It amazes me that charities can do their jobs, not just in the current chilly financial climate, but at all. They're subject to one of the most unfair paradoxes around. We expect charities to raise money, but there are screams of horror should they hold any of it back for administration or, god forbid, growth.
Duncan Green of Oxfam lays out the problem neatly in a recent article for The Guardian. Charities, he says, are caught between a very big rock and a very hard place. They can't afford to attract the sort of managerial talent that would enable them to make more money for their chosen cause. Any charity that is seen to be "profligate" with their funds are in for an instant PR hosedown with raw sewage. How dare they hold back 3% of their funds to pay for staff and premises? How dare they think about actually growing, or investing in the future? Won't somebody think of the children?
This isn't just wrong-headed, it's actively dangerous. One in ten charities recently polled think that they will be drawing down the shutters in the next twelve months. Horrible, but hardly surprising when they're actively discouraged away from modern business practices that might just make the difference between survival of a much needed resource, or yet another cause on the scrapheap. Is it coincidental that the most successful charities (and let's be clear about the definition here; success in raising funds for their cause is what I mean) are the ones that have managed to rise above the snark and cant and run themselves along well-proven business lines.
Any charity that's worthy of the name will be doing all they can to minimise costs and maximise their usefulness to their chosen cause. That's straightforward enough. But if there is an opportunity to significantly raise their game, either through the hiring of skilled managers or investment in infrastructure, then surely it's a no-brainer to take a bit now and pay it back with interest later? The small-mindedness with which people view charities boggles my mind, and it's frankly unsustainable nowadays. If you want charities to succeed, if you want them to be part of The Big Society (gone a bit quiet on that front recently, hasn't it?) then you either need to give them appropriate funding, or the freedom to be able to raise it in whatever way they feel fit.
It really is about time that we gave charities a break. We need to wise up, and see them as business entities with responsibilities to their stakeholders, who need them to survive and thrive. A healthy Third Sector is a vital part of the UK's social welfare programme. We don't have the luxury of treating it with disdain or patronising neglect any more.
To finish, a repost of a TED talk that will always bear repeating, from financier, charity maven and activist Dan Pallotta.