I’m often reminded of a cartoon I once saw showing two fundraisers, sitting in a bar, looking depressed. One is bemoaning to the other how unsexy the charity he works for is, while the other looks on unbelievingly.
I run the charity Changing Tunes, and it really is about as unsexy as you can get. We work with prisoners and ex-prisoners; even the ones who have committed the most horrific crimes, using music teaching, rehearsing, recording, performance, improvisation and composition to aid their rehabilitation. This unsexiness makes fundraising interesting, to say the least. So when we decided to expand nationally from our regional base, we took a long hard look at how to do that in a sustainable way.
“We prefer not to use the word celebrity”, a fundraiser for a major NGO told me some time ago. I’d used the phrase “celebrity supporters” in a magazine I was editing for the charity. The charity made much use of high-profile celebrities. She wanted it changed.
What can we use instead? Something like, “our friends and supporters from the worlds of music, fashion, sport and media”, was her suggestion.
Many UK charities will have received some unwelcome news in the opening months of 2015 from their local government pension providers. While the funding position overall appears to have deteriorated, the change is not considered material enough to alter the underlying contribution rates. However, there is a sting in the tail for smaller charities in particular.
Third Sector has reported that the Cabinet Office awarded £95,000 in grants to two pairs of charities that explored mergers and ultimately chose not to press ahead. To some this might have raised questions about why grant money was spent on mergers that appeared to be unsuccessful –but this is completely the wrong way to look at it. The sector desperately needs more money to support mergers, not less, and we also need a strong dose of realism about what funding can achieve.
It feels a long time ago now that the Charity Commission launched a consultation, in summer 2013, on a new draft of the Statements of Recommended Practice for charities’ accounts.
The not-for-profit sector has undergone some difficult times in recent years, and has changed a great deal in the 18 or so months since the consultation launched. So there’s certainly a debate to be had about whether the new Sorp is fit for purpose and whether it addresses the developments of the last two years, such as increased demands on public trust in the sector. Two of the biggest issues the public have in regards to the charitable sector – whether donations are reaching the end user, and whether donations are being used to fund large salaries at the top of the organisation – are firmly finance issues.
There is growing evidence of an emerging crisis in the world of local voluntary action. Voluntary and community sector organisations are struggling to maintain their services at a time when the need for them has never been greater, and they are finding it increasingly difficult to access the resources to enable them to respond to this.
Earlier this month the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator released its review of the operation of arms length external organisations, or charities that are subject to council control or influence.
Although the report was initiated in response to concerns about potential risks to Aleos, it actually has a positive conclusion – namely that this type of charity has a lot to offer the sector, local councils, and the general public.
The Centre for Policy Studies came out last month with a report criticising larger charities for a lack of transparency over the extent of their public funding.
The CPS is the right-wing think tank set up by Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph to champion the rolling back of the state. It reveals its bias with talk of charities “refusing” to provide the information, even though they meet the Sorp’s accounting requirements. Beneath the report’s disingenuous concern about the sector’s viability lurks an agenda about outing the kind of public spending through charities that the CPS would hope to axe.
In recent weeks, the news has been dominated by stories of A&E waiting times and pressure on the NHS. Pledges of additional funding and claims to be the only party who can tackle the problem are rife. But there is another side to the problem, which is the lack of funding for social care, which has crept in to only some of the media coverage and government debate on the issue.
Rob Wilson, the new Minister for Civil Society, has now been in post since September but is he leading in the right direction for the sector and social entrepreneurs? I believe so.