Monday, 30 December 2013

Human Development Report 2013

Let's round off this year with a roundup of UNDP's Human Development Report. Have a happy, peaceful and prosperous new year!

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Picture Manipulation

If you're trying to cut back on the cost of your software, there are several alternatives to PhotoShop for image manipulation.

One of my previous clients, Mikron Theatre Company, recently mentioned their love of Pixlr.

I've previously mentioned Fotor, and GIMP is a well known freeware version of PhotoShop.

You can easily kit out your office with all the latest technology without spending a fortune. Excellent for creating flyers, posters and images for your website. Fun for volunteers to learn, too.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Integrating Value for Money

A very useful tool by BOND for Integrating Value for Money into the Programme Cycle (PDF). A quick and colourful checklist of questions to ask yourself about whether your project is delivering the best value for money that it can. This is a growing issue in both International Development and home-grown initiatives.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Microfinance Handbook by World Bank

Useful, interesting and free, The New Microfinance Handbook from The World Bank (PDF).

The objective of The New Microfinance Handbook is to provide a strategic guide to help assess the financial service needs of the poor and to determine how a diversified financial sector can address these needs. It takes a different approach from the original Microfinance Handbook. Rather than taking an 'institutional' perspective (supply driven), the book considers the clients and their needs (demand side) and how the market can better meet their needs first and foremost. The result is a book which is less of a 'how-to' guide but rather a description of financial markets and how they work, or do not work, in serving the needs of the poor - and what is needed to improve the market. The book aims to facilitate access to and usage of financial products and services that genuinely meet the many needs of the poor through various sustainable financial service providers.

If your organisation is working in the field of microfinance, it's a must-read.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Simple Guides to Social Media

Social media is confusing. Following on from my earlier post: Which social media to choose? I thought I'd share a couple of easy to follow guides I recently created for an organisation in Africa called Kivu Writers.

I've just helped them to set up their first Social Media accounts, and they needed instructions that their volunteers would be able to get to grips with.

It's also worth checking out my post on how to get a free website.

These guides really aren't exhaustive, but they try to impart the key things you need to know in order to use each platform. To get a sense of what I'm talking about, you can check out my examples via Kivu Writers' website/blog (also - clever, huh? Check out for completely free domain names), Facebook page and Twitter account

Or, if you'd just like someone to do it for you, check out my popular packages.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Charity Banking Status with Co-operative Bank

I've just been on the phone to The Co-operative, and thought I would update on some important information affecting community groups and charities who bank using the Community DirectPlus account:

  • There are currently no plans to review the £1million per annum free banking limit for charities
  • Your account is protected, the same as personal finances, up to £85,000

Therefore it still offers one of the best and most convenient nonprofit accounts on the UK market for small to medium-sized charities, and I'd still recommend it. The person I spoke to said that they would be continuing to uphold their ethical approach to banking - this part remains to be seen. However, in the absence of Triodos or Charity Bank driving to attract disaffected Co-operative account holders, we may as well wait it out.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Keep Co-op Ethical Campaign

Like all of their customers, I admit to feeling a little heartbroken by the recent spate of disasters that have hit The Co-operative Bank, an institution that made its name as the UK's ethical bank.

More than being a personal account holder, I have long steered my charity start-up clients towards the Co-op. The dodgy dealings of most high street banks, especially in relation to the arms trade, are all too apparent. It makes sense that charities, as engines for social equality, should want a banking system that reflects their values.

So, I feel let down not just for myself, but also for my clients.

It remains to be seen what will become of the Co-operative brand in terms of ethics. For the time being, they still offer, by far, the best deal for charity banking with regard to their free banking review limit and the convenience of being able to bank at your local post office. There is still an ethical checklist for opening an account with them... though this may seem a little hypocritical having just been taken over by hedge funds.

I'd love to be able to champion an alternative ethical bank, such as Triodos or Charity Bank, but given this wide open opportunity to sell themselves amongst a captive audience, their lack of promotional enthusiasm is itself unenthusing. After spending time staring at their websites, all I really want to know is: how do your accounts measure up against what I used to have? Especially in terms of charity banking. Eventually I'm sure I will get around to doing the research and reading the small print.

For the time being, I'm willing to fight for the bank I always used to be extremely proud to be a part of.

You can too, by joining:

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Views on Aid

With UK aid to India and South Africa due to end in 2015, the BBC have done a round up of opinions:

They range from everything including:

Billions that could be paying for medical operations, nurses, police and other forms of public welfare in the UK are essentially tossed into a void by the one government agency that has not had to become more efficient or make budget cuts.


