Good governance is rather like eating All Bran straight from the box – we all know it’s supposed to be good for us, but it’s never a particularly appetising prospect. That’s particularly true when the ‘rubber’ of board accountability hits the ‘road’ of a chief executive’s right to manage.
My experience, both as a chief executive and a charity trustee, is that when everything is going well and the figures look good, no-one really thinks about good governance. Stuff just happens and the CEO is left to get on with it. No-one worries about accountabilities. Ironically, I can find myself hankering after those times even though I know that’s not how things are supposed to be run. To continue the metaphor, it’s a bit like pigging out on Rocky Road ice-cream in front of the TV – we know it’s not good for us, but it makes us feel better.
To my mind, there is currently a lot for people in the third sector to be angry about. Sky-high youth unemployment. Yet another failure to reform the funding of social care. Scandals like those at Winterbourne View residential hospital. More children growing up in poverty.
But it turns out that if you really want to get the leaders of the charity sector angry, the thing to do is to propose that the regulatory regime should be changed to make it easier for charities to pay their trustees should they wish to.
I found myself skirting around an oncoming street fundraiser myself this morning on Camden High Street as I hurried towards the station, which gave me pause for thought.
You see, even people who work for charities sometimes cross the street to avoid street fundraisers, clipboard primed and aiming at divesting you of your well-earned income for a health/dog/disability/poverty relief/environment (delete as applicable) charity.
The Prostate Cancer Charity launched its new brand last week, deliberately dropping the word ‘charity’ from the name because of concern that it conjures up the image of well meaning amateurs rather than effective professionals. There are two key issues here: one is the explicit use of the word ‘charity’ as an identifier; the other is the potentially increasing cynicism that the charity sector is engendering in the general public.
Last month, I spoke about how my organisation had lost out on a contract following ‘extremely bad commissioning’ by the local probation trust.
Since then I’ve been approached by a number of charities who have cited similar experiences of extremely bad commissioning. Birmingham Settlement’s experience is clearly not an isolated case. Commissioners putting ‘cost over client’ and not understanding the services they commission is not such a rare circumstance.
The recent furore over the government tax relief cap has unified the third sector in the Give It Back George campaign, with over 3,000 charities signing up to the protest. There are a number of commentators pointing out the damage of the government plan, with the potential loss of 11,000 jobs.
I have recently worked on a big project with a prestigious brand in the motor industry. And this experience has really confirmed my growing suspicions – that private sector workers are passionate too.
This may come as a shock to those who have only worked in charities. Admittedly, it doesn’t necessarily hold true across all the private sector, and there are indeed many people who are just in it for the money (having worked closely with a firm of property developers, I can confirm this from first-hand experience). But there are those in the private sector who have a great loyalty to the brand and a real desire to achieve excellence in customer satisfaction.
With more than 20-years experience in the meetings, hospitality and travel industries, the number of quotations and negotiations I have been involved with for fundraising events, gala dinners, AGMs, awards ceremonies and networking receptions is too great to contemplate.
One question I continue to be asked daily and at a growing rate in these austere economic times is: ‘How can I bring the cost of my event down?’
When I took over a sinking ship in 2007 at AbilityNet, I’d never have imagined that five years later I would be reporting a surplus of £300,000 to the board. In those days, breaking even seemed a pipe dream.
It’s easy to be gloomy about charity prospects with alarmist headlines about mergers increasing by 150 per cent and closures totalling 1600 in the coalition’s first year. But sometimes merger is shorthand for collaboration and economy of scale, and last year some 6,400 new charities were created, which is an increase on the previous two years.
For better or worse, the effect of the controversial Kony 2012 video, a short film created by the charity Invisible Children about Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony released last month, demonstrated the potential of film and the speed and effectiveness of social media for non-profit campaigns.
The people behind Invisible Children are filmmakers and controversy aside, its first 30-minute video has accrued over 100 million online views.