Peter Lewis: Stimulating philanthropy with a clear ask can help the new London Mayor deliver his objectives

Guest Blog by Peter Lewis, CEO, Institute of Fundraising
Originally posted on UKFundraising

The new Mayor of , Sadiq Khan, has made a welcome commitment to be a Mayor for all Londoners, but he faces big challenges ahead: tackling the housing crisis, rising inequality, and air pollution levels, at the same time as cuts to services hit many of the most disadvantaged Londoners.

His formal powers and budgets are limited to key areas – primarily housing, transport, and policing – but with a huge mandate from London (the biggest personal electoral mandate in the UK in fact), and as the Mayor of one of the world’s greatest cities, he has the power to make a difference simply by bringing people together.

London’s voluntary and community organisations work tirelessly to make London a better place:

  • supporting homeless people;
  • campaigning to make London more cycle friendly while building the cycle lanes that make that a reality;
  • working with young Londoners to tackle knife and gun crime,
  • and simultaneously offering them real opportunities to contribute.

It’s often voluntary organisations who take responsibility for their own communities: highlighting areas that need improvement or working to on local solutions to reduce pollution, maintain the parks, and keep the youth clubs open and welcoming.

At the Institute of Fundraising we are doing just that and working with Cardboard Citizens on a production of Cathy Come Home, highlighting the issue of homelessness 50 years on from the original broadcast of Ken Loach’s film. How better to highlight that homelessness still has such a huge impact on our City than by getting those who have been directly impacted to perform this infamous story.

Yet the voluntary and community sector itself has been hit hard by cuts over the last few years. Many local authorities no longer have the discretionary budgets to offer the support to advice centres, youth clubs, drop in centres, or women’s refuges that they used to. A whole panoply of services has been reduced or ceased to exist. And still the voluntary sector spirit, the volunteers, the commitment to make the world a better place lives on.

Bringing the sectors together

This is where the Mayor could use his convening power to good effect. He could bring together London’s voluntary and community sector, London’s business sector, London’s trusts and foundations, and London’s statutory sector to identify key issues to be tackled together, and work through solutions to those problems.

With its expertise in the issues at hand, its ability to find creative solutions, and its enthusiasm for positive change, London’s voluntary and community sector should be a true partner to the Mayor, statutory and business sectors, to meet London’s key priorities.

What do businesses need? Businesses need their employees to be able to get quickly and easily to work. Businesses need their employees fit and healthy, without fear of crime or domestic violence. In other words, the voluntary sector, itself 7% of London’ s workforce, can help address problems that are concerns for the business sector as much as for anyone else. These are shared problems, and the sectors should come together to find shared solutions.

Business can bring its expertise, and employee volunteers, but it can also bring more financial support to tackle these shared issues. Charity Commission data shows corporate giving has dipped recently, from an already low contribution of just 3% of charitable income. And at the same time we know that many senior business people give generously to causes they care about, either directly or through dedicated intermediaries.

London and

London has taken some good steps in encouraging philanthropy recently – the Mayor’s Fund, Islington Giving, the City Philanthropy initiative, London United Way, London Community Foundation, to name but a few. Evidence shows that these kind of propositions do not displace funds for other causes – corporates and individuals still give separately to these – but add to them. But these initiatives are small and disjointed compared to Toronto’s Vital Signs, New York’s Community Foundation or Chicago’s United Way.

The Mayor should bring all these initiatives, and others, together; convene London’s business, statutory and voluntary sectors and agree clear priorities. He should support them to develop a truly London-wide initiative to raise funds for these priorities with clear, unambiguous propositions – perhaps one each year. The funds raised can then be put into action through the best and most appropriate organisations for the benefit of all Londoners.

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