About

Alison Body is a Lecturer in the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, and a member of the Centre for Philanthropy. Alison started her career in 2001 working in children and youth charities, specialising in early intervention services and advocating for children’s participation rights. Her experience includes leading a large children’s charity, strategic development of the third sector, fundraising and volunteer management. In 2008, she joined Kent County Council as a senior Commissioner of early intervention services. Driven by these experiences, she completed her PhD at Kent in 2016, exploring the relationship between children’s charities and the State. After working at Canterbury Christ Church University between 2015-2017 as a Faculty Director in the School of Childhood and Education Sciences, Alison joined the University of Kent in January 2019. 

Alison has written numerous research articles and reports exploring philanthropy and the third sector, particularly in relation to children, young people and education. Interested in the intersection between the third sector and state, publications cover topics such as youth participation, voluntary action in primary education, fundraising in schools, co-production of public services and children’s perceptions and experiences of charity and charitable giving. Her latest book, ‘Children and Charities: A Decade of Change’, explores the impact of austerity on children’s charities. 

Alison has formerly held multiple trustee positions within children’s charities and as a school governor. She is currently a Director of a voluntary organisation, Led by the Wild CiC, and a trustee of the Voluntary Sector Studies Network. 

Alison strongly believes in bringing together research and practice, and regularly speaks at charity sector, education and public-sector events. She contributes to discussions around state funding, philanthropy in public sector services and charitable giving, in a range of media outlets.  

Research interests

Alison’s research interests focus on philanthropy and the third sector, particularly in relation to children, young people and education.

She works within the Centre for Philanthropy, which explores philanthropic activities, social patterns of giving and the redistributive impact of transfers from private wealth to the public good. She also has an interest in the impact of philanthropy on public service provision, and how children and young people ‘learn to give’. 

Teaching

Alison teaches on the MA in Philanthropy, covering all topics relating to philanthropy, fundraising, volunteering and social research methods. 

Alison supervises Undergraduate and Masters dissertations on a range of topics, often related to charities, philanthropy and the voluntary sector. 

Supervision

Alison is particularly interested in PhD candidates who wish to explore the intersection between the state and third sector, philanthropy in public services, philanthropy in education and/or those who wish to research with children and young people. 

