Thursday, 27 June 2013

Top Down, Bottom Up

Which one sounds like your method of working?

Tip: it's a lot easier to prove the need for your project if you start from the bottom.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Small Charities Coalition

Small Charities Coalition and Charity Trustee Networks merge 

Since 2008, the Small Charities Coalition have been helping community groups and voluntary organisations in the UK.

We are a networking, mentoring and support organisation for small charities. We work with trustees, staff and volunteers to help them find solutions to the challenges they face. If your charity needs support in a particular area of its work, do get in touch. We will either match you with a fellow small charity to share knowledge and experience, or we will try to find help for you through one of our supporters or partners.

Their main aims are to:

  1. To build partnerships and collaborate with individuals, and supporter organisations to give access to the help and support small charities need to build and run resilient and responsive organisations.
  2. To increase the number of opportunities for small charities to help themselves by sharing their own skills, knowledge, learning and resources through peer support mechanisms.
  3. To reach out to more small charities in the UK so that they have the help and support they need.  We will work collaboratively and in partnership to achieve this.
  4. To listen to, respond and represent the needs of our members so that the world they operate in works to support them.

Some of the main resources they offer include charity mentors, help finding trustees, and networking opportunities. You can also find them on Twitter: @sccoalition

Monday, 24 June 2013

Terms of Reference


This is always an entertaining topic, and by 'entertaining,' I mean that it can turn into a real headache.

It's a long standing joke that many organisations need to hire a consultant to help them to write the Terms of Reference for hiring a consultant. 

A Terms of Reference (ToR) is sort of like a job description, which you advertise to encourage consultants to put in a bid for the work you need doing.

This is standard practice on the International Development scene. You see ToRs advertised alongside permanent positions in most major IntDev job listings.

However, in the UK Voluntary Sector, I spend an awful lot of time explaining to clients what a ToR is and how to write them. It's pretty much an unknown term among small to medium sized voluntary organisations. Which is disturbing.

Perhaps the reason for this is that many small to medium sized organisations have very little money, so many of them are approaching a consultant or putting work out to tender for the very first time. Whereas there are numerous courses run by local VolSec capacity building organisations to teach the basics of fundraising and book keeping, I have seen very few (if any?) that offer to explain the ins and outs of writing a ToR and contracting work.

This is a problem because the strength of the ToR will go on to affect everything else, from who bids for your contract, to the amount they quote, to writing the Inception Report (another term barely used in the UK VolSec, but well known internationally) and delivering the goods.

I bring this up because it's been an issue voiced in LinkedIn's Technical Assistance Consultancy group, in a discussion about the quality of ToRs.

My top tips:

  • ToRs are not a wish list. If you turn them into one, you'll be disappointed. Make sure everything within your ToR is SMART.
  • If it's your first time, run your ToR past someone who's been there before. Preferably a consultant who won't be bidding.
  • If you're not sure, go online and look at examples of ToRs. They're all over the place. International job boards tend to have more of them than local ones.
  • Don't take responses to be final. Use them as a point to begin negotiations. Most consultants are fairly flexible and will try to accommodate your needs and budget if you talk to them. 

That last bit is important. Talk to consultants. You want assistance, and they want work. Figure out the deal together.

I have an extremely simple ToR template on my website, which I ask some clients to fill out in order to offer them a formal quote. It may not cover everything you need, but it's a place to start. Feel free to adapt it.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Neighbourhood Statistics


I'm usually banging on about statistics and how extremely useful and important they are in proving the need for projects. A great place to find local statistics is via the Office for National Statistics. In England and Wales you just type in your post code et voilĂ , instant information. In my local area there are:

  • 3,035 people claiming Jobseeker's benefit for unemployment.
  • 3,496 families who have two or more dependent children under 4 years of age.
  • 4,455 people aged 75 or over.
  • 311 Buddhists. 
  • 13,000 people in Higher Managerial or Professional careers.
  • 109 homeless people.
  • 1,526 people who do not speak English, or do not speak it well.

Not to mention 49.6% of the population is male, and 1.1% of the local population is living with very bad health.

There's  a similar service available at the Scottish National Statistics site and in Northern Ireland.

All of that information at the touch of a button. Is there any reason you wouldn't use those statistics to back up your homelessness/help the elderly/English as a second language/into employment project?

Yet so many organisations don't.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

UK Welfare Reforms

blind people welfare reform 

Useful article: Welfare reforms: how their introduction will affect charities: The new universal credits and the personal independence payments could place greater demands on the voluntary sector
The welfare reforms being introduced by this year, including universal credit and the personal independence payment (PIP), will place a heavy burden on charities.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has said that the reforms will lead to greater demands being placed on the sector by benefit claimants who need "advice, support with going online, and emergency relief". The changes will also mean charities need to provide additional training for staff to assist benefit claimants, according to the council...

A spokesman for the Careers Development Group (CDG), one of only two charities appointed as prime contractors under the government's Work Programme, says the organisation has set up a working group to help its staff get accustomed to the changes...

