And you thought you were having a hard time!

By Hazel Finney, Volunteering Adviser, Community Impact Bucks
Contact Hazel via hazel@communityimpactbucks.org.uk

Modern life can be difficult, can’t it? So much technology around to automate everyday tasks, but when it comes down to getting good old-fashioned customer service, that’s when things can start to fall apart… hanging on the phone for hours trying to get a problem fixed that was caused by your ISP or energy provider sound familiar?

But imagine if you were coping with a disability (either mental or physical), and couldn’t even find a volunteering role suited to your needs, let alone a job… that’s something to really get frustrated about. According to NCVO*, “only 38% of people with a disability or long-term limiting illness participate in formal volunteering, compared to 46% with no disability. With so many more disabled people out of employment as well, one might expect the number of disabled volunteers to be significantly higher. But, unlike in employment, the Equality Act does not apply to volunteers. Disabled volunteers have no formal protection under the law. Similarly, there is no permanent equivalent to the Access to Work fund for volunteers.”

Disability Volunteer Charter – let’s make ourselves accountable

In December 2014, Community Impact Bucks played a pivotal role promoting and supporting the national launch of the pioneering Disability Volunteer Charter developed by the Disability Action Alliance (DAA), and the closing notes were delivered by Diane Rutter, our Services Director. The launch was hosted by Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS) and the Bucks Legacy Board. The Charter’s vision is for a society in which the contribution of disabled people as volunteers is valued and volunteering opportunities are widely available on an equal and accessible basis; its aim is to increase the number, value and accessibility of opportunities for disabled people to volunteer their time, skills and experience.

This all sounds great on paper, but a little over 12 months since the launch, there are only around 100 not-for-profit organisations nationwide which have signed up to the Charter… this is extremely disappointing given the thousands and thousands of volunteer-involving groups in Britain. And the number of Buckinghamshire-based organisations that have pledged is sadly just too embarrassing to mention.

Accommodating volunteers with disabilities – Lindsey and Charles’ stories

At Community Impact Bucks, we involve several volunteers with a disability, having structured the opportunities to suit their need and abilities. As with all our volunteers, they have a named point of contact, are provided with support as necessary, and reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses; we also encourage all organisations involving volunteers to take these steps. Regular reviews are carried out with all our volunteers to support them in their role and make any necessary adjustments, and we frequently provide references on request. Read how Lindsey Chamier volunteers for us from home.

And here’s another great story from Charles Harrison, a customer service volunteer with High Wycombe Shopmobility

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Charles had a brain haemorrhage in 1993, followed by 2 strokes, which left him with a weakness on his right hand side, epilepsy, and very poor short term memory. Manager, Claire McMackin, says that they have made various adjustments to enable Charles to volunteer:

“Charles’ disability is not visible to most people, only when you talk with him or spend time with him are you perhaps aware of his condition and his vulnerability. We have to continually remind him of certain tasks as his short term memory is very poor, he is unable to cope with certain situations within the shop, so it is agreed that he just walks away. He is very open about his conditions, and most of our customers are aware of them. He has been with us for 13 years and has worked 2300 hours for us. He is a very valued member of our team and is very popular with the team and customers.”

When I asked him how his volunteering experience makes him feel, this is what Charles had to say:
“It makes me feel good, it enables me to help less fortunate or less able-bodied people get out and about. I enjoy the socialisation and being part of a team. I feel extremely valued, and there are two mornings of the week that I look forward to, and no-one at Shopmobility takes advantage of me.”

Make your pledge today – stand up and be counted
That last sentence speaks for itself – so go on, disregard the irritations and inconveniences of 21st century life, and set some time aside in the next week to think about making your pledge to the Disability Volunteer Charter – and then go and sign up – let’s rally as a county and help boost the number of organisations that have pledged nationwide to 500 by December 2017.

I’d love to hear from you when you have – please contact me with your stories – especially if you’re already involving volunteers with disabilities in your organisation: hazel@communityimpactbucks.org.uk.

Some extra motivation and support can go a long way
Need further inspiration for your pledges? Disability Action Alliance has produced a handy publication showing how 3 not-for-profits have embraced their pledge commitments, and the positive impact that this has had.

Need further help and advice about involving volunteers with disabilities in your organisation? Please contact us on info@communityimpactbucks.org.uk or 0300 11 11250

*Or read this great article from NCVOHarnessing Disabled People’s Ability to Volunteer.

The Road Ahead for the Voluntary Sector

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If I say it looks rocky that will not be a surprise. I have read the latest report from NCVO about the future of the voluntary sector (‘The Road Ahead’ NCVO Jan 2016) and it appears to be more boulder than rock. I will summarise the bare bones here, but also comment on some of the emerging “alternative roads” (that is the trouble with metaphor!).

