Ten Years of Giving Nation – lessons learned…

Today our annual Giving Nation Awards will celebrate 10 years of the programme.

Back in 2003 the Giving Nation programme had just completed our first year in schools as a project of the Giving Campaign – a three year initiative to increase the amount of charitable giving in the UK. By July our first awards event was at Number 11 Downing Street and had brand new pop act David Sneddon (first winner of ‘Fame Academy’) presenting awards to winning schools.

When we first started we had higher expectations of cultural impact than today: hoping to enrol youth culture icons and shining-example young people alongside schools and teachers: all in support of a stronger culture of giving among young people. We had a partnership with Smash Hits and got Popstars’ Liberty X and girl group Atomic Kitten supporting us, as well as features in Cosmogirl, TV Hits!, Sugar, Ellegirl and Bliss.

Those of you who know anything about PR know that such things don’t come cheap… even getting people to do things for free takes a lot of professional action. Thankfully at that time Gordon Brown was well as truly behind us so we could afford a few little luxuries…

David Sneddon, Liberty X, Atomic Kitten, Gordon Brown, Giving Nation… where are they now??

Speaking for us… the Giving Nation programme is going strong, in over 400 schools and 100 alternative education settings, but we did get a lot more tactical as the years progressed.

In moving to the Citizenship Foundation we took the decision to apply most of our energy to the education setting . This was not because we didn’t recognise the value of bringing other forces into play around young people, or trying to pull other levers of influence.

It was more because a small cause can only usually do one thing well: with relevance and impact.

We recognised that many charities were vigorously targeting young people to support them yet we were there on behalf of all charities, trying to promote charitable giving in general. That’s a bigger message and needs a different tactic.

We also wanted students to make the connection between voluntary social action and wider social issues, so that ‘giving’ wasn’t just something you did when approached, or made to feel guilty, but an expression of your wider desire to see a better world come into being. Giving, as such, is just one of the powers of the citizen who wants a fairer, more caring and more inclusive world.

This requires such a citizen to do a little more thinking about how the world works.

When we hit on the format of the Giving Nation Challenge we believe that we created a breakthrough. Instead of being ‘the asked’ the students become ‘the askers’. Through being entrusted with a small but significant amount of money they become a short-lived ‘mini-charity’ – working as a unit to consider how to make the world a better place. They then get to work under their own motivation and deliver a short-lived project trying to do the most they can for others.

The money is there to leverage more out of them, the students. They are prompted to add their skills, their imagination, their initiative and their best intentions for others to the money that has been put in their class’s hand.

In starting to bring their own unique additionality to the cash-in-hand students begin to see what they personally have got to offer. They recognise that although money goes a certain amount of the way, what the world also needs is some more of what is theirs to give. A determination to persist and stand up for what’s right. A cheerful optimism that everyone doing a small amount can amount to a big change… Hopefully that ‘fun’ and ‘fundraising’ go together: but for the main reason that they liberate our more positive side… our belief in living to the full, rather than getting bleak and despairing in the face of human need.

The kind of actions that schools now do because of Giving Nation shows that students have taken this seriously.

They may have learnt a few new skills – of organising, of communicating, of teamwork and leadership etc. They will also have done a bit of investigating into why people end up in need. Asking bigger social questions rather than looking for a quick-fix to long-term problems. They will probably have encountered people different from them; who may have been victims of circumstances, or trying to make the most of life with less innate ability.

And some will have discovered a more profound side to human nature: that one way that we discover what we have got, and what is ours to use as powerfully and productively as we would like, is to give to others what they don’t have themselves. When we do that giving, we also discover that we are richer than we thought. We take what we’ve got less for granted. We connect our empathy to our capabilities and uncover a power that can change the world.

And maybe also, because of Giving Nation more people recognise that the value of our education should not simply be measured by what we manage to accumulate for ourselves in later life, but also by what we manage to put back into the world around us. How we become players in the balance of life.

Because as most people get older they recognise that one vital gauge of our satisfaction and achievements in life is in what we leave behind, not just what we accumulate. And that nearly always includes what we made happen for others.

We may also recognise in retrospect that one way that we find hope in this world is in discovering that we have within our grasp the power to change it.

If schools are also making that deeper life lesson a reality for students then we can more reasonably say as a nation that we have done a proper job of education.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

About Andy Thornton

Andy Thornton has been our Chief Executive since September 2010. He joined us in 2005, after three years at the Giving Campaign where he initiated their youth programme, Giving Nation. Giving Nation and the primary school version Go Givers are now both Citizenship Foundation programmes supporting young people’s informed engagement with charities and community action while at school.

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