At the moment, it seems like not a day goes by without another bad news story about the charity sector.
Some of it is, of course, deserved, but most of it is not. The recent closure of Kids Company added fuel to the fire. Here is just a small selection of some of the headlines from the last 12 months:
As a co-founder of a small UK international development charity, I feel compelled to take stock of the current state of the sector and highlight the importance of the contributions small charities make to it.
How is the UK charity sector made up?
Small NGOs make up the majority of the UK international development sector. According to the latest figures (NCVO Almanac 2013) there were 163,763 voluntary organisations in the UK, 97 percent of which have a turnover of under £1million and 84 percent have an income of less than £100,000.
According to data published in 2013 by Charity Choice, small charities experienced an 11
16 percent decline in annual income over the five years to 2011/12, while large charities experienced a 31 percent increase. Their data also showed that the top 5 percent of charities receive 85 percent of all charitable income.
What is the bad press about?
It is impossible to say there are one or two issues that are causing this furore, but the main themes of the negative press seem to be around fundraising practice, CEO pay and the way charitable donations are spent.
Olive Cooke was an avid charity supporter and at one point it was claimed she received 267 charity letters in one month. This led to suggestions that being hounded for money from charities had pushed her to kill herself. However, Mrs Cooke’s family actually said the charities were not to blame for her death.
Stories about Charity CEO pay make regular appearances in the news. One story from the Telegraph reads ‘the number of charity executives paid over £200,000 a year has increased despite efforts to curb pay levels in the voluntary sector’. “despite efforts to curb pay levels in the voluntary sector”! I don’t even know where to begin with this…My thoughts on the subject are summarised very well by Dan Pallotta’s wonderful TED talk entitled ‘The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong‘. I encourage you to watch it if you haven’t done so already.
The Telegraph reported in December 2015, that ‘One in five of Britain’s biggest charities spend less than 50 per cent of total income on good works‘. They later printed a tiny retraction admitting the report was wrong and inaccurate, but the damage was done.
What does this mean for small charities?
I suspect the voluntary sector must, sadly, now prepare itself for further onslaught of bad press. We must be prepared, however unjustified, to defend ourselves and the amazing work we do to support marginalised and in-need communities and individuals across the UK and internationally.
For smaller charities, there is an opportunity for us to show why small charities have some advantages over larger ones:
- Small charities are often better in tune with the needs of the communities they serve.
- They are often more efficient and providing better value for money for donors.
- Smaller charities are typically not restricted by the same kind of bureaucracy that larger organisations or the state are subjected to.
- Smaller charities are often closer to their beneficiary group and are able to be more flexible in responding to changing environments.
However, small charities face a number of difficulties too:
- Small charities often have limited resources with work often carried out by volunteers from the ‘kitchen table’.
- They lack core funding to cover their own institutional development costs and build internal capacity.
Small charities are hidden within the sector and most people will donate to charities they have heard of.
I am incredibly proud to be a part of the UK voluntary sector, specifically the small charity sector. Though I wholeheartedly agree that charities must of course be well run, accountable and best serving the needs of their beneficiaries, I do hope that this attack on our sector dies down and people are reminded that the vast majority of charities are run efficiently, effectively and by people who desperately want to make the world a better place.
Image sources: http://www.autumn-harvest.si/images/badnews.jpg and Twitter