Hats off for Student RAG awards

This week saw the first national RAG awards, to celebrate the exceptional fundraising successes of students throughout the country.  Sponsored by Find, Invest, Grow (FIG) and RBS, the awards took place in Birmingham and saw prizes given in categories including ‘best event’, ‘best outreach’, ‘most innovative event’ and ‘RAG of the year’.

It’s good to see wide-scale recognition of some of the fundraising work undertaken by RAG societies – which are often well known for their off-the-wall, creative events, which have – particularly in recent years – been successful in raising large amounts of money for deserving causes.

Take Loughborough University for example, whose RAG events raise over £1.4 million throughout the year 2012/13 – equating to more than £65 per individual student.  In terms of percentage of income – if we work with the NUS figures whereby annual student income (from grants and loans) is £14,370  (of which £8,354 is spent on tuition fees, leaving £6,016) that would mean Loughborough students donated an average of almost 1.1% of income (minus tuition fees) to charity. Compare this to a UK-wide average of 0.4% amongst the working population, and Loughborough students aren’t doing too badly after all.

The other positive of RAG events and societies, is their ability to raise awareness of charities and the need to donate, and instil a culture of giving amongst our young people.

Breast Cancer Campaign maintain a list of the Top Ten RAGs, who have raised the most money for the charity. The University of Nottingham currently lead the table, having raised over £84,000.

And professional fundraisers probably have something to learn from RAG societies too.  Their innovative, inclusive events (RAG weeks generally do have ‘something for everyone’ – whether you want to hitchhike across Europe, take part in a bake-sale or hold a fancy-dress disco) show how, when donors have the opportunity to get personally involved in fundraising activities, they are more likely to donate more.

I do hope that the rise of the RAG will continue, with its omnipresent element of fun, and let our students and young people know that fundraising can be just that – fun.

Have you been involved in any creative RAG activities with your university?  We would love to hear your stories.

Focusing on people, not donkeys

Now I’m all for people making their own choices when it comes to charitable giving.  But that doesn’t mean to say that I don’t think that some of those choices might be better than others.

Whilst our Cause4 colleague Alice often writes about high-impact giving, I would add a bit of a stipulation to this – that the impact should be on humans.  Not that I have anything against animals, you understand.  Having spent the best part of my life as a vegetarian, I am all for animal welfare.  I only buy free-range eggs, and would encourage others to do the same.  But when it comes to charitable giving, I would only ever support human causes.

But whilst there are still people suffering in the world, I’m afraid the welfare of donkeys is not top of my priority list.  I wrote in a previous blog about how much I liked Christian Aid’s recent fundraising campaign – supporting people to thrive, not just survive.

Of course, sometimes the two are linked.  I would absolutely support a project helping communities rear chickens to provide eggs, and goats to provide milk, for example.

In 2012, the Donkey Sanctuary reported an income of £23 million, which Oxfam could have used to train 460,000 families to grow their own food.

I can’t help but be shocked that the Donkey Sanctuary reported a 2012 income of over £23 million.  And this is where I start to get on board with Alice’s point on impact measurement.  To put this into context:

According to Oxfam, £5 could pay for 24 buckets of clean water.  So £23 million could pay for 110 million buckets of clean water.  £50 could train a family to grow their own food.  So £23 million could train 460,000 families to grow their own food.

The Donkey Sanctuary claims that their work eases despair, agony and hopelessness around the world.  I’m not disputing this claim, and the charity itself is absolutely not to blame – its work is clearly popular, and why should it not benefit if people choose to support it?

But why do people persist in giving money to (pardon the pun) ‘fluffy’ causes? Especially when what many consider to be more pressing issues (domestic violence, human trafficking, people living below the poverty line) are ever present? Of course they have every right to choose, but personally at least, I think it’s a bizarre choice to make.  We would love to know your views.

How far is too far?

There’s nothing quite like a major publicity stunt to get people talking about an arguably relatively dormant topic (in certain circles, of course).  Last week saw six Greenpeace members scale London’s tallest building, the Shard, and it did get people talking.

And it worked. Most definitely, more people were talking about the problem of drilling for oil in the Arctic than were the previous week.  Or this week, for that matter.  So did Greenpeace achieve what they set out to achieve?  And was it worth it?

Well at first glance, with articles about the stunt in major national and international newspapers, and iconic images seen on screens around the world, resulting in more than 70,000 new sign-ups to the Arctic campaign, Greenpeace would most likely suggest that the climb was a roaring success.  And at least in the short term, they’re probably right.

