Management & leadership

We’re not crap and we’re not broken, but it’s a big job and we’re a bit tired

I’m tired of the negativity – charity folk get overwhelmed because they care so deeply about the cause, not because they can’t cope with the job.

I’m getting a bit tired of all the negativity about charities – our ‘business model’ is broken, we overwork and underpay our staff, we’re not very efficient, we’re really poor at evaluating our impact – blah de blah de blah. And sometimes we’re the ones saying it!

Well, stop it!

Are there badly run charities? Yes, of course there are. There are lots of us and simple maths says that some of us are bound not to be very good.

Could we be better at leading and managing our folk? Of course we could.

But are we really as crap as some folk say we are?


The vast majority of charities know that they don’t survive if they don’t adapt or innovate or find ways around challenges. Most of them are absolutely brilliant at learning new ways of doing things to serve their cause.

And as to the business model being broken – at its core our model is based on the desire of human beings to help one another. You can’t break that, it’s inherent in most human beings.

But there is no doubt that working for a charity is hard. And it’s hard because it is hard. Many of us are dealing with some of the most complex and intractable problems facing society. In a business you might not sleep well because sales are bad, or your share value has gone down, or you have HR issues.

We have all of that in charities and much more regulatory compliance and public scrutiny besides – but on top of all of that, we have the emotional toll of knowing that if we don’t get it right the people and causes we serve suffer.

Charity folk get tired and overwhelmed often because they care so deeply about the cause, not because they can’t cope with the job.

It hurts every time an intervention fails with a young person in need. It hurts for every pound not raised, which means an older person in vulnerable circumstances doesn’t get the personal visit they long for.

It hurts for every volunteer lost because the emotional toll of dealing with folk on the edge is too hard for them. It hurts every time we have to tell our staff there is little or no pay rise available, or that we don’t have the money to employ that extra member of staff.

You have to have the skin of a rhino, the commitment of a salmon swimming upstream, the resilience of a baby learning how to walk, the vision of a soaring eagle, the determination of a toddler demanding sweets in the supermarket and the adaptability of a tardigrade (creatures able to survive extreme temperatures, extreme pressures, air deprivation, radiation, dehydration and starvation – that would quickly kill most other known forms of life).

If you work in a charity there’s a bloody good chance that you’re quite simply amazing!

But if you want an easy life, don’t work for a charity.

This article was originally published on the Third Sector website.