Publications

Article

  • Body, A., Lau, E. and Joanne, J. (2020). Engaging children in meaningful charity: Opening-up the spaces within which children learn to give. Children and Society [Online] 34:189-203. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/chso.12366.
    This paper presents qualitative evidence from an in-depth, participative action research project with 150 children aged 4-8 years old, exploring their experiences, perceptions and preferences regarding charitable giving. Most children positively engage in charitable giving through home, school and their community, however less than 20% are aware of the cause area they are being asked to support, and most have little decision-making in their giving. Children’s willingness to engage increases when they critically examine the cause area and are facilitated to lead on giving decisions, often resulting in increased and sustained efforts to support cause areas that matter to them.
  • Body, A. and Kendall, J. (2020). Expansive opportunity makers but selective opportunity takers? Positional agility and tactical social skill in English third sector social service. Journal of Civil Society [Online]. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17448689.2020.1719626.
    In a challenging climate of austerity policies, relationships between Third Sector Organisations (TSOs) and the State are often contentious, with great sophistication required to secure a reasonable degree of stability and continuity in services and relationships. This paper draws on data gathered through semi structured interviews with 23 CEOs of TSOs focused on children’s preventative services to explicate and exemplify the skills embodied in TSOs which allow them to navigate these complex situations relatively successfully. We draw on the concept of ‘social skill’ as developed in strategic action fields theory to frame an analysis of this data. We consider how TSOs have collectively helped shape the political and economic conditions under which they operate, and present a range of skilful tactics we associate with the concept of ‘positional agility’ which differentiate those organisations which are especially accomplished in navigating relationships and resources.
  • Body, A. (2019). The Commissioners Perspective: The Lived Realities of Commissioning Children’s Preventative Services in England and the Role of Discretion. Voluntary Sector Review [Online] 10:253-271. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1332/204080519X15718896711502.
    Commissioning remains the dominant process by which England’s state and third sector financial relationships are managed, attracting much criticism and debate. In response, the Civil Society Strategy (2018) has called for a renewed focus on collaborative commissioning arrangements. However, the absence of much comment on Commissioners suggests we have not paid enough attention to the role of the individuals who manage these processes. Semi-structured interviews with fifteen Commissioners, responsible for children’s preventative services provides new empirical evidence. Drawing on the notion of vertical discretion, that is an individual’s freedom from external control, versus horizontal discretion, that is an individuals’ freedom for decision-making this paper presents evidence on how Commissioners influence, and in some cases even circumvent, the commissioning process. Findings highlight that greater consideration of the role discretion in commissioning processes can add some insight into how more collaborative commissioning arrangements may be achieved at a local level.
  • Body, A. and Hogg, E. (2018). What mattered ten years on? Young people’s reflections on their involvement with a charitable youth participation project. Journal of Youth Studies [Online] 22:171-186. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/13676261.2018.1492101.
    Youth work in England is experiencing ongoing rapid and significant change, fuelling debate about its very function. This paper contributes to this debate by presenting original research on what young people themselves prioritised as significant in-service provision and highlights the longer-term impact that engagement with a voluntary sector organisation can have on the lives of vulnerable young people. Drawing on qualitative interviews with ten former youth participants involved in youth participation projects, the findings presented in this paper suggest that participants felt the support they received was, in many cases, ‘transformative’. However, they primarily defined their experiences and the impact through their relationships with individuals supporting them, through the sense of achievement and ability to effect change they developed and through finding a voice to affect community decisions.
  • Body, A., Holman, K. and Hogg, E. (2017). To Bridge the Gap? Voluntary Action in Primary Schools. Voluntary Sector Review [Online] 8:251-271. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1332/204080517X15090107362612.
    Voluntary action has long played a role in state education, with Parent Teacher Associations being one of the most common forms of charitable organisation in England. However, education policy, driven by a growing free-market discourse and policy initiatives such as localism, is increasingly pushing for greater voluntary action. This article explores the distribution of voluntary action for primary schools in one local authority area in England. Drawing upon primary data from 114 questionnaires completed by head teachers and secondary data from the financial records (2013/14) of 380 primary schools, we find evidence of considerable uneven dispersal of voluntary action between schools. These disparities are related to factors including school size, location, leadership ideology and the socio-economic profile of the school. The consequence of this uneven distribution is that schools catering for more affluent communities are more likely to have additional resources than those with poorer profiles.
  • Body, A. (2017). Fundraising for primary schools in England - Moving beyond the school gates. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing [Online] 22. Available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.1002/nvsm.1582.
    In response to depleting budgets and intensified performance pressures, primary schools are increasingly turning to fundraising as one mechanism for combatting ongoing challenges. Although research identifies that two-thirds of primary schools are actively trying to increase their fundraised income, some primary schools are significantly more successful in attracting additional funds than others, whilst many struggle to stimulate fundraising efforts 'beyond the school gates'. This article focuses on three case study schools, and the individuals tasked with the role of fundraising, which have each adopted different approaches in a successful attempt to increase their fundraised income. The findings propose that when primary schools pro-actively focus on their fundraising, invest in people both in terms of time and their skills, and create a positive fundraising narrative which embraces both the schools and local communities? needs, primary schools can succeed in attracting significant philanthropic support which can be transformative for the school community.
  • Body, A. and Breeze, B. (2016). What are ’unpopular causes’ and how can they achieve fundraising success?. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing [Online] 21:57-70. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/nvsm.1547.
    Recent efforts to grow and strengthen the culture of philanthropy in the UK have largely focused on two dimensions: the total amount of money donated and the effectiveness of philanthropic spending. This paper explores a third dimension: the destination and distribution of donations. A defining characteristic of charitable giving is that it is voluntary rather than coerced, and the resulting respect for donor autonomy makes people wary of promoting one cause above another or implying that any beneficiary group is more or less ‘worthy’ of support. However, the absence of much comment on, or significant research into, the destination of donations does not alter the fact that some groups succeed in attracting significant philanthropic funds whilst others struggle to secure many—or any—donations. This paper explores the concept of ‘unpopularity’ in the charity sector, especially in relation to its impact on fundraising. We unpack what this loaded phrase means, identify good practice by those seeking support and present case studies of charities that have overcome perceived unpopularity to achieve success in raising voluntary income. We suggest that by investing organisational resources and effort in fundraising, by framing the cause to maximise the arousal of sympathy and minimise concerns about beneficiary culpability and by avoiding the unintended negative consequences of self-labelling as ‘unpopular’ no charity need assume it is their destiny to languish at the bottom of the fundraising league tables.