But that sort of depends on what their ultimate goal was.  It’s great to get people signed-up to newsletters, and involved in campaigns, but unless those campaigns are likely to be taken seriously by Government and policy makers, as well as businesses themselves, then the sort of stunt undertaken last week is nothing more than a bit of early morning entertainment for a few surprised commuters.

It is, however, great to see charities take on the big, seemingly intractable problems, and Greenpeace certainly doesn’t suffer from the ‘futility thinking’ described in Alice’s recent blog.  Many charities would do well to take a leaf from their book (although remaining within the confines of the law is surely to be recommended). But for Greenpeace at least, I think there’s something to be said for achieving great things in slightly smaller steps, whether those steps are advocacy and lobbying, or stairs to the top of the Shard.

Two Charities are Better than One

Charity Choice, an online giving platform, has been in the news rather a lot recently.

Firstly because of the shock figures it published last week, which showed that over the five years to 2011/12, small charities experienced an 11 per cent decline in annual income. This statistic in itself is not necessarily shocking, until we understand the context, in which large charities saw a 31 per cent increase in annual income over the same period. The figures, drawn from data from Charity Financials and the Charity Commission, also showed that the top five per cent of charities were receiving 85 per cent of all charitable income.

Interesting stuff, indeed. But what to do? Charity Choice, rather than just publishing this data and sitting back to wait for the fall out, has offered some solutions. Namely, the launch of a free ‘charity twinning’ service, bringing small and large charities together to share fundraising knowledge and experience.

This service has so far brokered three pilot relationships, including between charity giant Macmillan Cancer Support and the rather smaller Hospice Aid UK. Lynda Thomas, director of fundraising at Macmillan Cancer Support, praised the initiative, saying “Charity twinning encourages us to take inspiration from a completely different source – a small charity – and, on the flip side, give something back to the charity community by sharing the wealth of experience we have here in the team.”

Charity Choice has helped to set up three pilot partnerships already, including between Macmillan Cancer Support and Hospice Aid UK, Alzheimer's Society and Hope for Children, and the Fairtrade Foundation and the Orangutan Land Trust.

Whilst the publication of this data from Charity Choice was undoubtedly well-timed to coincide with the official launch of its twinning programme, it is great to see such positive action being taken at a time when fundraising is harder than ever – and being embraced by large and small charities alike.

Here at Cause4, we have long advocated for the need for strong fundraisers – particularly timely given the recent launch of the Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy Fellowship programme. We are delighted that this need is being recognised – and think that large and small charities have a lot to learn from each other – from the basics in fundraising, to the adoption of a more entrepreneurial attitude.

Why do you think large charities are taking such a disproportionate share of charitable income? Do you think that twinning programmes will help to combat this and level the playing field? We would love to know your views.

SolarAid wins Google Global Impact Challenge

Last week saw the announcement of the winners of the Google Global Impact Challenge.  The Challenge was created to identify innovative projects in the UK using technology to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

The great thing about the Global Impact Challenge was how it also engaged the public by including an award for the voters’ favourite initiative.  This awareness-raising activity allowed the public to find out more about some great charities and innovative projects, and should help them achieve sustainability beyond the scope of their £500,000 winning.

So it was for all these reasons (and a few more personal ones, having spent a stint in rural East Africa with nothing but solar power myself), I was delighted to see our friends at SolarAid come out on top, and receive a grant of £500,000, as well as additional prizes including Chromebooks, and technical assistance from Google.

SolarAid is a pretty great charity which aims to eradicate the dangerous and polluting kerosene lamp from Africa by 2020, and replace it with safe, environmentally friendly, cost-effective solar lamps.

Steve Andrews, CEO of SolarAid, responded to their win, saying “We believe this is the start of something great here at SolarAid. We have already taken massive strides forward in the last 12 months and are confident that this additional project will be the catalyst for an even bigger impact next year.”  Indeed, £500,000 will allow SolarAid to move another 144,000 solar lights in Tanzania and create employment, training 400 school-leavers as solar-lights sellers.  Great news for SolarAid, as well as its beneficiaries across the globe.

And this isn’t the only great charity initiative Google has been involved in recently.  Indeed it is set to play host to the annual Third Sector Awards on 27 June.  These awards, sponsored by Deloitte, will see prizes under four categories; Most Admired Charity, Most Admired Chief Executive, Most Innovative Charity and Celebrity Charity Chamption.

We’re delighted to see major corporates noting the importance of innovation in the charity sector – and offering incentives in the form of such prestigious awards.  All the more prestigious because the winners are chosen by their own peers – Chief executives of charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises are all eligible to vote.

We applaud Google for its support of the sector, and look forward to finding out who will be crowned Most Innovative Charity in a couple of weeks time!

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