FAQs

1. What was the purpose of the Commission?
2. What has the Commission achieved since it started in mid-2013?
3. Who are the Commissioners?
4. What are the Commission’s recommendations for the voluntary sector?
5. What can I do in my own organisation to put an ageing society on the agenda?
6. What can funders do?
7. What should the government do about this?
8. Do you have recommendations for fundraising?
9. Do you make suggestions on volunteering?
10. Why focus on older people, and not young people?
11. What legacy does the Commission leave behind?
12. Where do your numbers come from (on the value of volunteering and donations from older people)?
13. Why are you so critical of charities?
14. Why was the focus on England?
15. How has the Commission been funded?

1. What was the purpose of the Commission?
The Commission was set up to put ageing on the agenda for the voluntary sector. Focused on England, the Commission has been providing strategic and long-term thinking about how best the sector can harness the potential of an ageing society and tackle the challenges in the coming decades. The private sector and even the public sector are ahead in their efforts to engage with and adapt to future demographic changes—it’s time for the voluntary sector to step up. The Commission has been funded by the national Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund and by Prudential.

2. What has the Commission achieved since it started in mid-2013?
Over the last 18 months, the Commission has been stimulating debate within the voluntary sector on the implications of our ageing society. We’ve conducted research into trends, developed our discussion paper with future scenarios to provoke new thinking, held ten events and spoke at more than 15 more, published a further five publications, 27 blogs and secured coverage in publications ranging from The Guardian and The Times, to the NHS’ Scalpel magazine and Mature Times.

3. Who are the Commissioners?
The Commission was chaired by Professor Lynne Berry OBE. Lynne was supported by an impressive group of Commissioners (see the full list here), with a wide range of perspectives and experiences—from age-focused charities to academia, fundraising to policy-making. An expert panel also advised the Commissioners and ensured the Commission’s work is rooted within the voluntary sector. NPC and ILC-UK provided the Secretariat for the Commission.

4. What are the Commission’s recommendations for the voluntary sector?
We outline a number of recommendations for charity leaders and trustees, voluntary sector bodies, trusts, foundations and philanthropists, researchers and media organisations in our final report: Decision time: Will the voluntary sector embrace the age of opportunity? These are informed by our research and by 18 months of consultation with the voluntary sector.
• Charities should lead the charge to combat ageism—starting with their own practices. Fundraising material showing old people as lonely or needy may alienate potential supporters; limiting highly-skilled older volunteers to unskilled tasks may push them away altogether.
• Charities should not ignore the ‘forgotten middle’—middle-aged people confronting the stresses of the ‘rush hour of life’. These are the supporters of the future, but who feel charities offer little support to them
• Charities should plan and prepare for the changes in policy towards annuities, many of which come in on 1 April 2015. It is estimated that £5bn may be drawn down in the first three months alone, and the report argues both that charities have a role in giving advice to stop mis-selling but also to ensure that some of this money reaches the good causes that retirees care about most.

5. What can I do in my own organisation to put an ageing society on the agenda?
Discuss with your board and senior management team as part of your risk management and forward planning (you can use this slide pack to aid discussions). We also suggest in Decision time that organisations audit their current activities and check for any age limits or ageist assumptions. We have also recommended that sector bodies including NCVO, NAVCA and ACEVO should actively develop and promote these agendas throughout their membership, including producing action packs to help their members respond.

6. What can funders do?
Funders have a role in supporting the sector to change, developing new ways of working that will ready us all for ageing. Getting ready for ageing will require work on core issues such as strategy, governance and staffing. Trusts and foundations should take a lead in supporting this capacity building and should also review their funding programmes to make sure they require organisations to consider the impacts of ageing. Funders and research bodies such as the Centre for Ageing Better should ensure that innovations are rigorously evaluated, so that we really know what works and what is cost-effective.

7. What should the government do about this?
It is for charities to step-up and adapt to the changing population. If they don’t do that, nothing will change. But government can help, by piloting new ways of working—possibly philanthropy advice for people drawing-down from their annuities, or care credits or tax breaks for volunteers. It’s also important to consider if it’s still appropriate for the Charities Act to include a reference to “need because of… age” in the definition of a charitable purpose.

8. Do you have recommendations for fundraising?
Yes. Baby boomers hitting retirement now are unlikely to settle for a static version of the ‘you give, we work’ system of fundraising. The more skilled and experienced the professional career, the more we can sensibly expect that donors will want more creative, reciprocal relationship with charities. We also suspect that causes will trump big brands, and charities might need to adapt to donors who will move their money elsewhere if they aren’t happy. For more, read our paper A better ask.

9. Do you make suggestions on volunteering?
Yes, and you can read more about our thoughts in this paper. In sum, we argue that the age of ‘little old ladies’ laying out the papers and making the tea is probably over—while some volunteers will always want simple tasks to help charities tick along, the future may resemble discrete high-skilled tasks commissioned from volunteers with the relevant skills, or more micro-volunteering from people who want to help but have more pressure on their time than ever before.

10. Why focus on older people, and not young people?
The Commission has not just been focused on older people, but instead on exploring how an ageing society affects the voluntary sector as a whole—including those organisations working with young people or across generations. What will the voluntary sector look like in 2033 in the context of an ageing society? What will be the impact of ageing on the beneficiaries we work with? What will it mean for our workforce and our volunteering and fundraising strategies? What steps can we take to adapt to this change? These are some of the big strategic questions the Commission has been exploring and engaging with the sector on.

11. What legacy does the Commission leave behind?
We hope that our work will prompt charities and funders to shift their thinking. As Martyn Lewis CBE, chair of NCVO and a speaker at our launch, puts it: ‘This initiative provides just the kickstart that the voluntary sector needs to embrace the demographic changes and opportunities ahead’.

Although the Commission formally comes to an end in March 2015, our Commissioners and expert advisors have committed themselves to continue to champion the issue of an ageing society and to encourage the sector to actor on the Commission’s recommendations. Both NPC and ILC-UK will of course be pursuing these agendas in their own work. Lastly, we are exploring with the Centre for Ageing Better and  the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at CASS—where our chair Lynne Berry is a professor—how they can take forward our suggestions in their work.

12. Where do your numbers come from (on value of volunteering and donations from older people)?
The calculations take into account the increased population of people over 65 projected by the ONS, while assuming that rates of volunteering and donations stay the same as they are today. This may be too optimistic—as our report highlights, much of this could be at risk if the sector does not get its act together. On the other hand, if the sector does respond, it could increase the rate of volunteering and donations from older people further in the future—so the benefits could be even greater. The exact calculations can be found in our working papers on the value of older people volunteering and the value of donations.

13. Why are you so critical of charities?
We are very ambitious for the charity sector, and its funders, because they are so important yet so under-prepared for the ageing society—in most cases considerably behind the private and public sectors. Yes, some charities innovate, but we found little evidence that the sort of strategic thinking needed was underway. Of course we understand the pressures on charities that in many cases limit their ability to think and plan too far ahead, but we feel that the sector needs a shock to the system if it going to start thinking seriously about maximising the potential of generational change in the next 20 years, and we hope the work of the Commission and final report contributes to that.

14. Why was the focus on England? 
Our funding meant that we needed to limit the geographic scope of the Commission. We have been in touch with colleagues in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to offer our support should they be interested in establishing similar initiatives in their nations.

15. How has the Commission been funded?
The Commission has been funded by the national Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund and by Prudential.