Well-targeted and transparent international development can create jobs, increase tax collection and support a sustainable public sector. It is about ending aid dependency - in the end, that is the only sustainable route out of poverty. 

It is a little depressing to see that so many people miss the link between creating jobs and health care in other countries and a decline in all the things the Daily Mail likes to fear monger about in the UK: illegal immigration, benefit claims and health care fraud. Most people really do not wish to leave their homes and their families to risk drowning in the open ocean. The UK is cold, expensive and hostile to immigrants, it really isn't the utopia we like to think it is. People do this out of desperation, not because it's a holiday opportunity.

It is a complex issue, but the stats show that development is working, and we'd get a lot further faster if we weren't also selling cart loads of weapons to countries to maintain states of civil war or occupation. Anger at aid spending seems rather misdirected when you consider why developing countries are often in the state they are.

Let's not be under any illusion here. The UK and USA are not in massive financial difficulty because they overspent on international aid. If they cannot manage the money they already have, how will denying others a helping hand improve the situation at home?

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

PowerPoint Handouts

A nice WikiHow on How to Create Powerpoint Handouts. Useful for training sessions and professional development. However, I would suggest not colouring the background as this will take a heavy toll on your printer's ink costs. Black and white economy printing is absolutely fine, especially when you have lots of printing to do.

The other thing it doesn't explain is that you can remove slides by right clicking on them and selecting 'hide' in the main section of PowerPoint.

Then, when you go to print your handouts (MS hotkey: ALT+F for File, then P for Print), simply un-tick the box that says 'Print hidden slides'.

'Print hidden slides,' second tick box above OK

It's best to print to a PDF (using something like CutePDF) so that you can review it for errors before committing to the full printing process.

Also, don't forget to un-hide the slides before giving your presentation.

Another top tip is that if you choose three slides per page, this leaves enough space next to the slide images for people to write notes. 

Monday, 18 November 2013

BT Community Web Kit

Looking for a free website for your organisation?

Check out the BT Community Web Kit, it includes;

  • Free website hosting
  • Free website addresses
  • The choice of 8 templates with five or 15 colour themes depending on the template selected
    1 free format template
  • Enough space for unlimited pages and up to 500 pictures
  • Templates and colour options for all your content
  • An easy-to-use Page Editor or an HTML Editor if you’re technically minded
  • Free technical support
  • Welsh language options

If you do use this, please drop a comment below with a link to what you've created and a little bit about how easy you found it to use.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Headington Institute

Excellent resource site for aid workers, called the Headington Institute.

They offer a range of free online training modules, including:

  • Coping with travel and re-entry stress (also known as Re-Entry Syndrome/Reverse Culture Shock)
  • Stress and stress management for national staff
  • Self-care for family members of humanitarian workers
  • Understanding and coping with traumatic stress

Really worthwhile organisation, caring for humanitarian caregivers.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Whirlwind Tour of Development Data

I do love Hans Rosling.

I've posted before about World Peace, and how it's not all doom and gloom.

Though it's still hard to reconcile with the ever widening gap between rich and poor, even in the UK.

If we could crack that, we'd surely be flying. 

For more on Rosling, check out this BBC article.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Which Social Media?

Instead of making life more productive, social media can have a nasty habit of swallowing up all of your time and leaving people feeling stressy.

Something I encounter quite a bit are organisations that are trying to join every type of social media they can, because they're either worried about being left behind, or they're not sure what they actually need.

The main thing about Social Media that you mustn't forget, is that the whole point is to reach as many people as possible with the least amount of effort.

With that in mind, there's an awful lot of social media you can do without. Your entire strategy can pretty much rely on four key platforms:

  • Facebook: Get yourself a Facebook page rather than a group to begin with. A page is like a fan site. All people need to do to show their support is to 'like' you. With a group, people have to go through the process of joining. The benefit of a group is that people can start discussions, whereas a page is more of a mouthpiece for your news and information. My advice is to get the page sorted out first, then you can use it to advertise interest groups (i.e. for campaigns) later down the line when you want supporters to become more engaged. You can also use Facebook for fundraising.
  • Twitter: You really do want a twitter feed. Everybody's on it nowadays, and it's an excellent tool for getting your news and information out there, particularly to audiences you might not otherwise find.
  • YouTube: A media channel is always good to include. People engage with video in a way they don't engage with a wall of text. It's a great way to get your message across. Plus, uploading your videos to something like YouTube or Vimeo allows others to share them, and makes it easy to embed on your own social media.
  • Blog: Blogs are excellent ways of giving supporters a more in-depth glimpse of life in the trenches. It's also a fun way to involve volunteers, by getting them to contribute posts, artwork etc. Personally, I'm a fan of Blogger, as it's easy to set up and manage, plus you can now add static pages, so you could use it for both your website and your blog if you want to. WordPress is another favourite, though they do try to up-sell you if you want to add extras.

