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What living with cancer taught me about the role of charity

In June 2013, I began work as the chief executive of a small charity. It was a steep though enjoyable learning curve. Then, four months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The Work Programme is a learning opportunity, not a cautionary tale

There are many sweeping statements that I can let slide, however factually dubious they may be. Indeed, those who know me would say I’m rather fond of them myself. However, one particularly sweeping statement in last week’s Third Sector editorial on the subject of Transforming Rehabilitation –  “Always in people’s minds is the cautionary tale of the Work Programme” –  needs just a little unpacking.

Understanding Giving Circles in the UK and Ireland

While we appreciate the spotlight on our research in a recent story in Third Sector, this blog offers a more complete view of the findings.

Our research into giving circles – which combine generosity with sociability – identified 80 such groups in the UK and Ireland. We tried to find out how they are structured, why they were set up, why people join and what benefits they gain and challenges they face. See a summary of the findings here.

Charities should be leaders, not followers on social media

Newsjacking: we’re all guilty of it – composing a tweet to share or devising a little witticism (#ReplaceFilmTitleWithBacon anyone?) in an attempt to stay on top of the hot topic of conversation. All harmless fun.

This behaviour extends to brands and of course charities, with a few recent cultural memes including #IceBucketChallenge, #WakeUpCall and #NoMakeUpSelfie. But in the midst of all this viral media fervour, are we losing sight of what really matters when it comes to campaigning and fundraising on social media?

It’s vital to connect the fundraisers to the financiers

For the last seven years, I have been in roles that provide financial or fundraising (sometimes both) support to the third sector. In that time, it’s safe to say I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. But the toughest meetings I have been in are when the head of fundraising and head of finance are placed in the same room. I have often found myself asking if they are working for the same organisation.

Now the Electoral Commission is acting like a spy

Taking a stand and speaking truth to power takes some courage. When the response of those in power is an overbearing and disproportionate attempt to shut you up, you can bet it is because what you are saying is an uncomfortable truth.

So we have the chancellor, George Osborne, in his Tory party conference speech this month, calling on business to take a stand against the charity sector, as though it were some fifth column. McCarthyesque.

Celebrate and support Muslim charities – don’t undermine them

William Shawcross, the chair of the Charity Commission, recently stated that the 200-plus charities established since the conflict in Syria began in 2011 that say they operate in Syria are inexperienced and potentially vulnerable to exploitation”, echoing the commission’s guidance on Syria that the public should give only to established charities.

Incentives for volunteering aren’t as simple as they look

There has been talk of how we can best incentivise more people to volunteer. In Britain we already have some of the highest levels of volunteering in the world; but efforts to increase its level from this high base will inevitably suffer from the law of diminishing returns.

Assuming that there is nevertheless a case for trying them out, what incentives might work?

Scotland: it was feelings wot won it. Remember that, charities

The deciding factors in the Scottish referendum were all about emotion and not the rational arguments, no matter what politicians would have you believe.

Now that it is decided and the United Kingdom is still united, the experience of the campaign is a good reminder to charities that leading with the facts is not the right way to connect with and engage the public. The political noise and debate may have been all about the economy, the currency and the viability of an independent Scotland. But it all boiled down to how it made people feel.

Pension risks: time to take a stand

More charities are seeking alternative ways to generate income. Gone are the days when the third sector was solely reliant on unsuspecting parties agreeing to donate “just two pounds a month”.

The government has slashed public sector spending, including the budget of local authorities. At risk of oversimplifying matters, local authorities have responded by outsourcing some of their services to charities and the private sector. Many charities have gone into public sector outsourcing blind; which in time could prove horrifically costly. Specifically, I am referring to the pension risk that can conveniently transfer to the contract-winning charity.