'I had no idea what this award would mean for us until we won it'1
In 2010 CSV’s Volunteers in Child Protection project won the Overall Award at the Charity Awards. Sue Gwaspari, CSV’s director of part-time volunteering, outlines the impact that winning the Award has had on the organisation and the people it helps.
I had no idea what this award would mean for us until we won it.
It has been an interesting experience right from the start. In this speech I’ll take you through the journey, from the application and assessment, to the night of the Award and immediate aftermath, and the short-term effect and long-term effect.
When I became aware of the Award I thought, this was something we could do with because we needed someone to underwrite that what we are doing was safe, courageous and brave and that we are doing it in a positive way with good elements of leadership and management.
The application form
Filling in the form was quite a challenging experience. For some reason I thought it was quite a short form – it’s not - so I left it until the day before I went on holiday and then had to do it all in a day. That was interesting because I went through the whole thing from start to finish without interruptions. It’s a very rigorous form but very fair and does make you think about what you’re doing and why you’re doing them and makes you challenge yourself about how you’re going to portray your work to people who have never met you and don’t know anything about your work or your project.
It’s a really good opportunity to review and reflect on what we are actually achieving.
The assessment interview
Some time after we’d submitted the application we were invited to an assessment interview. I walked into this room to find 20 people sitting there in an arc, many of whom I did know and many more whose names I knew, and the first thing anyone said to me was ‘I hope you don’t feel intimidated’. At that point I decided to ditch the powerpoint and just speak. Mary Marsh, the then-chief executive of NSPCC, was on the judging panel and she wasn’t a fan of our project – a number of the larger children’s charities thought it was a step too far, a bit risky. But anyway I spoke and handed out the powerpoint afterward, and then was questioned and questioned and questioned until the chair said ‘I think this is enough’ and let me go. But that too was a very positive experience because it made me realise just how rigorous this process was and I knew then that if we were successful I’d feel pretty chuffed. When I left I thought ‘well that’s it, that’s probably the last I’ll hear’, but then not long afterward we did hear we’d been shortlisted, and that was uplifting.
The other thing about going to the assessment interview is that you can talk about your project to a lot of people who are extremely influential in the field: leaders of charities etc, and getting 20 people in a room who can’t escape from you either, that was a great opportunity.
So it was good to profile the work.
The Awards ceremony
The actual night itself was an amazing experience because you are in a room with hundreds of people – heads of charities, heads of industry, funders, people in education, all sorts of people who are interested in these Awards, and you see all these tables and you think ‘wow, this is exciting’. And you get to talk to people at your table and you have no idea whether you’ve won but you’re just enjoying yourself and glad to be there. We then won the category award for children and youth for our Volunteers in Child Protection project and at that point I thought ‘great’, I got to say four words on stage and went back to the table, at which point brandy was produced and I thought ‘OK, we’re done for the evening’ so I was happy to start on the brandy, having been slightly tense up to this point. Of course I had no concept, having heard all the other amazing shortlisted projects, that we would have a chance in hell of getting the Overall Award. But much to my amazement we did. That was a very exciting moment. You suddenly realise the lights are on and you’re trying to get to the stage without tripping over the cables and everyone’s applauding etc.
The night was a great experience in itself so it’s worth putting in for an award just to get to that gala dinner if you’re shortlisted.
The first thing I became aware of the next morning after I’d gone home in a taxi with these two awards was what a terrific morale boost it was for CSV’s staff. It was very quickly viralled around the organisation that we’d won these awards and it had an immediate effect on the people within the organisation.
What also happened pretty quickly was a tremendous amount of press coverage. So if you want to raise the profile of what you’re doing, this is an excellent way of doing it because the press are interested in this award, the press will be chasing you to get your story. So the increase in media attention is brilliant.
For us what was especially good was that this particular project was often considered by others to be a bit too risky – we were putting volunteers into families where there were children with a child protection plan and there were quite a few people, especially in children’s charities, that thought this is a step too far for volunteering. It’s a little bit risky, a little bit wacky, but we had evidence that we could do it, that we were doing it and getting very clear impact from it. We had evidence to show that we were changing the lives of children and families for the better. So to get this Award allayed some of the fears of some of the big children’s charities. It also encouraged lots of people to want to work with us and work with us in partnership which is incredibly positive.
The other exciting thing is that people want to give you money and that is something we’re all desperate for. So the funders see this award and think their money will be safe with our organisation because we’ve been through this rigorous process.
All of this was new to me, I was completely naïve about all that. But it has been a wonderful opportunity for us to get attention in the press, to get funders interested, to get new partners, and most important of all we’ve managed to get more local authorities interested in the work we do to enable us to help more children and families have a better life.
We were doing really well on that post the Award and then we got hit by the spending review and a lot of local authorities backpedalled a bit, but they’re coming back now and we’ve got probably 25 local authorities who are really keen to develop work with us. What’s great of course is that the evidence for this project will only increase as the years go on. What could have been considered a flash in the pan for a small number of families – in that we had children coming off child protection registers and staying off, not going into care, all the things we were saying to the Awards judges last year - has now gone up from 30 children to something like 140, and will go on year-on-year so actually the evidence is still coming and this Award is helping us to promote that. So to get more local authorities to open the door and let us in has been great. And I know that this Award has helped.
Towards the end of last year we had the opportunity to apply for a grant to the Department of Education to roll this project our nationally and they’ve given us two years’ funding to do that, again I think on the back of this Award. We also put in for funding for a parent mentoring scheme for families at a lower level of need than those in our Volunteers in Child Protection programme, and they’ve given us the money to roll that out in eight locations.
Because we’ve established a reputation that actually you can put volunteers into homes where there are multiple issues and various problems if you do it safely and sensibly and in a protective way, you can make a huge difference to the lives of those children. And it makes economic sense but more importantly it makes social sense because the lives of those families and children are improved.
For us the Award was given for Volunteers in Child Protection but it is part of CSV which is a national charity that’s been going for 50 years, and this was a tremendous boost to our retiring CEO who’s worked tirelessly for 50 years and has pushed the boundaries of volunteering. To be recognised a few months before her retirement was very important to her but it’s also good for us for the next 50 years because we’re going through huge changes with a new chief executive but we will be able to use this.
Somebody said to me ‘You won it in 2010 but somebody else will have it in 2011, you won’t be able to use it any more’. But oh no, once you’ve won it, it’s on your website, on your letterhead, the plaques are in our reception. We’ll always be the 2010 winner. If you go on to the Charity Awards website you can see all the past winners going back over the years. This is an award for life, not just for a year.
So we’ve got more volunteers coming to us wanting to volunteer, more local authorities wanting to work with us, actually the longer-term results of this I hope will go on and on. I’m just very grateful that we thought to put in for an Award and I’m even more grateful that our work was recognised - the resulting publicity and profile-raising has been terrific. So I would urge everyone to have a go. The process alone is worth doing even if you don’t win.