Thursday 20 October 2016

The Post-Charity Landscape

After a, let's say challenging, year for the Third Sector, there are some radical rethinks going on about the whole nature of charities in the 21st century. No-one doubts that they have a big role to play. The big question is how they position and sell themselves in the Britain of the future. Or even, how many of them there should be. 

At think-tank NPC's conference in London last week, head of the British Red Cross Mike Adamson had some tough words for anyone who believes that it can be business as usual for the Third Sector. He even questioned the use of the word 'charity':

"I think the word charity is very unhelpful, actually. I think we have a problem with terminology, because the problem is that when the Daily Mail attacks it uses the word charity, but the future is about values-led organisations, both small and large."

Take note of the phrase 'values-led organisations', because it'll start to pop up a lot over the next year or so. Mike's right, of course. People view the idea of 'a charity' dimly, while at the same time they're more than happy to fund-raise or volunteer for a cause. Just look at the success of JustGiving. The end result remains the same, but the terminology changes. Although to me, the term 'value-led organisation' is clunky in the extreme.

Mike also questions whether there is a need for so many charitable organisations in the current environment. He says:
"There are far too many of us charities, in my view, but we do need to create movements and make a difference through getting organised, and sometimes you do need organisations to do that."
He also urged the way to do this was to:
 "broaden alliances and collaboration to achieve as much impact as we possibly can".
Now, that's a tricky one. The obvious inference to take from that would be that the head of one of the country's biggest charities is looking to make a landgrab on causes that are smaller and less able to cope with bumps in revenue. Callous, or simply realistic?

David Robinson, of Community Links is even more blunt about how the charitable sector needs to reinvent itself.

"Is there a role for charities in the future? No, I don’t think so – not specifically.
"I think there is a role for values-led organisations, and I think we have to rethink how we divide up the sectors. I think our old ideas of statutory organisations, voluntary organisations and businesses are redundant. We need to think much more creatively about forms of organisation that are values-led."
See, there's that phrase again. It's hard not to see the wisdom in all of this, though. The business of raising cash for good causes is becoming ever more cut-throat and media-savvy. Understanding and responding to that is a task that will test any, ahem, values-led organisation over the next few years. The Victorian ideal of charity is changing with every passing year. Let's hope the sector can mutate and survive, for all our sakes.

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