Sometimes mother does know best

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on January 14th, 2011 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

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When it comes to political and nonprofit leaders coming up with interesting ideas, the United Kingdom is outshining its American child.  First, this past summer, Prime Minister David Cameron announced his intention to create a Big Society Bank.  (Just the name sends shivers up and down my spine!)  Initial funding for this bank – to the tune of  £350m to £400m (the equivalent of $544,519,104 to $622,307,547 in US dollars) – will come from bank accounts that have been dormant for at least 15 years.

But anyone is able to invest in the Big Society Bank.  In turn, beginning in April of this year, the Big Society Bank will provide grant funding to small, community based organizations and start-up organizations, with a mission to fight poverty.  To be eligible for a Big Society Bank grant, however, a charity will have to have first received a grant from a funder from within its community, ensuring, in the mind of the Bank’s creator, that a charity stays rooted in and tied to the local community it serves.  Though critics are wondering if this will ever get off the ground, the idea in and of itself scores one point for the motherland!

At the end of last year, Francis Maude, a member of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet, and former Chairman of the Conservative Party, made the proposal that people be allowed to “round up the pound” whenever they use an ATM or pay for a purchase with a credit card and the amount of the rounding up will be donated to charity.  (Apparently Maude also suggested that the wives of cabinet ministers write personal thank yous to large donors.  No one ever said Mother was perfect – except for mine, of course!)  This is not a unique idea, as Maude got the idea of rounding up the pound from Columbia and Mexico – so, kudos to them – where such a program already exists, and a number of other nonprofits and companies, such as The Pennies Foundation in the UK, allow people using a credit card in a store or on-line to add a bit extra to go to charity.  And several banks in this country allow people to round up for personal savings accounts, not charitable donations.  With his idea, Maude is proposing to get all of the financial companies that control ATMs and credit card payments to make rounding up the pound a system-wide option.  Score yet another for the motherland!

But perhaps my most favorite idea from across the pond comes from Sir Stephen Bubb, the CEO of the UK’s Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organizations.  He has just proposed that the bonuses bankers will receive this year – which is currently estimated to be about £7m (just under $11M – be taxed 50%.  And can you guess what he suggests be done with those tax dollars?  Yup, given to the Big Society Bank!  Brilliant – score a huge one for the motherland!

And in this country? What are the innovations our political, commercial and nonprofit leaders putting forth?  With one exception, nothing I’ve heard.  The new governor of Connecticut, Daniel Patrick Malloy, ran on a platform that included setting up a cabinet level position for and about nonprofits.  And one day before he was sworn in as Governor, he announced the appointment of Deborah Heinrich to fill that newly created cabinet position!  (An appointment that did not come without its grumbles, as people were quick to point out, and fairly, the tension between creating a new cabinet position and the need to tighten the State’s financial belt.)   I don’t know what is more exciting:  a politician who executes his campaign promises or the actual creation of this position.  Yet, it really is too early to rejoice; we must give Malloy, Heinrich and their supporters time to see what this position actually does.  But after Malloy, the American petrie dish of innovative ideas to support the work of our 1.9 million nonprofits who work each and every day to improve the quality of our individual and collective lives is empty.

Let’s hear it for the motherland.

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