Those are The Big Four.

Before you sign up to everything, check whether you can get the same account name on each of your socmedia channels. This helps to maintain your brand, and makes it easier for people to find you.

What about Google+ and LinkedIn? You may ask. 

Well, they're examples of what to weigh up when you're putting together your social media strategy. Google+ hasn't really taken off massively, and I'd hazard that 99.9% of all people who have a Google+ account also have a Facebook account.

Do you really want to spend time posting in two separate places when you're unlikely to reach any new audiences?

LinkedIn is similar. It's a really good place to network and hunt for jobs as an industry professional, but it's not really somewhere that you would engage with your day-to-day supporters as an organisation.

Best to conserve your energy and focus on traditionally well-established platforms, at least to begin with.

Another thing that can help to take the load off is to schedule your social media posts. That way you can line them up once a week, or once a month. It's always good to pop in and re-tweet, or re-post content, but at least you know something will be posted even on days when you don't have the time to do that.

If you need a hand, I offer a Social Media Package.

Monday, 4 November 2013


I saw on a VolSec forum recently someone asking how Foursquare works. Here's a helpful (if sickly sweet) introduction. If you run a social enterprise or community centre, worth getting yourself listed.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Bad Business

Mr Hossen 

The unintentional effects of microcredit schemes in developing countries:

  • As of December 2011, more than 34 million Bangladeshis had accessed microcredit since 1997, when it began collecting data
  • Of those 34 million, more than 26 million live under the poverty line - on less than $1.25 a day
  • There are currently 20.65 million borrowers in Bangladesh
  • It is estimated the sector constitutes around 3% of GDP

These lenders were originally set up to help lift people out of poverty by offering small loans to people who do not qualify for traditional banking credit, to encourage entrepreneurship and empower women.

This is why I worry when Justin Greening starts explaining why we need to stop sending aid and set up businesses instead. Venture Philanthropy may sound like a shiny new word to fix the world's problems, but let's just evaluate what excessive lending has managed to achieve in our own countries - such as the UK - where the gap between rich and poor, the haves and the have-nots, is widening year on year. 

Governments have been able to slow the process, but not stop it. Taking an ideology we can't even manage ourselves into countries with people who don't have a basic level of education in order to understand or question the concepts we're pushing at them, is a really, really bad idea. In this instance, immoral.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Benefits Calculator

According to Turn2Us:

The UK has 13m in poverty - and £19bn in unclaimed benefits.

Check out their online calculator to see whether you or your members are eligible for additional help.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Skills Platform

Had a message about Skills Platform the other day. Looks like a great idea, both for organisations looking for training and assistance, and for consultants looking to give it.

The first version went live this week so you can register and find out more now, then be ready for full launch in December when the following features go live:

  • Your provider profile matched to user needs
  • Fully searchable in the best search engine in this sector
  • Go to market with a new service in less than 20 mins
  • Take bookings and payments without a penny invested in tech
  • Spin off your profile page into your own minisite in minutes...FOC
  • Test the market for services before you develop them
  • Free for users and no income no fee on providers' transactions

So far it's been more than two years in development with help from 500 people in charities, social enterprises and service providers. The Government even invested over £1m in it!

If you sell a service through them they will take 10% of the fee up to a maximum of £50. If you register before 2nd December 2013, that will be 5% up to £25 until 31st May 2013.

Thursday, 3 October 2013


Want to create some funky advertising logos or event flyers, but find PhotoShop expensive and hard to fathom?

Check out Fotor. Do lots of fun things with your photographs, slap on a QR code, and away you go. Advertising made easy. Something to keep your volunteers quiet for an afternoon.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Mocrosoft Corporate Citizenship

Website outlining how Microsoft technology can help your organisation. Scroll to the bottom and select the size of your organisation for tailored info.

Funds for NGOs also has some info on Microsoft's software grants to empower young people.

And there's a couple of previous post you might find useful on nonprofits and technology: CT Exchange and Charity Digital News.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Giftaid Online

Gift Aid it - Lowry Museum, Manchester

HMRC is reminding charities that from 1 October they must make Gift Aid repayment claims using the Charities Online service.

