It was heartening to see the Sutton Centre for the Voluntary Sector in south-west London organising an evening conference, called Making An Impact, exclusively for trustees of local charities. So often when I speak at charity events the hall is full of the salaried professionals from the sector.
I had been invited to give an upbeat speech looking at opportunities for local voluntary action, rather than focusing on the issues we face. Quite a challenge, because so much of the communication coming out of the Charity Commission emphasises to trustees their duties and responsibilities.
That was how Denise Crone, chair of Sutton CVS, began the conference, reminding trustees of their responsibilities as set out in the guidance CC3, The Essential Trustee: what you need to know, what you need to do. It's a daunting list and whenever I hear it presented I find myself wondering why people ever agree to volunteer to be charity trustees.
Jennie Chapman, a freelance fundraising consultant, adopted a much lighter tone with her "top 10 tips for funding bids". She told us that charities must offer people something in return for their money, but joked that you didn't need to go as far as the trustees of the Milan Cathedral Fund, who offered their donors "eternal salvation".
I enjoyed her distinction between "asking" and "earning", and the profound differences between relating to donors, funders, purchasers and consumers. There's no doubt that many more local charities are having to sell their services in different sorts of marketplace as opportunities to negotiate grant funding decline. Older trustees steeped in the "grant funding" tradition are struggling to turn their charities into social businesses.
Five years ago, whenever I asked an audience of trustees how many of their charities had Twitter and Facebook accounts and at least one promotional video on YouTube, it was rare for more than a quarter of the people in the room to put their hands up. Now three-quarters of those in the room in Sutton answered "yes". Kate White, superhighways manager at Impact Aloud, which helps smaller community and volunteer organisations to make use of technology, inspired us to move to the next level of communication by introducing the audience to Hootlet, Storify, Periscope, Animoto, PowToon and Magisto. It is a challenge to get local charities to use the next generation of less familiar social media tools.
I urged trustees to put one trustee in charge of developing a social media strategy. There are lots of communications and IT graduates looking for internships with charities as a way of building up their CVs.
Social value act
I used my place on the platform to encourage trustees to learn about the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 and to press local commissioners to implement it. In Sutton, there has already been exceptional progress. Susanna Bennett, chief executive of Sutton CVS, told us about the borough council's Development Assets Framework, which she said "gives the voluntary sector a clear way of demonstrating social value". It is rare in my experience for local trustees to get this sort of learning opportunity. Sutton CVS's approach to trustee support is exemplary.
Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser