I’ve lost count of the times I have listened to or read a piece of coverage in relation to charities which describes in disapproving terms everything from high salaries and large sums of money in investments to the rising prices of the charity shop and how an increasingly businesslike approach is to the detriment of beneficiaries.
All of this leads to me being told on many occasions, usually by people I haven’t asked, that they will no longer be giving to charities. Rarely have I heard these discussions being made in the context of the value and impact which charities have.
Charities often seem reluctant to defend themselves, resulting in much of what they are perceived to be doing wrongly going unexplained and undefended.
This is an issue of how we value our charitable organisations. Charity and philanthropy have been around for years, with the oldest registered charity dating back to the 12th century.
Many charities were founded by religious groups or wealthy individuals to help those deemed to be the “neediest” in society.
The language of charity, and the poor houses and orphanages of those early days has changed, but the sentiments and values at the heart of charity giving are the same today as they ever were. Can there be any more rewarding a transaction than handing over your money to an organisation which will turn it in to a positive outcome for someone at their lowest ebb – or further a good cause?
Charities across Scotland and beyond are today tackling local and global issues including climate change, conflict, disability, poverty, neglect, health, addiction, crime, homelessness, abuse – and on and on. Not only this, they are getting results and creating positive change.
In Scotland, more than 23,700 charities are registered with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, employing thousands and engaging armies of volunteers. Far more importantly, they are helping to support millions of people.
Charities change legislation and government policy; they tackle the issues in society which no-one else wishes to. Charities offer solutions to health problems, financial support, advice, networks, shelter, food and clothing. The most basic needs are provided every day by charities. In the charity I work for, families speak of the “love” they receive – hard to measure but invaluable to those who receive it.
The UK Public Administration Select Committee is considering whether charity salaries should be capped at £100,000. This is an enormous amount of money but in the context of looking for a leader for an organisation which intends to, say, stamp out world hunger, is it fair that a charity can’t compete equally for the best possible candidate?
On the radio recently, umbrella body the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations said more than 80 per cent of charities face an increased demand for their services. The challenge of providing more services to more people at a time of less money and fewer resources requires skilled leaders.
Whilst the beauty of a charitable donation is that it remains fundamentally a transaction of the heart, we still need to apply our heads to this and recognise that a charity run by a strong leader, with a professional, skilled staff team, appropriately-governed and financially-managed, is more likely to use our money wisely and effectively.
Transparency is a charity’s greatest friend. All charities should be held to account by the public who support them and by the people who benefit from their services.
We need to demonstrate the impact we have and why without us the world would be a worse place. We need to open our doors to feedback and queries, and stand up to criticism in the way our counterparts in the private sector would.
If we charge perceived high prices in our shops, we should be able to justify this and not apologise for doing so.
In an economic climate causing a surge in those needing charities, now is the time to change our perceptions and the value we place upon them.
So challenge the charities you give to; seek out information on how the gift you give will be used to best effect. Be an informed “shopper” and remember the choice of who you to give to and how much you give remains yours. But once you’ve done all this, please keep giving. There is no other feeling quite like the one you get when you give a donation and make a difference to another person’s life. Trust me – I work for a charity.
• Roslyn Neely is director (fundraising and communications) for Children’s Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS) and a trustee of Youth-Link (Dundee)