The NCVO report investigates the political, economic, social and technological challenges ahead. The political view is that, with the strength of the Conservative majority and the suggested lack of unity within the current opposition, reform will go ahead. The social reforms will have a significant impact on the voluntary sector, particularly around Work and Pensions, Localism, Welfare Cap and  the “shrinking state”.

The report quotes Lord Porter, Chair of the Local Government Association:

“Even if councils stopped filling potholes, maintaining parks, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres and turned off every street light they will not have saved enough money to plug the financial black hole they face by 2020.”

The knock-on effect for charities is likely to be great, and preventative charities will be vulnerable to cuts and closure – with a smaller number of large contracts issued coupled with an expectation of reduced costs. A key to success will be the ability to articulate cost benefit analysis.  The report recognises that with the reducing provision of the state the voluntary sector usually represents the only alternative and operates “on a shoe string”! This I read as providing good value to society- particularly around youth support and support for elderly and isolated people.

“One of the most significant changes was the lowering of the welfare cap” – NCVO go on to report that low income households are expected to be much worse off by 2019. “By 2019 the poorest 20% will see a real-terms reduction in their net income of around 7% compared to 2015.” Buckinghamshire is hardly the most deprived county in the UK, however reports show that poverty in a wealthy area can have a great impact on the individual as the differential is much more obvious, costs are higher and services are not directed towards the poorest.

If we look at the economic reports for Bucks we see a very affluent county and the wider economy seems to be healthier than ever.  Yet the economic recovery has not filtered down to charities. The report points to smaller charities with under £1m turnover suffering disproportionally. As I predicted in the Sector Report in 2015 the drive for donations is being led by some vigorous fund raising techniques employed by the larger charities to the detriment of smaller local charities. Most charities in Bucks have a turnover of less than £25,000.

That all seems pretty bleak – so what of the alternative road? The report suggests alternative funding is available from social investment models and the launch of the Access Foundation – although these funds are mainly accessed by larger charities. Crowdfunding is mentioned and smaller charities have been able to take advantage of many crowdfunding opportunities, with donations growing by 77% to £2m, whilst community shares grew to £34m.

The report did not look at the part played by commercial sponsorship of charities and, although this aspect of funding traditionally has been low in comparison to other funding, it may represent a valuable stream of income.

So the road ahead will be rocky. Our own research at Community Impact Bucks shows us that the challenges for us in supporting the sector along that road lie in helping charities network together and seeking shared resources (78% of charities are seeking opportunities to share resources); in working with our expert mentors in developing sustainable business plans (56% wanting training on alternative income generation) and offering training and advice surgeries in fund raising, business planning and marketing.

Rocky road or not we need to find a way through to where most of our voluntary groups are still supplying a vital service to society – as the alternative, failure, is unthinkable for the most vulnerable in society.

 

The thin end of the wedge…?

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The Government announcement stating that grants will have an exclusion to stop money being used for “lobbying” has a worrying edge to it. The exact phrase that will be inserted into grant agreements refers to activity ‘intended to influence or attempt to influence’. But my concern is how will it be determined (and who will determine) when such activity is ‘lobbying’ and when is it sound feedback and advocacy that will benefit the public through Government policy?

Charities often deal with the weakest and most vulnerable people in society. They deal with thorny issues where there is no “market”, no other support mechanism. So some charities not only help those who have been left out of the system but also raise their issues with those in power. They can be the voice for those who have no voice.

Whilst no one would want to see taxpayers money being misused, surely the issue is about two main elements: transparency of the charity and susceptibility to persuasion of MPs. Charities should state clearly how much money they spend, and how it is spent, and the funders can then decide whether to fund or not. I don’t know a great deal about the dark corridors populated by the lobbyist, but if their case is sound then it is up to the lobbyist to make the case. If it is not sound they should be dismissed and the MPs in question will ignore the approach. There are many cases where advocacy has changed the lives of people for the better. Do we want those voices silenced?

We should not seek to silence the voice of some of the most poorly supported in society, but rather be more transparent about how money is spent – and hope our MPs can ignore the siren call of the unjust lobbyist.

Update – Weds 10th February: NAVCA has expressed concern about the government’s planned anti-lobbying legislation at ‘NAVCA fears gagging clauses will hit the most vulnerable‘, and tonight’s edition of The Moral Maze is devoted to this subject: The Moral Maze, Wednesday 10th Feb 8pm.

