Monday, May 20, 2024

Whatever happened to Social Firms England?

When I first started working in the social economy (a time before the likes of Social Enterprise UK, Locality, and Unltd), there were already some well established bodies - including what become known as Social Firms UK.

It emerged in the 1990s, when there were a series of European funded programmes across the country that explored how businesses could create and sustain employment for people with a disability as part of their ongoing business model - at that time, a revolutionary concept.

And it its early years, it undertook pioneering research, lobbying, and policy work that's influenced the rules we see today that mean there's greater recognition and support in the workplace for people with disabilities; quality standards such as the disability confident employer; and also that bodies such as Social Enterprise UK now exist (Social Firms UK was one of its founding members).

Ultimately, it's responsible for the recognition that a legitimate purpose for any social enterprise is to create and sustain employment for people who find themselves disadvantaged and discriminated against in the labour market through no fault of their own or choosing (the 'social firm' model of social enterprise). It also amassed an enviable resource library of case studies, research, and guides, for any 'social firm'; were involved in some of the first national programmes to deliberately create social franchise models to help scale the reach and impact of the sector; and also developed one of the first national sector toolkits for reporting social impact.

But in recent years, its fortunes have waned - it launched its own accreditation standard, the Social Firms Star, which few enterprises adopted; and as part of the devolution agenda, separated itself into Social Firms England, Social Firms Scotland, and Social Firms Wales.

I realised recently that I'd not had anything land in my inbox from Social Firms England for a few months, so looked them up, only to find that it has been dissolved in March 2023 - with no announcement to their email list, social media pages, or any other media outlet. Looking at their last accounts, it seems that it had increasingly struggled financially to be able to maintain itself.

Across the other regions, Social Firms Scotland merged with SenScot (the Social Enterprise Network for Scotland) in 2021, although SenScot itself now seem to be struggling on the basis of their last filed accounts, and that their website domain is no longer is use?;

however Social Firms Wales still seems to be actively continuing to offer support to the social firms model of social enterprises.   

So I'm left wondering, whatever happened to Social Firms England - it was one of the pioneers of the modern landscape of the social enterprise ecosystem today, and also held a lot of valuable research, knowledge and learning that would still be of interest to individual ventures, as well as bodies looking to better support the sector as a whole.

Does anyone know where those resources may now reside, and why, unlike with other social enterprise infrastructure bodies, there was no announcement, reflection, or celebration of the impact it had had on the wider sector over its lifetime? 

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

How to give over £500m to charity as a freelancer

If we're honest, most of us would say that we'd like to do more to support charities and good causes in giving to them - and if we're being even more honest, then most of us would also admit to this being increasingly difficult to do with rising bills. For those of us who are freelancers/self-employed, this is also compounded by additional 'downward pressures' in what we're able to earn too...

But each year, the second Wednesday of May is marked by "give a days wages to charity day" - an attempt to help us be able to justify the act which we know will make us feel good, and also do good, but often struggle to do for the reasons above.

I started to mark this annual day a few years back, by asking my contacts across social media who they'd nominate to be the recipient of my "days wage" that year - and I've stuck with the Buddy Bag Foundation every year since.

Now - as a freelancer, it's not that straightforward to work out what a typical days' wage is, as our earnings fluctuate over the year, and what we 'earn' in income also has to cover our business' costs, so its not directly equivalent to our 'wage'.

But thanks to Creator Rights Alliance, we can easily work out what our equivalent salary is, based on our typical day rate charge to clients:

However, I've gone with taking my gross earnings from last year's tax return as my baseline to work out a days' equivalent.

Now, if you're doing this exercise yourself, you're probably thinking that while it may momentarily spark a warm glow in you, you quickly realise that a gift of that amount isn't going to make that much difference... 

But it can!

I've done more sums using the average freelancer day rate (thanks YunoJuno!), worked out what this would be as an annualised salary, then divided that by the number of working days in a year to work out the average day's salary that a freelancer earns; and multiplied this up by the number of freelancers in the UK (thanks ipse!).

This comes out to £410,032,540.

And if we remember to tick the gift aid box when we gift it, that means the charities can claim an additional 25% of our donation (£102,508,135) - which brings the total that freelancers could be giving to charity to a whopping £512,540,675*.

But it only works if we all do it.

Which is why I'm being very un-British in this post, and sharing with you all how much I'm giving to charity (today, at least).

One day's equivalent salary isn't that much when you work it out - but it can be transformative in the life of someone who can be supported because we've given it. And if we all do it...  

* for comparison, the last Children In Need fundraiser in 2023 raised £33.5 million, and so far this year, Comic Relief has raised about £40 million.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

is it too big?

Each year I publish an annual impact report on myself - and currently hold the world record for the most number of such, that have been created and shared consecutively (this years' marks the 18th year in a row that I've done it!).

And each year, I always share it with the invitation for people to tell me what it might leave them still wondering about, or what they might like to see added to it. This has led to it now containing case studies and more images.

But after 18 years, I'm finding myself starting to wonder - when is it 'enough'?

The first reporting I did on myself back in 2007 had only 3 numbers:

  1. what proportion of my travel was by non-car (public transport or bicycle);
  2. what proportion of my turnover had I re-invested into my ongoing CPD;
  3. what proportion of my supply chain purchases had been with the wider 'social economy' (co-ops, social enterprises, and charities).
These appeared on my website at the time, and each year I've sought to expand the scope of what and how I report. 

In 2014, I started to publish the report as a stand-alone document as part of my marketing materials for my business. It was 2 pages long.

In 2018, I expanded the framework to consider my impact against the UN's Global Sustainable Development Goals (something that didn't exist when I started doing this in 2007) - and it took the report to 6 pages.

This years report is now 25 pages! And if you look at any of them, you'll see that in most instances there's only 1 page that isn't crammed with information (the title page - and even then it's sometimes shared with starting to tell the stories of that year...). So it's not getting bigger because I'm getting fancier with graphics and page design. The framework, what's reported, etc really are getting that expansive from those first 3 numbers nearly 20 years ago (and it doesn't yet consider the 'cascade' impacts that are created by clients I support because of the work I do with them...). 

So my question now is - when is it 'enough'? As a sole trader. I don't have the dedicated resources that larger organisations do (salaried employees, department budgets, etc) to track and report on my impact, like they do - but at 25 pages, am I peaking? Or can/ should I take it further still?

At what point do we start to over report on our impact?