Is the charity sector misunderstood? A trustee’s personal perspective

Published by Susan Robinson on 11 November 2020

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Baroness Stowell recently spoke at the Charity Commission’s online annual public meeting.  She raised some good points but once again in my opinion she showed her lack of understanding of the sector as a whole. I have often mentioned that I do not think government understands the sector which I’m afraid has become very apparent over the last six months. I am also concerned that the public do not always “get it”.  Are we then partly to blame in not getting our message across? Well yes and no.

The charity sector exists to help its beneficiaries and that is what we do and in the large majority of cases we do it well. We operate with limited resources but just get on with it. Charity exists to meet a need which is often urgent. As seen back in March with the Covid crisis, informal networks sprang up across the country to support those in need. People just got on with it and did what needed to be done.

Shouting about what we do is at the bottom of the “to do list” but perhaps it does need to be raised higher up the agenda.  Baroness Stowell suggests that people will be more supportive of charities which “recognise a responsibility to uphold the special status (Sic) holds in the public mind” and that “success depends on meeting public expectations of what charity (Sic) means in the way in which charities go about their work”. Donors support charities that they have an affinity with, often through personal or other related experience.  The charity’s main role is to support their beneficiaries and their cause, for the public benefit. It is about what we do for the beneficiaries and how this impacts on their lives.  Perhaps everyone should be more aware that now is a time for many charities who are struggling and just because they are not shouting for help, it doesn’t mean that they don’t need it. Perhaps we should all step up and be more charitably minded in the future putting skills, experience and yes money to good use.

I have previously mentioned the importance of putting the correct narrative in the Trustee Annual Report, but it is also about making sure the message is clear on your website and on your social media platforms.  Think about writing some good news stories for the local press. The message does not need to be too sophisticated or wordy but quite clear and in relatable words.

“We are here to …………….”

“Doing what we do ensures ……………………………”

It is not just talking about the activities you do but why you do them and how it impacts on the beneficiaries.

Public donations have fallen considerably this year and the sector needs to start re-engaging with them. But they and the government have to understand we are here to do a job with the limited resources we have. We naturally value their support, and this is how that support will help our beneficiaries. There is no magic tool to fundraising, but it is about clear messaging to engage the empathy and understanding from society as a whole and that includes government.

Susan Robinson has been a trustee for many years. She is a trustee of Age UK Medway, Age Concern Gillingham and ACIE. 

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