One in five of Britain’s biggest charities spends less than 50 per cent on good works, new report claims

vfmThis headline appeared in the Telegraph this week. The team here at Community Impact Bucks spend time working with individuals who often receive little, if any, paid reward and give their time and energy to others through voluntary and charitable work – so I am bound to leap to defend charities. I see the good work most of them do. That is not to say they have all got it right nor do all necessarily give great return on investment.

Typically the headline statement above is based on a very blunt measure that gives, in many cases, a misleading result. In this case the calculation seems to be based on turnover (money in) measured against how much money is spent “directly” on services to beneficiaries. Sounds straightforward? But … what lies behind these headlines is complicated. Yet the damage is done in one swish of the quill (or stab of the laptop keys – but you see the point).

So why do some charities look like they have plenty of money coming in and not an equal amount being spent on beneficiaries? Some of the issue is actually a result of charities trying to survive without grants and donations. Charities are being encouraged to “trade” in order to be self-reliant rather than relying on donations. However, it costs money to “trade” – it is like running any business – and returns will vary, meaning the measure used by the Telegraph takes no account of the cost of running a diversification, such as a high street shop.

It is clear that some charities do not spend enough of their money on the beneficiaries. Yes it does cost to run a charity, and it even costs to support volunteers, but there should be a level of clarity about how much of your donation is used up in areas that do not directly impact on the beneficiary.

But why use such damaging and inaccurate sweeping statements? (Obviously to sell papers!) If there is a silver lining to the statement above it could be that it makes a good case for giving to local small charities that you know. Charities where you can see the impact first hand. But we know that the effect of this headline will not result in people who have given to large charities swapping and giving to a local charity. It will result in those people not giving to any charity. Probably because what most people will read is that charities are at best wasting your money and at worst embezzling it! Despite the headline identifying a few national organisations it will be read as all charities.

What concerns me is that this headline comes after a run of “charity bashing” that has been going on all year. This “charity bashing” is damaging for all of us because it will mean that volunteers will be less likely to give their time to help others, and those who rarely give to charities will feel it less attractive to do so. And it matters. With over 70% of charities in Bucks stating that demand is growing at an unsustainable level they need every hour and every penny to support others.

We all rely on the generosity of others as volunteers and givers to charity. And if you think you don’t just consider how often you, your family or friends have engaged with elderly support services, village events, cancer care, countryside, children’s services …….. and if you have never had the benefit of a charity it probably means that you didn’t realise they were a charity – or you have been extraordinarily lucky in life.

Charities could be better and be more transparent about how they spend their money – but most actually give outstanding return on investment. The Bank of England’s Chief Economist, Andy Haldane, recently cited one charity as delivering a social return on investment of 140%! ….. but that news didn’t hit the headlines!

Empty Homes…

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During the winter, and more so at Christmas, we think of those people living on the streets or in sub-standard housing. This week there has been a flurry of reports about empty properties, about the cost of keeping properties empty, about how they attract vandalism etc. – but the reality is that with about 30 people living on the street in Buckinghamshire it seems frustrating that there are still over 1,000 empty homes in Bucks!

The number of those living on the streets in 2015 is incredible, but the figure hides the huge number of families living in bed and breakfast and sub-standard accommodation. I am aware that some housing in the private rented sector is so bad that it falls below the minimum standards set… but when accommodation is at such a premium people are forced to take what they are offered.

At Community Impact Bucks we have recognised the housing shortage and have established a trading company to help councils solve the problem. Our team has years of experience of working with District Councils to help their teams deliver empty properties back into occupation. See more details here:  Community Impact Bucks Property Services (NB all profits go back to the charity)

What is clear is that when a property stands empty it attracts vandalism and brings down the tone of the neighbourhood, creates an opportunity for trespass. With rents so high and property values rising why would anyone leave a property empty? It is usually complicated. Sometimes the property is inherited and the owner can’t bear the thought of someone else living in the home of a loved friend or family member. Sometimes the property is in poor condition and the owner can’t afford to renovate. On other occasions an investor may want to redevelop but is taking their time while the value goes up. Whatever the reason, when there is so much pressure on housing, it cannot be right to see properties empty.

The District Councils are doing their bit by reducing council tax rebates for empty dwellings – and we will do our bit to try and liberate much needed homes!

