Government has failed to make a strong case for giving
The white paper on giving fails to explain why people should give their time and money and why it is so crucial
The government’s Giving White Paper was released last week. While it contains some good initiatives and ideas, it also raises some serious issues that threaten the government’s vision of a ‘step change’ in giving.
Human motivations trump tax incentives and reciprocity
The white paper misses the opportunity to state the very real, very human, case for giving and lacks a compelling case for why people should give their time and money. There is much evidence on what motivates people to give, and on the benefits that result, for individuals and for communities, from giving but the link between giving and need, or supply and demand perhaps, is missing. A key part of the Pathways through Participation project , a partnership project between NCVO, the Institute of Volunteering Research and Involve that I am a researcher for, is about what motivates, and prevents, people from getting involved in their communities. We’ve found that people give time and money for many reasons. Often it is driven by need – a lack of something that they want to help address. They also get involved because they want to help other people who may be vulnerable or less fortunate. And we can’t forget the more explicitly instrumental reasons people have for giving time to volunteer: to protect their local area from change, to meet like-minded people, make friends and develop new skills or interests.
The white paper misses all this. Instead, it argues that giving will be made compelling through tax incentives, reciprocal models of giving (eg time banks and credits), match funding and ‘new social norms’ that will grow and spread through ministers ‘leading by example’ and the citizen service for young people. None of these measures tap into the main reasons cited above that people offer the gift of time and money, and it is difficult to envisage how they will result in the step change the white paper states it wants to see.
A national campaign demonstrating the impact of giving – for individuals and communities – is one potential way to make this important link, and a Better Asking Campaign, as recommended by NCVO’s Funding Commission. The government could also make better use of positive stories and testimonials from people who have benefited from gifts of time and money, and from people who have given and benefited from it. They could encourage people who are already participating to tell their family, friends, colleagues and neighbours, and invite them along to see what it’s about: the power of ‘the ask’ is well documented in research on why people get involved.
Micro-volunteering: a panacea?
The white paper acknowledges that people face barriers to giving both time and money, and there is a welcome shift in tone from the Giving Green paper regarding these issues. The Paper offers three proposals for tackling barriers: new opportunities to give as part of everyday life; better information on opportunities to give, and removing/reducing bureaucratic obstacles to giving.
Giving time flexibly appears to be the main way in which the gargantuan barrier of not having enough time to volunteer, or money to do so is addressed. While micro-volunteering initiatives such as Slivers of Time may work for people who are already interested in volunteering, they are unlikely to tackle the hard-core of people who are too busy and stressed juggling full time work and/or caring responsibilities. Research indicates that people who currently don’t volunteer would be willing to, but when Britons work some of the longest hours in Europe, for many of these willing potential volunteers, good intentions may not translate into tangible actions. Giving more encouragement to employers to support employees to take time off for voluntary activity would be one way around this, and is something recommended in the recent Big Society Commission report from ACEVO.
Schemes such as Slivers of Time, and others, should therefore be viewed as a very welcome ‘as well as’ rather than a catch-all solution, not least because there is currently little evidence on the impact/effectiveness of micro-volunteering – the government has put a lot of faith in an exciting but relatively niche market.
What does the government want? How will they/we know if we get there?
The white paper calls for a step change in giving, without stating what this step change might look like. Without a clearer vision of what they are aiming for, it will be impossible to gauge the ‘step change’, especially given the movement away from meaningful data collection on levels of, and attitudes towards, civic and civil participation, and the distaste for evaluation in the current administration, as the programme manager of the Community Organisers programme laments in a recent blog. The question that goes straight to the heart of the paper is, how will we know when we’ve got there?
Ellie Brodie is a researcher at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations
- Voluntary sector network blog