Financial capability: are we focusing on the wrong sort of behaviour change?

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 16.23.07 copyIdeas to Impact working in partnership with Vista, CALS and the WEA undertook an evaluation of workshops for older people funded through the Money Advice Service What Works? programme.  The full report is downloadable on the Vista Leading the Agenda webpage or the Money Advice Service Evidence Hub.

The research originally intended to answer the question:

Is support around money management more effective when delivered within the wider context of older people’s lives than solely focusing on money knowledge and skills? 

We ran into some methodological and practical issues in relation to recruitment of participants, and despite reaching some of the most socially and economically excluded people in the country, in particular older Asian women living in the most deprived wards in Leicester, MAS asked us to stop the project before we had completed the evaluation, although we did have 163 survey responses and had run two focus groups from which the results below come.  The issues and implications around the practicalities of running evaluations in the VCS will be covered in a blog post to follow shortly.  In the meantime this post focuses on one of the key issues to emerge from the project.

Does financial capability training and support lead to financial behaviour change?

A report commissioned by MAS, Financial capability and wellbeing[1] states, “behavioural economists report that most individuals do not behave rationally and predictably, when it comes to spending money. Even though an individual may be financially literate, this same individual may behave in an irrational financial manner”.  The paper Financial Literacy, Financial Education and Downstream Financial Behaviors[2] describes a meta-analysis of financial capability interventions and concluded, “Our meta-analysis revealed that financial education interventions studied explained only about 0.1% of the variance in the financial behaviours studied, with even weaker average effects of interventions directed at low-income rather than general population samples”.

Much of the existing literature around financial effectiveness and behaviour change talks as if it were a given that people’s financial goals are paramount in their decision making, as opposed to people deciding not to act in their financial best interests because something else is more important to them. Behaviour change techniques such as goal setting, regulation, social pressure, and rewards are suggested, but no number of techniques focused around financial capability are going to be effective if it’s focusing on the wrong behaviour.

Some of the reasons that people in our project gave for less than logical financial behaviour included:

“My health is bad, if I don’t spend money on myself now my life is not worth living.”

“I don’t want to cause difficulties in the family by asking my husband about money.”

“If I save for the future I won’t have much money now, and I still can’t save enough to make a difference in the future anyway, so I might as well enjoy it now instead of being poor now and poor in the future.”

“I find keeping track of money stressful and I don’t want to do something that causes me stress.”

“I do not use savings accounts because they are not Islamic.”

“I know direct debits are cheaper but putting money into a meter I know what I’m spending.”

“I stay with British Gas because I know they’re a good company.”

What does this mean for practice?

The statements above are all logical decisions in some way, it’s difficult to fault any of them, and yet we may still believe that there is a need to change financial behaviour.  This means and there is a need to look broader than financial capability knowledge and skills to change them, for example:

  • Running whole-family workshops, or workshops around financial capability that were targeted at how to talk to family about money perhaps depending on how good people’s relationships with their families are?
  • For the woman who was worried about cultural traditions and upsetting her husband, support needs to be focused around how she addresses this first.
  • For the man who feels he has to spend money or his life is not worth living, behaviour change could address how he could feel as though he could make his life worth living through activities that are low or no cost, or how improving his mental and emotional health might be key to reducing spending.

Of course, this will be no surprise to the agencies who are at the sharp end of supporting people day in and day out.  After all, money advice did used to be called debt counselling, and advice agencies supported people across a wider range of issues than “just” advice.  To some degree the change towards a more focused financial capability intervention and away from the broader issues was caused by a positive effort to stop advice being given by people who were well meaning but legally-challenged, for example with the development of the Community Legal Service Quality Mark, which I was involved in developing on behalf of the advice sector with the now defunct Legal Services Commission (the Quality Mark is now the Advice Quality Standard).  On the other hand, commissioning of advice services has become more restrictive and it is often difficult to find grant funding for advice, so it has also divorced many advice services from being able to take a more holistic approach.

Call to action

What can be done?  None of this is rocket science, many organisations are already doing this, but there may be opportunities for further partnerships:

  • For advice agencies getting out into the community to deliver advice in conjunction with other organisations.  This will also help with the need that many participants expressed to have support on an ongoing basis rather than as a short term intervention.
  • For community organisations inviting advice services into your organisations and looking at joint funding bids.
  • For funders and commissioners – recognise the important role that advice plays in communities, but also that this will be a revolving door or have reduced impact without addressing the broader issues that people face.
  • For all, consider how your practice captures the range of factors that people might use when financial decision making and equip your staff with the knowledge and skills for effective behaviour change.