Remote Volunteering – a Volunteer’s Perspective

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By Lindsey Chamier

I have been volunteering with Community Impact Bucks since June of this year. I also volunteer for Chiltern Music Therapy who are a charity providing therapy using music, which looks at creating change and improvements in communication, physical, social, cognitive and emotional needs for all ages. I do half a day with each of them every week depending on the work which is required. I decided to get involved in volunteering as I am currently studying part time for an MA in International Relations and so had some time to spare which could be usefully spent helping in my local community. It also helps balance my life and prevent it from become one big self-indulgence! I found both my volunteering “jobs” through the Community Impact Bucks’ website which has a very user-friendly function allowing you to browse in your particular area of interest and then apply for volunteering opportunities. Before I started the MA, I spent a number of years working for the BBC in a variety of roles in television production and then after moving to Buckinghamshire in 1997 I worked for Connexions (a careers organisation) in High Wycombe. I therefore have a variety of skills and experience which I have been able to put to good use.

I have found that the volunteering fits in perfectly with my other commitments. Both organisations are very flexible so that if I have a big essay deadline then I can move the days which I work for them around and they are very supportive. I have done a variety of administrative tasks such as writing Success Stories for Community Impact Bucks and some marketing research and database input for Chiltern Music Therapy. I work at home from my desk overlooking my lovely garden (not so lovely as the winter begins!) which is perfect for me as I have a weak muscle condition which impairs my mobility so not having to concern myself with parking and access is a big bonus. I am in regular contact by phone and email with both charities and so it all works very well. I suspect they will have to try quite hard to get rid of me now! I thoroughly recommend volunteering either to gain experience and skills to enhance your CV, to try out something different or, like me, you have a few hours which you would like to put to good use.

Unveiling…VolunteeringBucks.org.uk

A lot’s been happening behind the scenes at here Community Impact over the past few months. Our CEO, Nick Phillips, joined us in February and we launched a brand new strategy to help create A Better Life for the People of Buckinghamshire.

One of the greatest ways we can make this a reality is by helping YOU (our Not-for-Profit sector) be the best you can possibly be. We know that one of your biggest challenges is FINDING NEW VOLUNTEERS.

So, we are more than a little excited to unveil …..

VolunteeringBucks – the gateway to the
best local volunteering opportunities

VOL BUCKS

VolunteeringBucks is an online platform dedicated to getting people excited about volunteering and showcasing the life-enhancing benefits of becoming a volunteer.

We surveyed almost 2,000 voluntary organisations and this is what you told us you needed: help connecting with new audiences and a different ‘story’ to tell about volunteering.

Everything you see in VolunteeringBucks is the result of insight and research into volunteer motivations, which tells us that the next generation of volunteers value ‘experiences’ and ‘connection’ over ‘altruism’ and ‘doing good’.

The site is designed specifically for individuals looking to volunteer and won’t replace the resources for you on the Community Impact Bucks site.

Making the most of VolunteeringBucks:

We love the new site but, it’s vital that you do too. So, if you have any suggestions on how we can make it even better, please let us know here.

Where will VolunteeringBucks.org.uk take YOU?!

Top tips for a compelling volunteer role description!

Writing

By Hazel Finney

So, you’ve identified that you need more volunteers, you know the types of things that you require support with, but just how do you go about attracting people to come and volunteer for you?

It all starts with putting together an engaging role description – well written and clearly expressed opportunities are far more likely to attract potential volunteers. Spending some time drafting and editing opportunities before you advertise them will pay off in the long term – the volunteer marketplace is busy – it’s all about making your role stand out from the crowd!

Sell, sell, sell… you need to attract someone’s attention in just a few seconds – start with the aim of the role – it needs to be short, sharp and punchy.

Get straight to the point… state when you need the volunteer to start, what the time commitment is, and where the role will be based. Clearly specify the tasks you would like the volunteer to carry out – and what skills/experience you would like them to have.

What’s in it for them? describe how your volunteer will benefit from being involved with you – whether it’s the opportunity to make new friends and have a structure to the day, use professional skills, or even get a massive buzz from changing someone’s life!

The formalities… volunteering should be great fun, but it’s important to have some safeguards in place – so say if references (it’s always best to ask for 2), and DBS checks are required.

Call to action… if someone is interested in your role and wants to find out more information, then you’ve cleared the first hurdle – include the name and contact details (always best to have a phone number and email address) of a named person within your organisation so that it’s easy for them to get in touch.

And finally, good luck!… if you need a bit more help developing a compelling role description, we can help – either attend one of our upcoming FREE Volunteering Advice Surgeries, or sign up for our heavily discounted Inspire Your Volunteers – Creating Strong Teams’ training on 27 January (at South Bucks District Council) or 8 March (Chesham Town Hall). For a role template that you can download, and all things volunteer related, please pop along here:

CIB Developing Volunteer Opportunities

CIB Events

If you’re looking for a volunteer with specialist skills, e.g. marketing or business planning, then we can also help! – please contact one of our very own fantastic volunteers, Marlene Baker, who will be happy to assist: volunteer7@communityimpactbucks.org.uk.

