Giving White Paper: good ideas but no 'game changers'?
The government wants you to give more and this is a laudable ambition that many share. The ultimate aim is a mass culture of participation with more people giving their time and money, and those who give already doing more. They are right to suggest that we are a generous country, with the majority of people giving regularly, but there is potential to do far more. In terms of social action, one quarter of us volunteer and we should be proud of that number but we should also be looking for ways to increase it. Our generosity as a country actually makes the aim of making a discernible difference harder – how do we shift the static levels of giving that have stubbornly stuck around the £11 a month mark up to a more generous regular gift.
The white paper is full of ideas, many of them good ones, but none of them are really "game changers". Cashpoint giving, for example, has potential. Opening up mobile technology to giving is important too. Also in the white paper is a progress report on important, though not headline grabbing, initiatives around making the Gift Aid system work better and cutting some of the red tape that presents barriers to many charities. Government is to be commended for its taking up of NCVO's Funding Commission recommendation on the need to support the sector in investing in and modernising its own support mechanisms – this money is important and will make a difference.
There is a gap, however, between the desire to see a new culture of giving and the proposed mechanisms to achieve it. This isn't intended to be overly critical – any fundraiser will tell you getting people to give more in austere and uncertain times is not easy. Coupled with this is the genuine limitation on what government should or indeed can do in terms of directly intervening to bring about a culture change. The white paper has many good ideas for those who inhabit particular bubbles – those interested or likely to respond to receiving a formal honour for example, or those who spend their lives interacting through technology. Where a gap remains is arguably in reaching the mass majority of us that don't sit within these niche bubbles.
The white paper acknowledges that people are unequal in terms of their ability to give and participate, but says relatively little about how to tackle these inequalities. The final concern relates to the emphasis put on obstacles and a lack of opportunities to give. Information is essential as are accessible opportunities to give and a clear demonstration of impact. What we need is a more detailed and sophisticated understanding of the motivations for giving in order to maximise its potential. This will require both the sector and the government to work in partnership to address the thorny issues rather than only ticking off the quick easy wins.
To see a change in giving will require long term changes to the UK gift economy. Government and the sector must step up to the plate and part of this is defining the goal that we're striving for – do we want overall levels simply to increase, or do we want the much harder but ultimately more rewarding outcome of a reinvigorated giving culture? Incremental change will come through providing more mechanisms and channels to give but a genuine culture change will need us to better articulate the reasons to give and for people to feel that giving is an essential part of what makes our society function.
Please note that this article has also appeared in the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network and can be found online here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/voluntary-sector-network/2011/may/24/giving-white-paper-giving-more
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James Allen, Head of Public Services and Partnerships and Head of Compact Voice blogs on public services reform and financing, challenges for the VCS and the Compact.