Book

  • Body, A. (2020). Children’s Charities in Crisis: Early Intervention and the State. [Online]. Policy Press. Available at: https://policy.bristoluniversitypress.co.uk/childrens-charities-in-crisis.
    Following a decade of radical change in policy and funding in children’s early intervention services and with the role of the third sector under increased scrutiny, this timely book assesses the shifting interplay between state provision and voluntary organisations delivering intervention for children, young people and their families.
    Using 100 voices from the frontline, it provides vivid accounts of the lived experiences of charitable groups and offers crucial insights into the impact of recent social policy decisions on their work.
    Telling the story of how the landscape of children’s early intervention services has changed over the last decade, the author highlights important lessons for future policy while demonstrating the immeasurable value of voluntary organisations working in this challenging terrain.

Monograph

  • Body, A. and Hogg, E. (2018). A Bridge Too Far? The Increasing Role of Voluntary Action in Primary Education. University of Kent. Available at: http://www.abridgetoofar.info/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/a-bridge-too-far-report-2018.pdf.
  • Body, A., Holman, K. and Hogg, E. (2016). To Bridge The Gap? Voluntary Action in Primary Education. Canterbury Christ Church University.
    Voluntary action has had a long history in the education of our children, bringing a wide range of positive benefits to schools, children, staff, the local community and volunteers alike. Voluntary action enables schools to draw upon a wide range of additional skills and resources, can strengthen a school community and engage children in philanthropic activity from an early age. Schools continuously highlight how much they value the commitment, passion, skills and expertise brought into their community by volunteers, and recognise the advantages of fundraising in terms of community engagement, fostering philanthropic activity in children and providing additional income for the school. Unsurprisingly voluntary action in education tends to be viewed as a positive and good thing, and is increasingly encouraged within policy and practice. This research suggests that voluntary action in primary schools is indeed becoming progressively central to school activities, with many primary schools keenly seeking to strategically engage and grow this area of activity. Schools report purposefully fostering engagement of volunteers to help increase teacher capacity, support children through one-to-one activities and provide additional resources for both core and extra-curricular activities. Furthermore, schools highlight increasing focus on their fundraising activities to help support depleting budgets and growing demands.

    There is however very little research in the UK which explores voluntary action in education. The limited research that is available suggests significant disparities in how additional resources from voluntary action are dispersed within the UK context. This is supported by research from across Europe and the United States.

    Therefore this project sets out to be an exploratory study of this area to ascertain how actively schools engage with this voluntary action and what barriers they may face. The local authority of Kent was chosen as a focus for this study. Through analysis of financial data of over 600 primary schools, questionnaires completed by 114 of these and interviews with 4 case study schools this research presents initial findings and trends in activity under the separate headings of volunteering and philanthropic activity (fundraising).
  • Body, A. and Hogg, E. (2016). Side By Side: A Case Study Report of the Experiences of Young People. West Kent Extra.
  • Body, A. and Breeze, B. (2015). Rising to the Challenge: Fundraising for Unpopular Causes. University of Kent. Available at: https://www.kent.ac.uk/sspssr/philanthropy/documents/Rising_to_the_Challenge.pdf.
    This report makes a contribution to understanding the distribution of philanthropic support, alongside whether and how it can be altered in favour of causes that are perceived to be less popular. The introduction sets the scene by describing the current distribution of voluntary income to different charitable beneficiaries in the UK. This is followed by a review of insights from research into charitable giving and how it helps us to better understand the distributional pattern of donations. Chapters 4 and 5 identify barriers that affect the positioning of causes and their ability to attract voluntary donations, with ten case studies illustrating how they have succeeded in surmounting those barriers and countered prevailing trends. The final section summarises what can be done to increase the flow of donated funds to charities that feel themselves to be ‘unpopular causes’, and the report ends with a useful tool to help charities understand which barriers may be preventing them from maximising their philanthropic income.