[1] Money Advice Service (2015) Financial Literacy, Financial Education and Downstream Financial Behaviors, available from

[2] Fernandes et al (2013) Financial Literacy, Financial Education and Downstream Financial Behaviors, available from

How can you involve volunteers successfully in developing and delivering your strategy?

Volunteering image

The involvement of volunteers can be the difference between success and failure of your mission, but doing this effectively is an area in which some organisations struggle.  Based on experience as an Investing in Volunteers assessor, this post sets out what some of the common problems are, what volunteers bring to delivering the organisation’s objectives, and some suggestions about the practicalities of involving volunteers successfully.

Investing in Volunteers standard

There are various practices in Investing in Volunteers that address involvement of volunteers in strategy, including:

  • 1.1 The organisation has a written policy on volunteer involvement that sets out the organisation’s values for volunteer involvement and highlights the need for procedures for managing volunteers, based on principles of equality and diversity.
  • 1.3 People at all levels of the organisation have been informed of, and can articulate the organisation’s reasons for involving volunteers and the benefits to volunteers.
  • 2.4 The organisation’s annual plan includes objectives for volunteer involvement which are reviewed regularly.
  • 8.4 Volunteers are asked for feedback about their role and their involvement with the organisation.
  • 9.2 Volunteers have an opportunity to make known their views about the organisation’s work, including its policies and procedures, and to participate in decision making.

Common gaps in involvement

These include:

  • Strategies and plans mentioning volunteers but only as an input or resource and not including them in the outcomes / objectives / action planning sections.
  • Not mentioning volunteers at all.
  • Not involving volunteers in the review of services or development of plans.
  • Not being clear with volunteers and staff what volunteers contribute to delivering the strategy.
  • Not providing the systems, structures or resources necessary for volunteers to undertake their roles, including not linking volunteer managers sufficiently into management structures.
  • Not involving volunteers or volunteering measurements in reviewing progress.
  • Not linking volunteer managers into the planning process.

Being clear about what volunteers contribute

When asked what volunteers bring to organisations, as well as the obvious added capacity, common answers are:

  • A range of skills, knowledge and experience to deliver the strategy that the organisation wouldn’t otherwise have, from life and professional perspectives.
  • Connections to the local community, geographically or specific groups of people to broaden an organisation’s reach and help beneficiaries feel the organisation is “for them”.
  • Bringing a wider range of voices into the organisation to provide fresh ideas or challenge to existing practice to help with innovation and developments.
  • Improving outcomes for beneficiaries.  Volunteers have the time to spend with clients to build relationships and to meet emotional needs see How can volunteering improve health outcomes? for more information about some research on this in the health field.
  • They are someone who interacts with clients “without a clipboard” as one service user said to me, who can focus on the client’s needs without a particular agenda.
  • Volunteers help beneficiaries to feel valued and important.  It is meaningful to service users that someone is giving their time freely rather than being paid to be there – to some this is an unknown concept.

How can organisations involve volunteers in strategy?

There are various steps that you can take, many the inverse of the gaps:

  • Involve volunteers in research about your beneficiaries’ needs and evaluation of your services. Volunteers can often be the people in your organisation with most time to speak to your service users and may be told things that staff do not get to hear.  They also provide a wider reach into your local community.  This can be through ensuring you have mechanisms to ask volunteers through to involving volunteers as community researchers with a specific role to find out what people need or think about your services.
  • Set up mechanisms to hear volunteers’ voices  For some this is about involving volunteers in existing staff structures such as team meetings or awaydays, for others it’s about having a volunteer steering or advisory group, or volunteer forum.
  • Enable volunteers to feed into the development of your plan. This may be by involving volunteers in a strategic planning or leadership group through to giving volunteers the opportunity to comment on a draft plan.  Let people know the contribution that volunteers have made to the plan and what has been adopted or rejected in the development of the plan.
  • Ensure that for every strategic objective in your plan you have identified whether and how volunteers contribute towards this. Make it clear in the plan what volunteers’ roles are and be specific about how it will be delivered and what resources are required to support delivery – some of the more detailed information may be in an action plan or service- or team-level plan.
  • Communicate inside and outside your organisation what volunteers bring. This can be through staff meetings, training, individual meetings, articles or case studies on your website, newsletter or intranet, social media, or any other mechanism you use to communicate.
  • Consider how volunteers delivering services relate to the governance of your organisation. You could involve service delivery volunteers as trustees, have a trustee/trustees on the board with specific responsibility for liaising with volunteers, make a volunteer steering group a part of the board structure, or hold shared meetings and activities.
  • Involve volunteers in the regular review of your strategy throughout the planning cycle.
  • Ensure that your volunteers are well managed and get training, support and recognition. Investing in Volunteers can help you to review your volunteering practice and highlight the voice of volunteers to identify what you do well and what you can improve.  You can get a free, no obligation quote.
  • Recognise the crucial role of volunteer managers. They are likely to have a huge amount of expertise in relation to what does and doesn’t work and are vital in working directly with the volunteers to ensure that your strategy is a success.

