About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

The newest strand of the Innovation in Giving Fund is looking for great ideas to increase volunteering.

In May 2011, the Government's Giving White Paper announced a range of measures to support new and better ways to enable the giving and exchange of time, assets, skills, resources and money, including the Innovation in Giving Fund.

"Our ambition is to stimulate a step change in giving... to make it easier and more compelling to give time and money... to give better support to the trailblazers and innovators," said Francis Maude Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General and Nick Hurd Minister for Civil Society.


The Innovation in Giving Fund has been designed to invest in, support and grow innovative ideas that will lead to more people giving and exchanging time, assets, skills, resources and money. 

These ideas will also have credible routes to being self-sustaining in the longer term. The Fund is managed by Nesta, the UK's Innovation Foundation.


Nesta, in partnership with NCVO, is running a strand of the fund that supports volunteer centres to develop and prototype innovations in giving. Volunteer centres have been an important part of the local giving landscape in many local areas for a long time. They are deeply embedded in the network of local voluntary and community organisations, have close links with councils and other public services, and provide an infrastructure and assets that connects volunteers to local volunteering opportunities.


In recent years the operating environment has changed dramatically. The financial crisis has led to significant cuts in the grants that support the majority of the work that volunteer centres do and other revenue streams are under pressure.  At the same time, we have seen the emergence of a host of innovations from outside volunteer centres that are seeking to transform the way that people volunteer their time, from technology platforms that match opportunities and availability, to new models of reciprocity like timebanking. 


We think that these pressures have created an urgent need for volunteer centres to innovate, both in what they do and the way that they do it. They need both new offers and new business models. 


Through this programme we are working with eight volunteer centres to grow and develop innovations to what they do and how they do it. The core aim of the programme is to help volunteer centres increase their impact and become more sustainable. The ultimate aim is to increase the number of people giving time to causes they care about in their local area. The programme aims to generate learning, insights and products that are replicable across, and of benefit to, the whole sector. 


Through the call for ideas we issued in December 2012 we were looking for volunteer centres that were innovating around five core areas:

  • Business giving/corporate social responsibility - for example developing new approaches to employer-supported volunteering and new ideas for more effectively leveraging the skills, time, money and other resources of local, regional or national businesses and corporates.  
  • Public services - for example new ideas for increasing the number of people who volunteer as part of the delivery of local public services.
  • Using technology - for example harnessing the potential of online platforms that connect people to opportunities to give, share or take action and platforms.
  • People defining their own volunteering opportunities - for example asset-based approaches that value the ideas and skills that volunteers can bring and involve people in the design and development of new kinds of volunteering, or new ways of using volunteers to contribute more powerfully to local economic, social or environmental challenges.
  • Volunteering to support specific groups - for example older people, people with mental health issues or excluded pupils.


Applications were assessed against five core criteria:


  1. Impact - the potential for significant impact at scale
  2. Innovation - which might mean applying an existing idea to a new context, a disruptive new application of technology or a wholly new idea
  3. Sustainability - articulating a vision which contributes to the sustainability of the volunteer centre while attracting new people into volunteering in new ways
  4. Capacity - senior leadership commitment (including from trustees), a strong team with skills and behaviours that positively support the innovation process, and a willing to devote sufficient resources to the programme
  5. Openness - a willingness to share experiences and learning to help establish a body of knowledge that can bring about a sustained change in the culture of giving and exchange


We selected eight projects to take part in the Programme.


The volunteer centre projects each aim to tackle a different social challenge facing their communities – from managing long term health conditions to creating an SMS text group to share local volunteering opportunities. Until December, the volunteer centres will work with Nesta to further develop and implement their ideas and take projects to scale.


The selected volunteer centre projects are:

  • 2D - are expanding their initial pilot for supporting people with long term health conditions into a variety of volunteer roles such as Expert Patients and Health Trainers. They will be recruiting GP patients and measuring the effect this has in contributing positively to their well-being.
  • Blackburn -The Community Hive is a reverse model of business giving, in which skilled volunteers will be able to find opportunities to support young local businesses. Businesses will return the giving pledge with a supported placement for an unemployed volunteer, offer training, a donation, or loan of equipment.
  • Blackpool - are building an online self-service platform, "Do-a-Bit" that will enable working-age people to complete bite-sized volunteering opportunities and keep a 'Volunteer Passport' to record achievements, learning and to make it easier to move between volunteering roles. They aim to increase the number of volunteer placements that they broker from 1000 to 1400 per year.   
  • Gateshead – will work with Gateshead Council to run community libraries with local volunteers.  The library volunteers will be trained to recruit and manage new volunteers, with satellite volunteer centres created to sustain the positive impact of the libraries.
  • Kirklees - will use group texting to advertise volunteering opportunities to registered users, of which there are already 1200. Volunteers will receive targeted texts with opportunities that match their expressed interests from their personal profile.
  • Leeds - working with HM Prison Leeds they will create and support an internal volunteer centre within the prison, run by prisoners. The idea is to help increase prisoners' employability skills, self-esteem and self-confidence, and at the same time reduce the chance of reoffending. Leeds Volunteer Centre will also support local organisations to develop relevant opportunities, reducing concerns about employing ex-prisoners and matching volunteers with business community mentors.
  • Lincolnshire - will work in partnership with Lincolnshire's Police and Crime Commissioner to design a new volunteer role for supporting the police. The idea will enable volunteers to have a greater impact on community safety.
  • Staffordshire - plan to develop a card that allows volunteers to access volunteer opportunities easily and instantly. Potential volunteers will register for the card online, pay a sliding scale fee and record and build up a personal giving profile.


The Volunteer Centre Programme started in April 2013 and will run for nine months until December 2013. Participating centres will receive:

  • Development funding - £50,000 for each centre to allow them to resource the time and work needed to focus on the programme.
  • Practical support to help grow innovations and their impact - this includes support from dedicated coaches who will help guide volunteer centres through the programme and help develop their ideas.
  • Access to workshops, events and peer-to-peer support.