We as charities have always done two very important things for society:
Firstly, we meet needs. We identify people, animals and things that need help, and figure out the best way to provide it. This is what some, including a disgraced former Charities Minister, call “our knitting”.
Secondly, charities tackle the factors that bring about needs – we advocate on behalf of beneficiaries to fix systemic problems, creating long lasting social change. We treat the immediate pain, while finding a cure. It’s logical that we have to do both, surely.
But here’s the thing – it’s getting more difficult for us to knit
The situation of many of our beneficiaries has greatly worsened over the last few years and it is no surprise that a study by LocalGiving found that 75% of charities experienced increased demand for their services last year. Homeless charities are faced with 55% more people sleeping rough than they were five years ago (DCLG), and last year alone saw food banks experience a 163% increase in its provision of three days emergency food compared to the previous year (The Trussell Trust).
Digging up this information isn’t politically partisan campaigning, or some kind of revolutionary conspiracy, as some axe-grinding politicians would have us believe; it is simply facts and evidence about the state of affairs.
It turns out that when the government conceived its “Big Society” idea they had no intention of putting their money where their mouth is. Frontline services traditionally provided by the state are being cut and passed over to charities but the money and other resources needed to run them have not followed. It is very worrying (though unsurprising) that 85% of charities reporting increased demand have warned they don’t have the resources to cope.
So while charities have less money to provide services, and more people need to use them, actually running a charity is set to become more expensive. Following the Fundraising Review led Sir Stuart Etherington, we look forward with dread to new fees for a Fundraising Regulator and potentially disastrous limits to how charities can seek donations. There is little doubt that this will negatively impact on the people we help. Remember that individual donors remain the sector’s primary funder, giving £18.8bn (46% of our income) in 2012/13 according to NCVO themselves.
And as if to add insult to injury, the Charity Commission is driving forward with its plans to charge charities for their own regulation, with fingers in its ears so as to block out the multitude of arguments against it.
So the question for us in the sector is how can we continue meeting our beneficiaries’ needs?
Our sector is incredibly resilient – but weathering the storm as we have been doing, by drawing down our reserves to plug the resource gap, is not going to help our beneficiaries in the long run. Nor is having our staff sacrifice their wages a sustainable solution. We need to tackle the policies, of government and companies, that are harming our beneficiaries and as well as our ability to help them.
That means campaigning, lobbying, influencing – speaking up and speaking out!
This is not the exclusive domain of big charities with big budgets, and it doesn’t all happen in Parliament or Whitehall. Campaigning is about people coming together, finding out the facts, and putting them under the noses of the people who make the decisions – whether it’s the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or whoever decides the morning delivery route for your local Londis.
It’s quite odd, given the fact that we’re a democracy, that there are still politicians who don’t agree that this is our job. Who do they think they are? They work for the people – and what else are charities but another way for the will of the people (or groups of people) to express themselves and act?
Not rocket science
It is so important now, more so than ever before, that we are properly equipped with the right skills, knowledge, ideas, tools and networks to make the change we want to happen. This isn’t necessarily rocket science, or the preserve of experts.
We need to knit, but also we need to take up our knitting needles and start pointing them forcefully in the direction of powerful people who are burning the woolly jumpers in our very hands just as the winter is setting in!