The #iwill Fund: will it or won't it?

12 January 2017 | By Cause4 staff

The £50m #iwill Fund was recently set up by Step Up to Serve and was made available in November 2016, with the aim to get 60% of 10-20 year olds involved in social action by 2020. This Seed Fund gives grants to create activities that will “transform the culture of community engagement”.1 Originally, £40m was provided by the Government and Big Lottery Fund, which was then topped up by £10m of match funding. The Fund was created to encourage a ‘new generation of givers’.

The campaign relies on partners to pledge their support by creating opportunities for social action to prepare school leavers for the professional environment.

Of course, these values are admirable, yet I can’t help but ask some critical questions, especially as this is another initiative in a long line of investment after projects like the National Citizens Service – so I ask, have we really seen value for money and have these projects worked?

Will the types of opportunity created lead to more positive social impact?

The Fund encourages organisations and schools to set up more opportunities for social action, but can the high quality of new opportunities be ensured? Projects seeking funding might be planned hastily, in a rush to apply to the Board for a chunk of the fund. I don’t think we know enough about what actually works. The #iwill Fund Leadership Board is developing a ‘Learning Hub’ to measure impact for effective investment, however, as highlighted by Caroline Fiennes, Director of Giving Evidence, impact measurement needs to be more valuable. Fiennes highlights that research itself should be evaluated instead of creating new research that will never be scrutinised.

How will decisions around fund allocation be made – will UK youth be represented on the Board?

Step Up to Serve will have its place on the Fund’s Leadership Board, with five young trustees. However, the FAQ’s state that Step Up “will not directly administer or distribute the funds. This will be done by Big Lottery Fund and by match-funders”.2 So whilst the founding organisation is technically being given a voice, it seems that this youth expert and its trustees hold little real authority in the decision-making process.

How can it be assumed that more opportunities will result in more participation. Will impact be closely monitored?

Creating opportunity does not necessarily translate as people grasping those opportunities. Of course, incorporating social action into school curricula (as pledged by some partners) can be an exception, and in my view a great way to ensure increased social action (if designed well). But this is the point, programmes need to be well-designed, and often organisations do not have the experience or track record to achieve this. Perhaps it would be wiser to invest in existing social action opportunities, or work towards systematic reforms e.g. by increasing paid voluntary leave for employees, or incorporating voluntary requirements into the national school curriculum.

Lastly, how do we know that partners will fulfil their pledges?

The pledges outlined are promising, albeit sometimes vague. The pledge guidance document states that organisations will have to provide updates about their progress every six months to be updated on their pledge pages and for the annual report. However, if the format of updates are not standardised it may be difficult to judge the quality of pledge outcomes against one another.

So I await the outcomes with great interest.

Initiatives such as these can add incredible value to the sector, but must be carefully designed and observed for impact. We can only hope that the allocation of such large resources will result in increased youth participation, and greater sharing of our time and resources to the projects that need them most, and that can achieve the most impact. By starting early, undoubtedly we create the environment for volunteering and philanthropy to be part of an individual’s career for the longer term.

1 http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/government-back-youth-social-action-projects-80m/policy-and-politics/article/1408560

2 http://www.iwill.org.uk/about-us/the-iwill-fund-frequently-asked-questions/?utm_campaign=199630_England%20November%202016%20news&utm_medium=email&utm_source=The%20Big%20Lottery%20Fund&Ref=email&dm_i=3V8D,4A1A,1AWLPE,DPCS,1

What do you think about the Fund? Can it live up to its ambitious objectives? Comment below, or tweet us at @OfficialCause4 to let us know what you think!

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