When the government says ‘please will you take on more service delivery’ how
should charities respond? While the position of an individual charity and board
of trustees will vary with circumstance, it’s worth asking a general question
first: is this in our long term interests?
The first, and most important, quality charities possess is the public
perception of, and involvement in, a ‘good thing’. While market research shows
this is often built on little understanding, anecdotally its roots lie in the
very fact that charities are not an arm of government.
This matters to a swathe of stakeholders: the beneficiary more willing to
deal with a charity employee than a social worker; the corporate or trust
seeking something distinctive from state provision; and the public for whom
altruism is about more than seeing taxes fund a more or less effective welfare
Nick Seddon’s Who Cares? Civitas report, in which he suggested that some
charities are de facto state bodies, generated a media storm on precisely this
point because of the gap in understanding between lay perception of charities
and the range of financial realities behind some of the biggest charities in the
land. The suspicion lurks that the government is ripping off charities and the
Yet it’s also true that the public sees beyond this simple headline. An
unemployed individual will work with a government funded charity programme to
enhance return to work prospects because it’s genuinely good help. Trusts and
corporates can see government funding as an amplifier of their own investment.
The public is in favour of charities campaigning and wants to see innovations
from charities taken up by government and used to the benefit of all in need.
Ultimately, for public, funder and beneficiary alike, the bit that sticks in
the craw is the lack of transparency. The suspicion is that it hides a lack of
independence. Negotiating fair terms and a track record of informing and
educating a charity’s donors is vital in repudiating this.
So, when trustees next gather to consider whether or not to accept the
government’s shilling, they must find out whether they are doing so
transparently, on fair terms, with a communications plan that can tackle the
questions such a relationship will generate. If not, walk away, not just for the
benefit of your charity, but the for the benefit of those in need.
Charles Nall is the new chair designate of the Charity Finance Directors’
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