Sticking around

How can we help: Exploring how and why we give, and how we might do it better

Planning ahead

A former colleague told me recently that he’s started mentoring a kid. It’s not just the occasional phone call or a few trips to the cinema, though: he has signed up to a programme that commits you to meeting up with the same child on three weekends out of four, for a minimum of two years.

How many of us stick at anything, consistently, for a full two years? It’s so easy to set good intentions, then find that other stuff – work exhaustion, family demands, travel plans, life admin – gets in the way. I’m hugely impressed by the volunteers who sign up for two years, but also by charities that aren’t afraid to require it of their volunteers, because they know that for vulnerable kids, consistency matters. 

A day after that conversation with my former colleague, I got a handwritten thank-you letter, out of the blue, from the kids’ charity where I’ve been volunteering on and off for some years. It was completely unexpected, and also unnecessary – like many other volunteers, I do it because I enjoy being there, because I love what the charity does, and because I’ve grown to feel proud to be part of a lovely little community. (Other volunteers include primary school teachers who give up their Saturday mornings to spend more time with excitable children; another, a writer, recently turned up directly off an overnight flight from the USA – she could easily have skipped that session, but said volunteering was the highlight of her week.)

Continue reading “Sticking around”

Everyone’s a philanthropist… once we get around to it

How can we help: Exploring how and why we give, and how we might do it better

“Instantaneous generosity”: it could be good for you

A family friend told me recently that he and his wife, both writers, wanted to get into philanthropy. It’s not something I often hear, outside my professional bubble. Giving makes you feel good, so why don’t more people do it regularly? 

Partly, I think, because there’s an assumption that philanthropy is only for the very wealthy.

Donations from the likes of Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos get heaps of attention. The scrutiny is important. But it also means that the central characters in most philanthropy stories are business moguls, sports champions and Hollywood stars – no wonder the field can feel as distant a prospect as owning a superyacht. 

Continue reading “Everyone’s a philanthropist… once we get around to it”

Starting positive

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Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

The charity sector can feel a bit gloomy at times. Shrinking budgets and ever more competition for funding, tighter regulations, and more time spent reporting than doing.

And yet what draws many people (including me) to the sector in the first place is an optimistic streak, a belief in human power to change things for the better.

So it was refreshing to look on the brighter side again for a recent article — and nope, it wasn’t too difficult to come up with five reasons charities can be cheerful this year. Continue reading “Starting positive”

The new nonprofit library

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Lots of info, but is it up to date?

I’ve been working since last year with MissionBox, a website that provides a huge range of how-to guides, advice, case studies, feature articles and templates for nonprofits. As a startup, there’ve been a few shifts of direction along the way, but the site has just relaunched and it’s great to see it taking shape.

MissionBox is based in the US and one of the challenges has been making sure the content written by our American colleagues is relevant and accurate here in the UK. In some cases that has meant drafting separate/equivalent pieces — that goes for any legal or tax topics, but also some less obvious ones like the expectations of a nonprofit board, or working with foundations. Continue reading “The new nonprofit library”

Selfie stick optional

Seven ways to do better live reporting from events

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Ready to stream

We’re all using social media, so there’s an assumption that anyone can also live tweet from an event. But I don’t think that’s the case, or at least, not without practice. Often conference updates feel a bit bland (so what?), or irrelevant to those who aren’t in the room, or they simply miss out a lot of opportunities.

So I attended the Nonprofit Tech for Good webinar last week on live online reporting, and learned it takes a fair bit of thought to create useful, accurate updates that add to the conversation in the room, and that are valuable long after the conference has finished. Below are some tips: Continue reading “Selfie stick optional”

Pyjamas optional: microvolunteering

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Wanna work in a warehouse? Check out Fareshare (Photo: Rachel Stanley)

Yesterday, perhaps a little lost among the egg-based puns and the stockpiling of sweet things, was Microvolunteering Day. The occasion itself is fairly new (first celebrated in 2014), but the concept of citizens helping out with bite-sized, commitment-free tasks has been around for some time. Trying to flog Oxfam chocolates to commuters at a Brussels train station back in 2009 is still one of my few experiences of cold-selling (I’ve forgotten how many packs I managed to shift, though I do still remember how to say ‘have a nice evening’ in Flemish). And people have been baking for cake sales or rattling collection tins for decades.

Nowadays, though, new technology and new networks have made helping out more accessible, and more varied, than ever.

Continue reading “Pyjamas optional: microvolunteering”

Young news

screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-11-13-36The stories of exiled Congolese entrepreneurs Patrick, Alex, Mimy and Chantale finally made it into Vice, also appearing in the UK print edition of the magazine (with my trip supported by One World Media’s production fund). It’s perhaps an unusual destination for an article about refugee lives in Africa; sitting next to headlines like ‘People’s stories on the last time they faked an orgasm’ and ‘We went on a tour of London’s worst-rated nightclubs’. But the Canadian-American outlet, which is squarely aimed at younger audiences and embraces the provocative and politically incorrect, isn’t only about sex, crime and entertainment. News is now their fastest growing division, according to Creative Review, in which Vice’s CEO was quoted earlier this year saying they tapped into a “big white space…. there was a perception that Gen Y didn’t really care about news which is obviously not true, so that will continue to grow.” Here’s hoping.

Plant your feet, and other storytelling tips

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Earlier this year I gathered a few VSO colleagues to join me on the Acumen+ Storytelling for Change course, which is all about bringing (personal) stories into your professional communication, helping you to connect with (and convince) your listeners as you present.

I’ve tried before, and failed, to complete online courses; free ones like these are even harder to see through. What worked this time? Mainly it was  committing to meet weekly as a group for the duration of the modules (guilt about letting other people down is stronger than the guilt of letting yourself down, it seems). But also genuine enthusiasm within the group for the topic, and a sense that the lessons were fairly universally relevant.

Here are some of the best bits of learning for me: Continue reading “Plant your feet, and other storytelling tips”

Giving time

It was Volunteers’ Week here in the UK (as well as Women’s Sport Week, in fact – nice profile of boxer Nicola Adams here on role models). It doesn’t seem to make many headlines outside the charity sector – yet the scale of volunteer work in this country is much larger, surely, than most people realise. 15.2m people in the UK (nearly a quarter of the entire population) volunteer each month; 0f the 164,000 registered charities, an amazing 90% have no paid staff, not to mention an estimated 150,000 further, non-registered organisations, also run by volunteers.

It’s not only the actual work these people do that matters, though. It’s also how they do it, according to research recently published by VSO (my current placement): by giving time for free to help a good cause, volunteers are expressing values of solidarity and citizenship that can prompt knock-on effects on others. As a headteacher in Nepal said, according to the research, “when the volunteer came to help, the [local community] think if someone can come to help us, we can help each other”. Continue reading “Giving time”