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24 March 2020, 12:30
Caron Bradshaw calls on the government to act – now.
I usually write in more measured tones. However today I feel compelled to side step softly-nuanced diplomacy, take off my gloves and be more forthright. I am so very disappointed and frustrated. Charities are in crisis and we need deliberate and immediate action to avert disaster.
Charities are at the very heart of society. What we do touches every aspect of life and I defy any member of the public to say that they have nothing to do with charity at one level or another (and if they do deny it that’s probably because they didn’t realise a charity was involved somewhere along the line!). If you don’t believe me, click on this link to DSC’s #EverybodyBenefits graphic.
Whether you seek support from the small local charitable pre-school, have your life saved by an air ambulance or ensure dignity in the dying of your loved ones in the local hospice; from cradle to grave charities are there for society.
Leaving aside any challenges that have existed before COVID19 hit and focusing on right now, let me explain the cause of my frustration.
For a number of years now we have been encouraging charities to diversify their funding models. To earn income, not just rely on grants. To make use of volunteers and staff. To engage beneficiaries in the running of their charities. To fundraise through fun events and civil action and not just through traditional ‘asks’. To ensure that they don’t sit on too little or too much money that could otherwise be delivering social change. We’ve encouraged them to calculate their reserves - reflecting the risks individual organisations face. And I think all these things are right. But no one, whatever their sector, could have predicted the impact of this pandemic - or prepared for it.
Right now; when fundraising events and associated income has fallen off a cliff. When social distancing and isolation of vulnerable individuals has decimated capacity. When investments have been hollowed out as a result of the collapse in the stock market. When income generating spaces have been closed. When restricted funds cannot be spent on core costs. When demand is going through the roof. And when our causes won’t wait for COVID19 to sod off – many, many charities are on their knees. We need help.
It is not a case of big or small either. I’ve heard of a tiny charity dealing with the rehabilitation of offenders - suddenly having the plug pulled on their funding because they cannot deliver their services. I’ve heard of massive household name charities who have lost huge sums as a result of the postponement of events like the London Marathon (which raised over £66m last year), the cancellation of the thousands of coffee mornings, jumbles sales and quizzes (which take place in our communities day in, day out providing a pipeline of voluntary income), whose investments have reduced dramatically and whose free reserves are being rapidly depleted leaving them weeks away from financial collapse.
At the same time, I am being told daily of the actions of those very same organisations - not just to adapt to the situation, deliver their services and meet their beneficiary need in different ways but also to respond to the additional challenges of COVID19 - helping their local authorities, Government and communities to develop platforms, to repurpose their volunteers be part of the solution. Without pay. Without even pausing to establish whether they will be compensated. Because it’s the right thing to do.
I have been blown away by the collaboration, the generosity and the adaptability of this amazing sector. (Of course there are self-serving idiots too but they have been in very short supply and definitely outnumbered by the positive experiences!)
I have been disappointed and frustrated at the lack of reference to, or recognition of the role charity and social change organisations play in the Government’s daily briefings. With the exception of the salary scheme (which whilst welcome for some charities is totally ineffective for others), there has been no mention of this sector. No comprehensive package of support. We are left to see whether the schemes devised for business might also work for us. They often don’t.
We are identified as key workers - so it’s not as though Government doesn’t recognise the need for us. Indeed, Jacob Rees-Mogg said as much from the floor of the House yesterday that we ‘hadn’t been forgotten’. My colleagues across the infrastructure sector are working tirelessly to secure a financial package.
The intent is there. Of that there is no doubt. However, the urgency is not.
I am saying loud and clear to Government - time’s up! You must act.
It’s time to save our charities.
Don’t make us prove how we might spend the money and generate impact before you erect the safety net. It will be too late. I don’t see any commitment to improving the lives of commuters embedded in the money injected into the railways. Or checks and balances to ensure that the airlines will reduce their carbon footprint or for the sports clothing retailers committing to better working conditions for their staff. So why should money given to our vital charities to prevent collapse be any different? We have to demonstrate public benefit as part of our commitment as charities so at this moment trust in the system already there.
Every Day Counts. The longer it is left the more damage is done. Charities are needed now more than ever and they are stepping up to help. Government cannot leave it to philanthropists, the public and grant makers. Nor can it leave it to the banks to loan cash (which without income is a challenge to repay) to get over this unprecedented period. We need Government support. We need it now.
Please push your MPs. Shout from the rooftops. The time to act it now.
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CEO, Charity Finance Group
Caron joined CFG as CEO in 2010 from the ICAEW where she was Head of the Charity and Voluntary Sector. In addition to supporting a number of small charities and community organisations, Caron has been a member of the NCVO’s National Assembly and the Charities SORP Committee, has sat on a number of government working parties, is a member of the Church of England Pension Board’s Audit and Risk Committee, and is Chair of the Board of the Directory of Social Change (and her local hockey club). Caron has won numerous sector awards and was honoured with an OBE for 'services to charity' in the New Year's Honours list 2021.