In 2011, the Office for Civil Society launched the Innovation in Giving Fund, a £10m pot to support organisations that develop new ideas to increase charitable giving and volunteering among the public.
Managed by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, the fund focused on giving in the broadest sense of the term, exploring how innovation could encourage people to give their time, skills and resources, as well as money, to the causes they cared about.
"We wanted to see how the charity sector could emulate the success of technology being used for commercial purposes in retail, banking and e-commerce," says Helen Goulden, director of the Public Services Lab, the innovation arm of Nesta.
From 2011 to 2014, the new fund gave grants of between £100,000 and £250,000 to 76 projects, Goulden says, of which about half were run by charities. Some of the projects have promoted new fundraising methods, such as giving through contactless cards (Chip In) or electronic charity boxes (Pennies). Others have been peer-support schemes that blurred the boundaries between donors and beneficiaries, such as Streetbank, which encourages people to share their skills and possessions with people in their local communities.
Goulden says several of the projects have been successful. She cites SharedLivesPlus, a network that encourages people to open their homes to older or disabled people who might otherwise live in care homes, and Spice, which operates a "time credit" model whereby people who volunteer for public services receive rewards such as theatre tickets. Pennies, the GoodGym and Chip In are also strong projects, she says (see "Nesta's Picks", below).
But what about the ideas that failed? Goulden says Nesta cut funding from a handful of projects where the idea wasn't working; in some cases, the projects ceased operating. One example she cites was the "family reciprocity" programme, run by the social enterprise Cool2Care, which encouraged the parents of disabled children to support one another rather than relying on professional carers. "In practice, parents did not want to do that," says Goulden.
Another project that did not perform as hoped was Care4Care, a scheme where volunteers were given credits for volunteering with older people that they could later exchange for care services to support themselves in old age. "There is a good initiative in Japan that does this, but here the team could not make it work," says Goulden. "Sometimes you haven't got the right people in place with the right skills."
With the fund fully invested as of last year, Nesta's efforts are now focused on the future. It is not known if the next government will launch another, similar fund – "Maybe it will if Nick Hurd comes back," jokes Goulden; but in any case, she believes the greatest need now is not for support for new ideas, but for existing ideas to be replicated, adopted and absorbed by the sector. "I would focus more on the skills and capabilities in charitable organisations, and on making sure that trustees have the right kind of appetite and skills to take advantage of what's out there," she says.
Case study: Pennies
The Pennies Foundation is cited by both Nesta and the Cabinet Office as one of the biggest success stories to come out of the Innovation in Giving Fund. Launched in November 2010, the charity encourages shoppers to round up the cost of their purchases to the nearest pound, giving the surplus to a charity of the retailer's choice. It received £50,000 in initial funding from Nesta, followed by a further £150,000 to invest in increasing the number of partnerships with retailers. It is now working with about 40 retailers, which have helped to secure about 17 million donations worth more than £3.5m over the past four years. "Pennies is brilliant because it is easy for people to understand," says Helen Goulden, director of Nesta's Public Services Lab. "If that was to really scale - and it is on a trajectory to do so - the new infrastructure it is building for giving would be quite significant."
Alison Hutchinson, chief executive of Pennies, says that 105 charities have received micro-donations so far. Any registered UK charity that wants to work with Pennies can get in touch through its website, she says. Charities including Barnardo's and Age UK have also installed the platform in their own shops in place of collection boxes.