Here’s (ex “Tory Bear”) Harry Cole’s deliberately provoking blog in The Guardian’s Voluntary Sector Network.
I’ve heard this argument a lot (mostly from the right side of the political sphere, e.g. Nat Wei’s criticism of ‘big charity’, and some Libertarian quarters), and although the instinct of our sector is to wince and counter the claim (and I’ve certainly bemoaned the cutting of statutory funding from some organisations) – there are some cold hard truths in Mr Harry Cole’s stance.
If we look past the cheeky provocation of “unaccountable and unelected arms of the state” (see FakeCharities.org for more of this – are you on the list?), Harry is right to say that as charities we a) absolutely have to demonstrate our tangible impact; what is the difference we are making? are we duplicating work? can we work in partnership? (research last month commissioned by the Charity Commission claimed that charities are ‘failing to explain their impact’ to potential and existing supporters), and b) must diversify our income streams and not rely on any one source of funding predominantly; least of all statutory.
Plug: Whizz-Kidz is being given plaudits right now for working in partnership with the NHS in order to reach more young disabled people – and from next year, we actually serve to benefit from the Any Qualified Provider roll out in children’s wheelchair services because we know that we can deliver more demonstrably appropriate mobility equipment, and quicker, than some current NHS services (or working with them such as in Tower Hamlets). Work smart, make an impact, pool resources.
What I would say though is that as public services face the brunt of cuts – and as does the public purse in real terms – it is much harder to raise funds – so if the state “sets us free” / “withdraws financial support” (delete where appropriate) how many ordinary people are giving regularly? A recent report worryingly found that only 31% of the UK population provides 87% of voluntary hours and 79% of its charitable giving.
We can only plug the gap with funding, and when the lights go out…they go out for good.