Today's nonprofit hero is Caroline Lucas - Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion, Donorfy's home turf.
Caroline served as leader of the Green Party of England and Wales from 2008 to 2012. And from 1999-2010 she served as one of the Party's first MEPs and represented the South East region until becoming the UK's first Green MP in 2010. She achieved re-election as an MP in 2015 and 2017 with an increased majority.
We caught up with Caroline to ask her about her own experience with the charity sector and how charities might work more effectively with their elected officers.
What was your first job?
Working in the kitchens of a care home.
Why and how did you get into politics?
I first became involved with the Green Party after reading Seeing Green by Jonathan Porritt. I had been involved with a number of issues and groups before that, e.g. CND, the environment, women’s groups etc, but I hadn’t made the connections between them. What Seeing Green allowed me to see was how, in Green politics, there was a coherent political response which addressed all of them.
What’s the Green position on the role of the government in relation to the third sector?
Without the work of the charity sector in Britain our country would be in a terrible state, but the amazing work being done is no replacement for the Government building an economy that provides for everyone.
A stark example is the work of food banks. There's no doubt that without food banks many more families would be going hungry, but the fact is that the Government should be ensuring that no one actually needs food handouts in the first place.
And what about charities’ roles in influencing government? You have called for a repeal of the lobbying act, presumably on the basis that it stifles charities’ participation in the political process?
The restrictions placed on charities by the Lobbying Act are utterly appalling. Charities must be free to lobby political parties and seek to influence the debate - they are a vital part of the political process.
What advice do you have for charities who want to get heard in Westminster / Holyrood / Stormont?
My main advice is to give MPs simple actions that they can take to help you. MPs spend so much of their time hearing from extremely important causes, and meeting those who need their help. The best way to get your voice heard is to have specific ways for an MP to help you. Similarly MPs love short, accurate briefings. Try to keep written briefings to key facts, backed up with evidence - they’re much more likely to be read and used that way.
Charities come under a lot of pressure - Chief Exec pay, expensive offices in London, over-aggressive fundraising. Is that fair?
Some criticisms of a few charities may be fair, but sometimes there does seem to be a coordinated attempt to undermine the work of the sector as a whole which is clearly unfair. Charities should always focus their resources on delivering on their aims - and the vast majority of them do exactly that. And let’s not forget that the corporate world is far more egregious on the issue of CEO pay, so that should be the real focus of our attention.
There are many good causes but if you were to highlight one charity worthy of our attention who would it be, and why?
I'm a huge fan of the Brighton Women's Centre. BWC has been supporting women in Brighton and Hove for over 40 years and women across Sussex since 2014. They empower women and reduce inequality by promoting independence in a safe, women-only space - and they do so with enormous creativity and imagination, and help change lives in a hugely powerful way.
Most businesses have unnecessary baggage: an office to which everyone has to travel every day, client meetings which need more travel, and so on. At Donorfy we decided to use technology to prevent unnecessary travel. It’s not perfect, but it has saved a ton of money, time and resources, and allowed more flexible work patterns. Would it help if more businesses worked that way, or are businesses in danger of missing something if we're not in a busy town centre?
Donorfy really is leading the way on this. Work in the 21st century doesn't have to follow the regimented pattern of the past - and it's great to see people embracing technology to minimise travel and save time & money. While I think interaction is important and sometimes necessary - I do believe that more businesses should follow Donorfy’s example.
With Brexit approaching, what do you see as the challenges and opportunities for UK charities?
To be completely honest it seems that Brexit provides more challenges than opportunities at the moment. I'm particularly worried about the effects of Brexit on our environment laws - and the risk that the work of charities and others over many years could be undermined. There's also the very real risk of economic downturn, which will pile even more pressure on charities who are already struggling to cope.
We’re a technology business but we have to remind ourselves that not everyone shares our passion for it! Are you a keen user of technology?
I'm certainly a big fan of technology - if not the most advanced user of it. Technology will be at the heart of any transition to a super low carbon economy - so Green politicians are very interested in new developments.
And our readers are always keen to know:
- PC or Mac?
- Is your smartphone an iPhone, Android, or other?
- What’s your favourite app?
Thanks Caroline for being our nonprofit hero!