Ideas to Impact can help you with all aspects of the process of involving volunteers in your strategy: working with volunteers to get their views and ideas about what works, involving volunteers in the planning process, supporting setting up steering groups or volunteer forums, reviewing your existing processes to identify strengths and areas for improvement, writing policies and procedures, facilitating meetings, holding good practice workshops, and coaching and mentoring.  Get in touch for a discussion, contact details and form are at the bottom of each page on the main Ideas to Impact website.

How can volunteering improve health outcomes?

I was lucky yesterday have an opportunity to discuss volunteering in healthcare settings, primarily hospitals, with NCVO, NHS England, NHS Trusts, a Healthwatch and Investing in Volunteers assessors. In the NHS’s Five Year Forward View, increasing community engagement including through volunteering is one the aims (see chapter 2).  The purpose of the meeting was to look at how working towards and gaining Investing in Volunteers could help with this.

Organisations that have achieved the Investing in Volunteers quality award identify that it has had a positive impact on their volunteering programmes (see the Investing in Volunteers Impact Assessment downloadable from WCVA), but I wondered what the bigger picture was in terms of evidence about how volunteering helped to improve patients’ health outcomes.

So here are some of my thoughts after a quick review of the literature on the way home.  I look at:

  1. The type of support the volunteers provide
  2. How these help healthcare services to achieve their outcomes
  3. How Investing in Volunteers can help with this process.

It’s not intended to be exhaustive, it’s a fairly short train journey back to Market Harborough, but I think provides a case:

  1. For the value that volunteers bring to patient satisfaction and health outcomes; and,
  2. That properly resourcing and managing the volunteer management programme makes a difference to these outcomes.

What sort of support do volunteers provide?

Faulkner and Davies (2004) break down volunteering support into four categories – the interpretations and comments are mine:

  • Appraisal support that helps someone to think through the situation they are in, the impact on them, and how they might be able to deal with something, this could be counselling, but could be key worker / support worker roles.
  • Informational support is, as it says, providing information to someone and can also include referral.  This might include advice services in GP surgeries or social prescribing.
  • Instrumental support is practical help, this could include support to help people to leave hospital and return home, such as safety checks, getting food in, settling someone back at home, or may involve providing goods, services or financial help.
  • Emotional support that helps a person feel cared for, listened to, understood, this is typically provided by volunteers on wards, outpatients departments, clinics etc.

It is the power of volunteers to provide emotional support and why this is so important that I will focus on.  The impact of social isolation on health is well documented.  Hilary Cottam in a paper or excellent and thought provoking TED Talk  discusses how public services have become a series of transactions, but what is really transformation is the relationship between people – for example we know that the strength of the relationship between a therapist and a client is more important than the specific approach they take (De Haan, 2008).

Neuroscience helps with explanation: our brains are not optimally configured but have adapted over time and the different parts are not always working in harmony with each other.  The best model that we have is that of the triune or three part brain, a reptilian part that deals with instinctive behaviour, the mammalian brain that developed to care for our young that processes emotions, and the prefrontal cortex, the rational thought bit that we prize in the west.  Because of this Lewis et al point out, much of people’s brains are not “amenable to the pressure of argument and…much of one’s brain does not take orders” (2001: 33), instead identifying that changing how someone feels is a matter of tuning in to them at an emotional level, which has the ability to stablise and change their emotional state.  It is this that clinical staff often don’t have time for, but volunteers do.  Handy and Srinivasan (2004) highlight the important role of volunteers in reducing patients’ anxiety, which they identify is important in quality of care.  In addition, Hotchkiss et al cite research in America that “volunteers are more agreeable and extroverted than paid employees who performed the same jobs. This allows what otherwise might be an impersonal environment to become more personal and enhances patient satisfaction” which they theorise gives the organisation a “competitive advantage,” a notion that might be a bit strange (at least at the moment) to our NHS (2014: 1112).

