CONFERENCE PREVIEW: CAF's tough mission

John Plummer

This year's CAF conference aims to fuel the debate on how charities should face these tough times. It is, they say, a mission not impossible. John Plummer reports.

Shadow Chancellor Michael Howard, who is being touted as a successor to Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, heads an impressive list of speakers at the Charities Aid Foundation conference on November 13.

At the London event he is expected to discuss how the tax system could be improved to promote charitable giving. He is also likely to talk about Sixty Million Citizens, the Tories' consultation document that was launched in the summer. Its proposals include allowing Lottery players to decide how their money is spent and enabling community organisations to own under-used public sector assets such as parks and village halls.

Shelter director Adam Sampson, the former assistant prisons ombudsman, who Howard allegedly tried to sack while serving as Home Secretary in 1994, is the second of three keynote speakers. The homelessness director is expected to compare his experiences in the statutory and voluntary sectors. James Strachan, chairman of the Audit Commission and the RNID, is likely to focus on the financial and political pressures facing the voluntary sector in his keynote speech.

Around 500 delegates are expected to attend the conference, which has adopted the theme 'Mission tough, but not impossible', to address how charities can respond to the difficult economic climate. One response to the harsh financial environment is the merger, the pros and cons of which will be debated by Joanna Van Driel, executive director of fundraising and communications at the Terrence Higgins Trust; Susan Osborne, director of communications at Cancer Research UK; and Rosie Chapman, director of policy at the Charity Commission.

Van Driel, whose charity has undergone 11 mergers, will urge charities considering the option to consult thoroughly before reaching a decision.

"I support the idea of merger but people have to go into it with their eyes open," she says.

Cancer Research UK was formed last year following the most high-profile merger in the sector's history. Osborne says: "If you haven't been through the process you don't know what you are dealing with. Everybody thought it would be easy because we shared the same vision but there were differences of culture that we probably underestimated."

In a separate seminar Cathy Pharoah, director of research at CAF, will unveil new research on social enterprise based on case studies of four organisations over an 18-month period. "There is a lot of misunderstanding around social enterprise," she says. "We're concerned that there has been more interest in its economic returns rather than in its social returns. Voluntary organisations face a real challenge in trying to achieve both."

The Charities Bill, online fundraising and unlocking the potential in legacy fundraising, are among the other topics that will debated. There will also be the chance to hear about what is being done to promote philanthropy after the Giving Campaign ends in the spring next year.

In addition, delegates will have the opportunity to browse the stands of 25 exhibitors and visit the CAF cybercafe.

CAF chief executive Stephen Ainger says the conference will urge charities to get creative in beating the economic blues. "With an average increase of just 1.1 per cent in voluntary income over the past year and a 20 per cent drop in rent and investment income, charities are finding it difficult to balance the books," he says. "But, as the title of this conference suggests, while the economic conditions may be tough, delivery is not necessarily impossible."

KEY SEMINARS

Strategy Unit Review - has it given us what we want?

This seminar will present the official Government line on legislative timings of the Charities Bill and gives delegates the opportunity to debate its implications. Richard Weatherill, of the Active Community Unit, will reveal which recommendations will be implemented and when. Andrew Watt, head of policy at the Institute of Fundraising, and Ann Blackmore, head of policy at NCVO, are also among the speakers.

Legacies - how to access the hidden millions

Theresa Dauncey, director of the Legacy Promotion Campaign, will discuss the latest findings on this potentially lucrative source of fundraising.

Delegates will also hear of new research being undertaken in this field and hear from experts Stephen Pidgeon, chairman of Target Direct, and Professor Adrian Sargeant from Henley Management College, on examples of successful legacy techniques.

Top charity trends - who calls the tune for charities today?

CAF director of research Cathy Pharoah will draw on her organisation's recently published Charity Trends to discuss what is happening in the voluntary sector. It will look at the thorny issue of Government contracts, and whether they are a justifiable way of easing financial problems.

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