It has sent 126,000 letters to charities and Community Amateur Sports Clubs (CASCs) to let them know about the deadline. From that date they will not be able to use the old R68i claim form.

Gift Aid online was launhced five months ago. Since then, over 33,492 charities have registered to claim Gift Aid online.

Andrew Edwards, HMRC’s Head of Charities, said: "Using Charities Online to make a Gift Aid repayment claim is quicker and typically takes only three days, rather than the 26 days that it took using the R68(i) paper claim form. We worked with charities and developed the online service in response to their feedback.”

If for any reason a charity does not have access to the Internet, it will have to make claims on a new ChR1 paper form, available from the HMRC Charities Helpline on 0845 302 0203.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Limited Liability CIO Switch Over Update

Just thought I'd post this as it's something I've been looking into for clients and may be of use to the wider VolSec community in the UK.

As most are probably aware, the Charity Commission has come up with an alternative to registering with Companies House for limited liability. As of this year, they've been phasing in the option of registering a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO), which is meant to make administration easier. Instead of filing financial returns with Companies House and charity returns with the Charity Commission, you can now file everything with the Charity Commission. It also takes the Private Sector association out of limited liability.

Obvious gaping question you're left with as a charity consultant is: If small charities (under £5k a year) cannot apply to become CIOs until January 2014, but need limited liability status now, what should they do?

Companies House charge a nominal fee for closing a company. It's about a tenner. But I wanted to know whether a charity registering with Companies House now would need to pay to close their account there when they switched to the Charity Commission.

Surprisingly, I went through a couple of departments before anyone had the info on that. Turns out they knew quite a bit about Scottish CIOs (which have been going longer), but not a lot about English and Welsh ones.

Finally got a response from the very helpful Vernon Luxmikanthan: "I can confirm that there will be no charge payable to Companies House in order for an existing charitable company to convert to a CIO." He then went on to say: "I do not believe that the Charity Commission has any intention to charge for this either, however we are not able to confirm what another part of government intends to do and so to be sure you should contact the Charity Commission directly."

No, I haven't heard that they are either, but it's reassuring to know that communication in government remains at its usual standard...

Anyway, if you are a small charity wondering about this issue, my advice would probably be: If you can wait, wait. If you can't, go with Companies House and don't worry, you can switch over without a fee when the time comes.

Although, one slightly disturbing thing I did hear from one organisations was: "The Charity Commission aren't going to be so strict about late returns as Companies House, are they?"

Interesting perception.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Taking a Break

Hello everyone.

Taking a couple of weeks' break from blogging. I'll be back soon, but in the meantime you might like to check out the material already here. There's a word cloud to the right, or some of the popular subjects:

I'm still around if you need help with:

And if all else fails, have a laugh at the Friday Fun section.

You can also find me on Twitter: @ConsultantMGW

Back soon.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Project Smart

I recently mentioned Mind Tools, which is a huge online resource containing tool kits and training on improved project and people management.

Here's another one, it's called Project Smart. It contains a lot of similar themes, including Agile Project Management, Best Practice, Risk Management and lots more.

It's a bit Private Sector centric, but still worth a look.

Get over there and get improving!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Baghdad Ten Years On

Ruins of bombed Canal Hotel in Baghdad, 30 Aug 03 

It's been ten years since the UN offices in Baghdad were bombed. This is an interesting BBC article exploring the impact it has had on the UN's missions across the globe: How Baghdad attack put UN aid missions at risk

Friday, 6 September 2013

Kiva Meets Etsy

This is really interesting. 

Yesterday, I mentioned Kiva, which allows individuals to make microcredit loans to businesses in the developing world.

They have just announced that they're teaming up with Etsy, which is basically eBay for handcrafts.

They appear to be proposing microcredit loans through Kiva in order to build businesses which can sell their goods via Etsy.

Quite an impressive collaboration:
We’re thrilled to announce our partnership with Kiva, a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty.
The Etsy + Kiva partnership empowers artisans by
Providing financial support through Kiva’s services so they can start or grow independent businesses. 
Connecting them with Etsy’s global community and marketplace, and Etsy’s community with Kiva’s services and members.
You can support a creative entrepreneur by giving a loan on Kiva. By becoming a Trustee, you vouch for an artisan, enabling them to receive a loan. 
We invite you to join us in building the people-powered economy.

Find out more at their People-Powered Economy website.