The last few years have been very difficult for the charity sector. Doesn't it just feel like we’ve been hit by crisis after crisis? We have to ask ourselves, is there not a better vision for our sector than this chaos?
It has appeared that the media was like a dog with a bone, tearing away at charities’ reputations and that of our sector as a whole.
A brief recap for you. The fundraising crisis hit in 2015. In no time at all there was the collapse of Kids Company. Then came an array of negative media stories– that there are too many charities, that their CEOs are paid too much, that charities are inefficient, that some are so badly managed that fraud is rife, or that charities are actually tax-avoidance schemes.
It’s no surprise that public trust in charities took a nose dive afterwards. But place this news in context. When compared directly to other industries, the charity sector is still relatively well trusted and even experienced a slight increase in 2017 over the previous year, according to the Charity Commission (Populus, 2017).
Public trust remains relatively high.
Public trust in charities is about the same as schooling, childcare, and the food and drink industry. But the odds are that we’ll see another decline this year, in light of the Oxfam Haiti and Save the Children sexual misconduct scandals. Not to mention the President’s Club debacle.
Why is this important? Because trust in charities is aligned to their reputations and has a direct correlation with income from voluntary sources. Take Oxfam, for example. The BBC reported that the recent crisis has cost Oxfam in the region of 3.5% of its total number of donations (that’s a loss of 7,094 cancelled direct debits). Many charities rely on donations from the public to operate their services and when trust in a charity is rocked, its financial support may be compromised.
What if we imagined a better world for charities!
Now, we’ve been drilled about the importance of creating an inspiring Vision and Mission for our charities. So, why can’t we work on a better vision for our sector?
Here are a few “What if’s” I had in mind:
What if an issue affecting one charity wasn’t used to whitewash and demonise all charities?
What if our charities were appropriately resourced to improve our governance and police our safeguarding procedures, so that no person is ever harmed or abused in our charities?
What if all funders really understood smaller charities by not overwhelming them with bureaucracy through exhausting demands in their funding application processes, reporting and impact analysis requirements?
What if charities were adequately resourced so that they could offer salaries that competed with the commercial sector, thereby attracting the brightest and best into the sector?
What if our society understood that charities need to invest in “overheads” and didn’t expect 99% of their donations to go to the front line?
What if our Govt. agencies stopped telling us there are too many charities and asking us to merge, and it actually started valuing the importance of smaller, local charities?
What if the word “Fundraising” in our vocabulary was synonymous with “helping people to relate and donate to great causes”, rather than “begging”?
What if our charities didn’t have to pay VAT on services, so that they could keep more money to invest in improving Governance, HR and Fundraising?
What if charities could have a respite from the constant changes in regulations that have come thick and fast over the last few years?
What if all commercial partners really supported charities, rather than use them as window dressing in their Corporate Social Responsibility policies or to borrow from their reputation?
So my vision is "that charities achieve their missions by operating to the highest standards in a society that respects and values their service". Maybe, just maybe, that would happen if my "what if's" happened.
How can we do that?
There are more “What if’s” I could add and I bet you could too.
I guess my call in this article is for stability for our sector and for our charities to be properly valued by our society. I'd like for us to stop having to weather these media storms.
For this to happen we need a two-pronged strategy:
Firstly, charities of all sizes must get their acts together, particularly on issues of Safeguarding, Whistle-blowing, Transparency, Equality, Governance and Fundraising. Now I’m not saying many charities haven’t already adopted great systems, but we need to be 100% sure for the public to trust us. We all need to live the values of our organisations and always act accordingly.
Wouldn’t it be lovely for society to think differently about charities in general? For the public to understand we need to operate as modern businesses. So, the second strategy is therefore to adopt a collective approach to improving the “Charity Sector” brand. The sector itself needs to improve how it proactively markets itself and a re-branding exercise is needed. We’ve been wrong-footed too often; let’s work collectively on improving our sector’s reputation, to build a better vision for our charities.
Don’t read and run
I’d love to hear your thoughts on building a brighter future for the voluntary sector and creating a society where our charities are respected. So please leave me some comments with your thoughts.