Thesis

  • Body, A. (2016). ‘Understanding the Relationship Between the Voluntary Sector and the State through a Fields Based Theory Approach: Children’s Preventative Services – A Case Study Example.
    Between 2010 and 2014, Kent County Council (KCC) delivered over £350m worth of cuts to public sector delivery. Embarking on a 'transformation agenda', the local authority sought to achieve savings through a public commitment to a commissioning and procurement agenda, identifying preventative services and partnership with the voluntary sector as a key priority for ensuring long-term savings. In November 2010 KCC were issued with an 'inadequate' rating from Ofsted (2010) for safeguarding and services to looked-after children. This combination of austerity and the need to transform children's services to address the Ofsted rating led to unprecedented shifts in terms of the balance and nature of service provision in the field of children's services. Adopting a multi-method qualitative approach, this research presents the experiences of voluntary sector organisations (VSOs) and Commissioners working within the field of preventative services. Considered as well placed to engender trust, cooperation and address social welfare issues, the voluntary sector is often viewed as the natural provider to support vulnerable children and families. The increasing focus on commissioning as the dominant mechanism to manage relationships between the voluntary sector and state draws into question the relational factors that underpin the formal and informal processes, which govern these dynamic, and often fluid, relationships. Analysed through the lens of fields theory, the significant findings of this research highlight three category types of VSO responses to these changes; conformers, intermediaries and outliers. Within these categories, focusing on the relational and contextual factors that underpin the interactions within the field, the findings reveal competing strategies VSOs employ to secure or advance their position. The research questions many of the assumptions underpinning commissioning, concluding that commissioning can yield positive benefits for VSOs, however, overall it remains a highly political, contested and relational process. The findings suggest that rather than promoting innovation and creative responses within the voluntary sector, commissioning is at risk of inhibiting and limiting this activity. In response, individual VSOs pursue certain strategies and employ particular social skills to mobilise their ideological bias within this contested picture. Such findings reveal significant impacts for policy and practice within the field of preventative services for children, and suggest wider lessons for voluntary sector and state relationships.

Forthcoming

  • Lau, E. and Body, A. (2020). Community Alliances and Participatory Action Research as a mechanism for re-politicising social action for students in Higher Education. Educational Action Research [Online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/09650792.2020.1772093.
    Evidence from the UN World Youth Report (2015) suggests that young people, while increasingly disengaged with formal political processes, are motivated by cause-related social action. Higher Education (HE), through research and partnership, provides ideal learning spaces to explore cause-related social action. However, as HE partnership opportunities continue to be reframed under a narrative of employability and one-off participation, there is a risk that these experiences miss an opportunity to critically engage young people with issues at a socio-political level. This research paper considers the potential of participatory action research (PAR) as a pedagogical mechanism for re-politicising social action for students in a UK HE context. The project explores the experiences of 160 undergraduate students, working in partnership with 400 young children, aged 2-10 years, to investigate and co-construct their views and action concerning causes represented by local community organisations. Findings suggest that using participatory, youth-action approaches students shifted their self-identified positions from a non-social orientated approach to establishing them as advocates for causes and children’s voices. We argue that PAR, as a learning experience, and service-learning pedagogy open up an alternative experience of social action through an educational context with engagement and consideration of social issues. In conclusion, we call for new alliances between HE, young people, and community organisations, to produce, through enquiry, critical knowledge aimed at social transformation, which can open-up authentic democratic spaces within the learning communities in HE and its networks.
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