Charity for the Modern Age

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Before my cancer diagnosis in 2007, I was blissfully unaware of the inner workings of charities. Like many, I donated with the assumption that my contributions would be utilized effectively, feeling a sense of having made a difference. However, throughout all my treatment, I found a harsh reality – the charity sector often fell short in providing meaningful support.

For the last 15 years, both my cancer and SimPal work, have been intertwined with the charity sector. Yes, I run my own charity, but I’m generally embarrassed about what I see from a majority of corporate type charities. Name and size doesn’t guarantee efficiency. In many cases quite the reverse. Even such basics as answering emails in a timely fashion. We are a customer facing industry, and our work should be based on service. The needs are real, whatever sector you are in. On the whole, we need to be a lot more time conscious and respectful to the people we serve. They are not just names on a database, to bother with emails when we have a fundraising campaign.

As I formed connections within the charity world, offering my professional expertise where possible, I was struck by the sector’s inefficiencies – a far cry from the business world I was accustomed to. Time and money seemed boundless, with little regard for deadlines. Campaigns were recycled yearly with superficial changes, and a lack of interdepartmental communication was evident. It mirrored the civil service’s bureaucracy, raising questions about the stewardship of donated funds. Corporate events and political lobbying consumed millions, while many charities faced scandals, prioritizing brand protection over their intended beneficiaries.

Fast forward to 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic – larger charities entered survival mode as donations dwindled and staffing levels dropped. This harsh reality persists today, with many unsure of their future. Finally, they began to engage with patients, asking what they truly needed. While their intentions are admirable, one can’t help but question the sector’s real-world impact in our “new normal.” The biggest charities continue to solicit more money, discreetly silent about their current spending practices. Advertising slogans like “do whatever it takes” and “together we will beat cancer” ring hollow to patients seeking tangible support.

Establishing a registered charity is an arduous and time-consuming endeavor. Securing grants can be an exhausting, complex minefield, often necessitating specialist assistance. While these hurdles aim to prevent issues like those faced by organizations like Captain Tom and Prince Charles, the rapidly evolving world begs the question: Is the traditional charity model too cumbersome to be truly effective?

As larger charities struggled during the pandemic, a new generation of “giving” emerged. Small organizations, intimately understanding the problems at hand, swiftly sought solutions. Foodbanks and mobile kitchens immediately come to mind. Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, people worldwide have come together to feed and house its victims, racing against the clock with minimal red tape impeding their goals.

The need for charity is undeniable, as governmental funding will always leave gaps to be filled. However, the pressing question is whether our established system is fit for purpose in today’s world. While many organizations have taken steps to adapt, these efforts have not gone far enough. The sector still lacks transparency and diversity – not in terms of race or gender, but in experience and perspectives.

Charity workers often circulate within the sector, understandably so. However, few from outside the sector are welcomed, stifling the influx of fresh ideas and innovation – critical components in our rapidly changing times. Instead of emulating the approaches of larger organizations and resurrecting failed ideas, smaller outfits should embrace a community-centric mindset.

Community is the buzzword of our day, transcending physical boundaries and encompassing like-minded individuals. Charities need to forge deeper connections with their audiences, humbly understanding their real needs. Perpetual busyness does not equate to effectiveness. While many in the sector are doing wonderful work, a dramatic shift is necessary to ensure the charity world’s relevance and impact in our fast-paced, ever-evolving world.

The charity sector must prioritize transparency, agility, and community connection to truly make a difference. This means:

  • Welcoming diverse perspectives from outside the sector
  • Fostering open communication and collaboration within organizations
  • Rapidly adapting to emerging needs and societal shifts
  • Forming authentic connections with the communities they serve
  • Humbly listening and responding to real-world needs, not assumptions

Only by embracing these principles can charities regain the trust and make a lasting impact in our rapidly changing world. I’m already seeing several, seemingly irrelevant now, as the world looks for effective ways of solving these issues.

Now is probably the right point for me to state, that despite what these organisations like to tell us, cancer support is available in many more ways than they can offer!

In what world are we beating cancer?
Be assured, these guys are doing whatever it takes!

As always, these are my personal opinions based on experience. Please feel free to share your own below.

3 Comments

  1. “All smoke & mirrors” is how a friend described one charity to me very recently.

    Hope all’s good with you, Chris. Keep well, Deb xxx

    Hope you’re well

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