In what ways can volunteers help healthcare services?

Hotchkiss et al (2014) identify a number of ways that volunteers can help hospitals or other services:

  • Improving health outcomes through the activities above – researchers identify that more work needs to be done directly to link volunteering to health outcomes (e.g. Naylor et al in a Kings Fund report state, “There is a striking lack of information about the scale or impact of volunteering in health and social care. Addressing this should be a priority.”(2013, viii)).  However, a picture is starting to emerge through some of the research cited in this article, and other initiatives such as social prescribing that are being developed (although these are not new, Faulkner (2004) evaluated a social prescribing type service in South Yorkshire in 2001-2).
  • Increasing capacity and helping out staff Both Jones (2004) and Handy and Srinivasan (2004) surveyed staff in hospitals and found that they rated volunteers’ support highly in helping with their workloads.  The latter found that providing personal care, providing support to patients and families in waiting rooms, clinics, support groups, and providing companionship and friendly visiting were most important for staff.
  • Delivering early intervention and prevention activities either in the hospital or in the community, including peer support provided by volunteers who have had similar experiences.
  • Providing positive messages about the health service to communities Jones (2004) identified that this can help to combat poor media coverage or poor general impressions, also suggesting that volunteers from diverse communities can help to increase social inclusion and community cohesion.
  • Reducing people’s stay in hospital through hospital to home schemes, providing support for people to leave hospital who are currently there because of the need for social care / support rather than for medical reasons.
  • Increasing donations to the hospital Handy and Srinivasan (2004) found that volunteers highly likely to donate to hospitals in fundraising campaigns as well as to be ambassadors into the general community.

Can Investing in Volunteers help to improve health outcomes?

Hopefully the case for involving volunteers in healthcare has been demonstrated, but what might the role of Investing in Volunteers be in improving both effectiveness and efficiency for hospitals?  Rogers et al (2016) investigated whether hospitals taking a cost-driven approach to volunteers (minimising costs) or a quality maximising approach (putting investment into volunteers) had any effect on patient satisfaction.  Their findings were that there was a positive relationship between good volunteer management and patient satisfaction.  Interestingly this related to volunteers opportunity and ability to perform, but had no impact on their motivation.  We know that Investing in Volunteers has been demonstrated through the impact assessment to improve volunteer management, so we could infer from this that Investing in Volunteers can help to get the best out of your volunteers, which will ultimately improve the outcomes identified above.

Other resources and developments

The Institute for Volunteering Research along with NAVSM has published Health check A practical guide to assessing the impact of volunteering in the NHS this discusses their work in a number of NHS Trusts across the country.

The Institute for Volunteering Research is also working with researchers in Canada to investigate the role of volunteering in helping people coming back home from hospital.


De Haan, E. (2008) Relational coaching. Chichester: John Wiley.

Faulkner, M., & Davies, S. (2005). “Social support in the healthcare setting: The role of volunteers” Health and Social Care in the Community, 13.

Handy, F., & Srinivasan, N. (2004) “Valuing volunteers: An economic evaluation of the net benefits of hospital volunteers” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 33

Hotchkiss, R., Unruh, L., and Fottler, M. (2014) “The Role, Measurement, and Impact of Volunteerism in Hospitals” in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 43(6)

Jones, H. (2004). Volunteering for health. Wales Council for Voluntary Action, Welsh Assembly Government. Available at

Lewis, T., Amini, F. and Lannon, R (2001). A general theory of love. New York: Vintage Books.

Naylor, C., Mundle, C., Weaks, L., Buck, D. (2013) Volunteering in health and care Securing a sustainable future, The Kings Fund, available from

Rogers, S., Jiang, K., Rogers, R. and Intindola, M. (2016) “Strategic Human Resource Management of Volunteers and the Link to Hospital Patient Satisfaction” in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 45(2)






The future of VCS infrastructure

One East Midlands front cover-page-001Regional VCS infrastructure organisation One East Midlands announced last year that it intended to close, following the closure of similar networks in the East, Yorkshire and Humber and the South East.  Ideas to Impact undertook an impact and legacy report for One East Midlands, which demonstrated that many people felt there was still a need for some sort of regional infrastructure, but a lack of resources to pay for it.  This isn’t just the case at a regional level, at a national and local level infrastructure organisations are also closing down.

