community (BitC)’s Business Connectors scheme has been championed by Office for Civil Society (OCS) as a shining example of cross-sectoral success. With nearly £5 million of funding from BIG the scheme has trained 22 Business Connectors so far, whose role is to support and develop local partnerships between businesses and charities. It’s a promising idea, but ONLY if the charity’s needs come first, NOT the business skills. Those of you familiar with our position on what the voluntary sector has to learn from big business, will not be surprised to hear this refrain.

  2. Better corporate citizenship. Corporate giving to UK charities is currently worth around £1.6bn annually although it may have fallen faster in the recession than giving overall, as we pointed out in our UK Corporate Citizenship paper [download pdf], which got a mention in the run up to the GWPONO in a Guardian blog wishlist for the update. Still, company giving represents less than 5% of UK charities’ total income, and around 3% of private cash giving in the UK. We believe that companies can and should give much more – cold hard cash preferably.

  3. Payroll giving. In the original White Paper a major campaign was mooted to boost take up of payroll giving, now downgraded to no more than an informal consultation on the structure of payroll giving.  Figures show that payroll giving in the UK brought in £118 million in 2011/12 – a mere 2.4% of the amount brought in through Gift Aid.  Even though the gross amount donated has grown by around 160% in the last ten years, the number of donors has grown by less than 150% in ten years. Compare this to Gift Aid which has grown by over two and half times in the last ten years to over £5 billion in 2011/12. There are many who feel that this is one battle which it is barely worth fighting.

To sum up – we’re kind of on the right road, but it’s foggy, raining and the SatNav is playing up.  The starting point has to be charities’ needs, which should be based on the needs of their beneficiaries.  Our destination: better partnerships between business and charities.

The journey should along these lines: Companies need to ask what’s needed and then look at how they can best help. Recognise that charities aren’t there to help companies hire new recruits, gain access to new markets, or to make companies look sensitive and caring.

Charity of the year projects are all very well but usually only benefit the well-known, national charities. Look out of the window for the small charity round the corner from the office that you’ve never heard of before; the charity that can’t afford national publicity and as a consequence seems obscure and niche, but in reality serves a wide spread of beneficiaries.

So many people look to the US for their inspiration in so many regards. We’d like to stay closer to home. But if you prefer to look Stateside then our motto for the business community is: ask not what your charity can do for you, but what you can do for your charity.

This blog first appeared in a 2012 edition on e-news from Directory of Social Change