Policy, campaigns & research

Accentuate the positive

It's possible for charities to get locked into despondency, but they should get the tough times into perspective

Debra Alcock Tyler 3 use thisI made a speech about payment by results recently. Everyone said it resonated with them – bar this one chap who apparently loathed it. I am now, inevitably, fixated on him. Human beings so often focus on the negative – on the few things that aren’t going well, rather than the many that are.

Many charities are struggling for money, closing down projects and making staff redundant. And the lament I hear is one of despair and despondency: “It’s so hard; there’s no money; how can we survive?; it’s always a battle; we’re knackered,” and so on. Well, that may be true, but it isn’t new.

The reality is that our work is nowhere near as tiring as is the effort of the individual trying to beat an addiction, or critical illness, or depression, or loneliness. No matter how hard it is for us, there are people out there saying something like: “Without this charity I would be dead/in prison/homeless/have nowhere to turn.”

Even trustees, whose primary role is to guard the vision, can lose sight of the bigger picture and end up having entirely the wrong sorts of conversation: getting het up because reserves are low, funding streams are shrinking or another charity won the contract to deliver the work; or apportioning blame inappropriately, either to the government or, more worryingly, the executive team, instead of focusing on what matters most – the people they are there to serve.

Honestly, if your beneficiaries are being served just as well by some other charity, what’s the problem? For me, it makes no sense to compete ruthlessly with another organisation doing the same work – unless you really do think it matters more that the money is yours than that the beneficiaries are being served.

It is not the purpose of charitable endeavour to focus on making money, growing or ‘beating’ another charity. Whatever our size or shape, we must all remember that the sole purpose of our existence as charities is to deliver our charitable objects for our beneficiaries. That is all. Sometimes we will have plenty of resources to do that – and sometimes we won’t. There will be days when we get the grant or win the contract, and days when we don’t. It seems to me that the true test of an effective charity is not what resources have been gained or lost, but how well you use what you do have to meet your charitable objects.

So please get the tough times in perspective. Funding will always ebb and flow. In the meantime, remember what you’re there for. You save lives. You rebuild communities. You serve the most vulnerable people and causes in society. Of course that’s hard work – because it’s important work. So grit your teeth, smile and get on with it. It will all be OK in the end. And if it isn’t OK, then it isn’t the end.

(And, of course, if you happen to spot a shifty-looking, unattractive, ill-mannered sort of chap hanging about the sector – well, he’s the one who disagreed with my speech …)

This article first appeared in Third Sector Magazine June edition.