Our research showed that people would miss One East Midlands, in fact one of our findings was that commissioners and other public sector respondents to our survey were the most likely to say that they would miss it.  There was also a concern that its closure would affect small to medium local VCS organisations more than larger organisations or national charities who have networks into influence through other means.

Hasn’t regional Government gone?

Although regional Government has “gone” – in reality there are still bodies for the VCS to connect with at a level above local authorities – we identified Local Enterprise Partnerships, the DCLG and BiS Midlands Growth Team, East Midlands Funders Forum, Public Health and NHS England, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, regional Cabinet Office presence with responsibility for the VCS, and East Midlands Councils, although many of these don’t follow “East Midlands” boundaries so we concluded that any future support needed to have fuzzy boundaries depending on need.  Our survey found that the top roles people identified for regional infrastructure were to:

  1. Support engagement with regional or sub-regional commissioners and decision makers and other bodies
  2. Build cross sector relationships and partnerships
  3. Coordinate tenders and funding applications for programmes that are above local level, e.g. two or more cities / counties.

Can’t local infrastructure do this?

In some cases, yes, but there was general agreement across all stakeholders that despite various national programmes, including ChangeUp, Capacitybuilders and the Big Lottery’s Transforming Local Infrastructure, that local infrastructure was still patchy both in terms of services provided and the quality.  There was also some distrust about local infrastructure “competing” with frontline providers for funds.  Ironically One East Midlands’ determination to remain a “pure” infrastructure organisation is one of the reasons given for them being so highly trusted, but it has meant finding funding has been more challenging.  There is funding out there for projects, but not for “being there,” which was valued by commissioners and funders in particular because of the relationships, knowledge and trust.  Many people told us that having Rachel Quinn there as Chief Executive was key to the organisation’s success.  However, having to continually chase bits of funding is exhausting, whatever type of organisation you are, particularly if there is no core there to support this work and when the national press then accuses you of spending too much on “administration”.

What are the challenges now for the VCS and its infrastructure?

Some of the issues that came up during our research included:

1. How to engage with devolution – the picture is still unclear but it’s important for the VCS to be involved with discussions, including transformation around health and social care.

2. Consortium development and bidding for larger tenders, e.g. Work Programme and Transforming Rehabilitation are examples of national Government programmes tendered across different city / county areas – there are consortia in some areas, for example Reaching People in LeicesterShire and Commsortia in Northamptonshire, but there is not coverage across the region – analysing what is likely to be tendered at what value and how the VCS will be able to respond is crucial.  At the same time the emergence of new VCS Consortia could create shifting sand for existing local infrastructure organisations.

3. The need for the VCS to be more coordinated in leading change, delivering services and demonstrating impact in specific areas of work – some of the Big Lottery programmes such as Talent Match or Ageing Better have encouraged the VCS to do this, giving one point of entry that makes it so much easier for the public sector and others to refer into services and understand the pattern of provision and puts the onus on the VCS to demonstrate its collective impact rather than this happening piecemeal.   This might be better done at a local level, but perhaps would be made easier by a mechanism to share ideas and good practice at a higher geographical level.  This is a change for many VCS infrastructure organisations who deliver services based on the demand of individual organisations – there will always be a need for this type of work but it’s not always easy to demonstrate how this meets local priority need or to measure the impact.

What happens next?  Ultimately, One East Midlands was created because the local VCS saw a need and created it.  Something similar may happen again; there a lot of great people around who are strategic and good at networking.  The sector works by identifying a need and developing something to meet it – but these are challenging times that require us all to remember to look outward and not inward to identify how we can support each other.

Becky Nixon, Director of Ideas to Impact, has worked for 20 years in national infrastructure (National Homeless Alliance, now Homeless Link, and Advice Services Alliance), regional infrastructure (Engage East Midlands now One East Midlands) and most recently as Deputy Chief Executive at Voluntary Action LeicesterShire.  Andy Robinson of Langton Brook Consultants also brought his extensive senior level public sector experience to the project.  See about us for more information.

Ideas to Impact carries out a range of consultancy to support the VCS and public sector through change, including consultations, research and evaluation, impact measurement, change management, organisational development and facilitation.  These are detailed on our services and support packages pages.