Sorted!

Hazel Finney is one of the Volunteering Advisers at Community Impact Bucks, if you’d like help creating a winning role description for you, then book a place at our FREE volunteering advice surgery on 14th Dec in High Wycombe.

3 Ways to Future-Proof your Board…

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What a year it has been!

Running a Not-for-Profit these days is not for the faint-hearted.

The world has changed. Technology is disrupting the way we engage with supporters and deliver our services, and (based on the Etherington review), charity leaders need to increase their fundraising involvement.

As a Trustee or board member, it can be quite a daunting prospect to suddenly realise that our old tricks aren’t working the same way, but it’s also an exciting time to be in the third sector and a fabulous opportunity to achieve things we never thought possible.

But nobody said it would be easy. The future of the voluntary sector looks vastly different than the past and we, as Trustees, have a responsibility to ensure we are keeping up with the pace of change.

There is no magic formula for a successful board, but these top tips will go a long way to ensuring you are shining bright in tomorrow’s world:

1. Recruit, Recruit, Recruit! Networks are everything, and this is where the board can really add serious value to your organisations’ success. In the new world of Not-for-Profit, everyone is a brand ambassador and it starts at the very top. Strive to attract young, connected trustees who understand the business world and have the energy to keep up momentum and drive through change.
2. Manage Risk – Good governance is the key to resilience. Be clear on your legal obligations and assign specific roles and responsibilities to each board member
3. Know exactly where you’re heading – as Steven Covey famously said ‘Begin with the end in mind’. A robust and clearly defined strategy, which aligns with your mission, is critical to success. And don’t get lost in endless jargon. Keep it simple and always come back to the question – how will this decision affect our beneficiaries?

If this makes for uncomfortable reading, you’re not alone. That’s why we’ve created an event that will show you exactly how to do all of this, and more!

The 2016 ‘Future-Proofing’ Trustee Forum is an afternoon of practical inspiration from some of the UK’s leading governance and resilience experts.

Workshops include:

– Boost your Trustee Board
– Trustees and Risk Management
– Fundraising for Trustees
– Strategic Planning for the Future
– Duties of a Trustee

You’ll then have the opportunity to road-test your new skills with potential new board members in our Trustee Dating Session, when eager volunteers from the business community come searching for their dream role.

It’s all happening on 18th January 2016 at the Gateway Conference Centre in Aylesbury. Tickets cost just £15 and are 2for1 until the end of November.

To Future-Proof your board click here.

HOW COMMUNITY RADIO CAN BENEFIT YOUR CAUSE…

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Guest blog by Keith Higgins, Wycombe Sound

Community radio stations typically cover a small geographical area and run on a not-for-profit basis. They cater for whole communities or for different areas of interest. Community radio stations reflect a diverse mix of cultures and interests. A community radio station’s programmes will reflect the needs and interests of its audience. This means creating direct links with its listeners, offering training opportunities and making sure that members of the community can take part in how the station is run.

At Wycombe Sound we are setting up a community radio station as a community interest company that will serve the needs of the town of High Wycombe and the surrounding area. We have already been on air twice for 28 days in 2013 & 2014 and we have another short term licence for broadcasting on 87.9 FM, starting on November 19th. Ofcom have allowed us to use a more powerful transmitter this time so we should be able to reach a wider area than before, especially to the north of the town and to the east. At the moment we are busy getting the studios ready in our new permanent home, which is in Bridge House, Bridge Street, directly opposite the Bus Station.

We have also submitted our application to Ofcom for a 5 year community radio licence. If we are successful, we will be able to work with different groups in our catchment area for a much longer period of time. Our short term broadcasts have shown how we have made an impact on the lives of different people and we want to continue to do this.

It is important that we meet the requirements of Ofcom so we will welcome any members of the community who want to work with us to promote their services & community projects. Many of our listeners have told us how much they value a truly local radio station for High Wycombe. At Wycombe Sound, we are giving the people who live & work in the town and the surrounding area an opportunity to work with us and ensure that the great work people do in our local communities is brought to the attention of a wider audience.

If you want to find out more about Wycombe Sound, do contact either Keith or Pippa, two of the Directors of the CIC.

Keith: 01494 449900 (Studio), 07753 277567, e-mail: keith@wycombesound.org.uk
Pippa: 01494 449900 (Studio), 07973 7109763, e-mail: pippa@wycombesound.org.uk

PROMOTING EXCELLENCE IN VOLUNTARY AND COMMUNITY SERVICES