"More people are using advisory services, but resources are tight so getting additional staff may not be an option," Alltimes says. To address this issue, Mencap has been in discussions with the National Autistic Society about the possibility of jointly recruiting a welfare rights officer and sharing the cost. The charity is also exploring the possibility of providing links on its website to welfare information provided by other charities to avoid duplicating resources.

Sounds like the recipe for a meltdown. Government has no money, VolSec has no money, government knows the VolSec is run by people passionate about difficult issues businesses won't touch because they can't generate a profit from them, so government keeps stretching that limit as far as it will go...

We all fall down.

I would strongly urge any organisation to undertake a full capacity and resource inventory, as well as a worst-case financial projection, before taking on any local services that were previously public sector run. There's likely to be a good financial reason why the local authority is looking to offload, and why a private sector business hasn't picked it up. If you jump at it and then can't make it fly, it's your reputation that will take a battering as stakeholders are let down.

What looks like a chance to boost your reputation might end up undoing it in the long-run. 

Monday, 17 June 2013


My friend Laetitia threw me the heads up on this one. An end to death by PowerPoint? Prezi certainly has some funky features - check out the tutorial below. If you decide to give it a go, sign up using this link and they give me an upgrade.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

After the MDGs

So, what comes after the Millennium Development Goals in 2015?

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Volunteer Centre Income Drop

The results of the 2011/12 Annual Return for Volunteer Centres, a survey of volunteer centres’ income and activities, show that 40% of volunteer centres for whom there is data for both years lost over a quarter of their income compared to the previous year. 1 in 5 (21%) had cuts of 50% or more of their income...

Among the survey’s other findings:

  • Local government remained the most common source of funding, with 83% of volunteer centres receiving local government money
  • There was a sharp fall in central government funding – only 7% of volunteer centres received any central government funding this year compared to 24% the previous year, reflecting the end of various national programmes supporting infrastructure organisations
  • A third (33%) of enquiries about volunteering opportunities were from people who were unemployed and seeking work

Volunteer Centres and Voluntary Action Councils do such a fantastic job. They are also one of the first points of contact for people thinking of setting up community organisations and charities, providing free advice and training. They really should be protected and promoted.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Eight Improvements

Mary Marsh
Dame Mary Marsh

On the one hand, I agree that the following are all important key themes upon which Voluntary Sector organisations can improve:

  • Strengthen governance
  • Attract and develop leaders
  • Routes into and through the social sector
  • Skills sharing
  • Digital fluency
  • Data-informed social change
  • Enterprise capability
  • Collaboration in the social sector

On the other hand, it would be a little easier to hear coming from someone who hadn't thrown in her lot with HSBC bank four years ago. Can anyone say the words 'criminal activity', 'cluster bombs', or 'child fatalities'? 

Exactly what sort of 'enterprise capabilities' are we talking about?

Monday, 10 June 2013

Write To Them

Just a quick tip for campaigners in the UK. If you want to start a letter writing campaign or ask your local MP, or a representative of the House of Lords, to back you up, you can contact them through

There are two ways to go about using it:

  1. Location: type in your post code to find the right MP to write to.
  2. Subject: If you're looking for a Lord, you can type in your campaign topic or location to find a list of those who have shown previous interest.

Do make sure to check out the advice on running a campaign.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Charity Digital News


I received a request to pass on this information from Rebecca Horsley, via LinkedIn. Rebecca is the editor of Charity Digital News, a one-stop shop for professionals involved in technology and its use within the UK’s third sector, produced in partnership with the Charity Technology Trust (CTT).

They offer a number of free resources, including:

  • Practical advice on how to optimise your organisation’s technology strategy
  • News about the latest digital campaigns across the sector
  • Interviews and case studies from industry movers and shakers
  • Updates on technology products that could benefit your charity
  • Listings for upcoming events and workshops in the charity technology sector

If you think this might be of interest to you, check out the website and sign up for their weekly e-newsletter.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Free Volunteering Guide

Adding to the other resources on volunteering on this blog, here's a free charity guide on volunteering from insurance firm Ecclesiastical:
Looking for a corporate partner or a professional volunteer? Confused about micro-volunteering? Ecclesiastical have put together a free guide to make the most out of the corporate and professional support available to your charity. It’s full of hints and tips from a number of specialists and national charities to help you make the right choices and reap the benefits of volunteering.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Diversity, Discrimination and the Law

Received this via LinkedIn a while back from Michael Rubenstein, offering expertise on equality, diversity and discrimination law. Thought I'd share as it looks interesting.

I would like to invite you to take a look at our new blog and to follow me on Twitter: @mhrubenstein

The blog aims to develop into a one-stop portal on diversity and discrimination law. You can also sign up to receive new blog posts by email, including:

  • Highlights and selected articles from Equal Opportunities Review;
  • Selected case summaries and commentary from Equality Law Reports; and
  • Developments in discrimination law from experts in the field, including barristers, solicitors, professors, journalists, and other major stakeholders.

Those following me on Twitter can enjoy the newest updates on key discrimination topics as well as related enlightening discourse!

Well, diversity and discrimination law is certainly something we could all use a little enlightening over.