How Relevant Is Our Charity Sector In 2022?

Before my diagnosis in 2007 I knew nothing about the internal workings of a charity. Like many of us I guess, I gave my donation and trusted that it would be used effectively. It felt like I had made a difference, even if it was just a few pounds. I felt better for it too! During much of my time in hospital I had so many questions that I hoped might be answered by some of the cancer charity giants. But I soon found a cold blast of reality from the sector. Many are involved in specific research and others tend to help younger members of the community. Support for an older man was sparse to say the least.

As time went by I formed some wonderful connections in charity, using my work experiences to help them, where possible. But I was truly shocked at how inefficient the sector was. Totally unlike the business world that I had been used to. Time and money seemed to be endless, with little attention paid to deadlines. Old campaigns re-worked every year in different colours. So many departments not communicating with each other. It felt like I was seeing a mirror image of the civil service. Who was responsible for all of this donated cash? Corporate functions being held frequently with millions spent on political lobbying.

This wasn’t just in healthcare either. Most of the biggest national and international charities were behaving in the same way. In many cases abusing their trust with donors and also people they were there to help. I think we can all name large charities involved in scandal, all trying to cover things up to maintain their brand and reputation. Now fast forward to 2019 and covid.

Larger charities went into survival mode as demand increased. It became difficult for them to function as donations started to dry up, and staff were forced to leave. That is still the case today, with many unsure what the future holds. Finally seeking to engage with patients and actually asking what they need! I know they are all doing their best, but what real impact is the sector having in our ‘new world?’ All I can really hear is the biggest asking for more money. Being discreetly quiet about how they are currently spending it. Of course Macmillan Cancer Support will “do whatever it takes.” Cancer Research “together we will beat cancer.” But what does any of that advertising bumph really mean to us as patients?

Establishing a registered charity can be incredibly hard work and time consuming. I can speak from personal experience about that. Getting grants can be tiresome, and so complex you really need to employ a specialist to help you through that minefield. In some ways these things are positive, to try and avoid some of the issues we are seeing with Captain Tom, Prince Charles and others. But the speed at which our world is moving has made me wonder if in general, the charity world is now too clunky to be effective?

2 staff working in a food bank.

As the larger charities struggled during covid, we saw a new generation of ‘giving’ begin. Many small organisations, understanding what the problem was, and seeking a solution. All done in a time critical way. Foodbanks and mobile kitchens spring immediately to mind. Now, since war began in Ukraine more people around the world are coming together to help feed, and home many of it’s victims. Which means a race against the clock. Little red tape to stop them reaching their goals.

As we are seeing more and more, the need for charity is vital! There will always be too many gaps to be filled that Governmental funding won’t reach. But my biggest question is if our established system is fit for purpose now? Many organisations have seen this time coming, and have taken some actions. But my opinion is that it hasn’t gone far enough. The sector is still less than transparent, and is far from diverse enough. Not in terms of colour or sex, but experience!

Many working in charity, move around in the sector, understandably so. But I see very few people from outside the sector welcomed. In a business you need a diversity of ideas and the old method of recruitment is no longer healthy. In a time when new ideas and innovation are absolutely critical, I don’t see any. Many of the smaller organisations looking to follow what the big ones do. Bringing old failed ideas back to the table again.

Community is the word I hear daily now. It doesn’t necessarily mean small either, but a collection of people with like minds. I believe you need to be much closer to your audience than many charities are. To really understand what is required. More humble too in many cases. We all want to help people of course, but being eternally busy doesn’t mean that you are working effectively. I have many friends in the sector doing wonderful things but I do believe that there must be a dramatic change throughout to make it effective for our fast changing world.

As always these are purely my own opinions based on personal experiences. Please feel free to share your own in the comments below.

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  1. Hi Chris, all very pertinent points. I also see staff from large charities lurking around social media accounts of smaller charities, then – bingo – those smaller charity campaigns suddenly appear as re-worded larger charity campaigns, followed by other charities jumping on the same bandwagon. Even when those campaigns are not inclusive so need a re-think!

    I personally believe that patient led support groups / charities understand what other patients need, far better than larger charities do – large charities are businesses looking to turn a profit.

    And there’s much to be said for not being swathed in red tape!!

    Best wishes to you & your family. Deb Xx

    • Hi Deb,

      There is very little innovative thinking in the sector. Everyone seems to think that the big boys are the ones to copy. In reality it is the reverse, the sector is crying out for a new way of thinking!

      Of course smaller groups and patients understand much better what is required, but there still is that massive resistance to meaningful collaboration. I personally have given up with most and focus on my own work. Avoiding the red tape that you mention.

      Big love to you and yours, Chris XXX

  2. Totally agree, and I nodded like the ‘Churchill Dog’ after 5 energy drinks as as I was reading it. Great work!

  3. Really good article, we need to rethink how charities operate and deliver. Agreed some do wonderful work, but I’ve become increasingly cynical as to whether donations are doing what we’d hope.

    • Thanks so much! I’ve been cynical for many years and even more so now. Charities should be judged on what impact they make, not how many times they appear on tv adverts. Now is the time to really consider what you want your donation to achieve.

  4. In your camp too, Chris always gives the spot on opinion most of us have and all too often we’re afraid to speak out, a voice of the cancer community delivered so calmly with empathy and truth in todays piece. It’s heart breaking, he inspires the investigative journalist in me

    • Thank you so much for your wonderful support Di. What we have been fed from the #Cancer sector over the years is just not good enough, and rarely patient focussed. That needs to change and quickly! People are dying because of lethargy.

  5. Well said Chris. For some time now I have channeled my financial and other support to smaller more focused organisations and individuals. On a personal note I have never received any advice or support from any of the well known charities that are supposed to help cancer patients

    • Thanks so much Gill, and for all your support. I know most #Cancer charities in this country but only since I have been doing this work. @AnthonyNolan saved my life and have a special place in my❤️ But mostly we are emails on their f/raising database

  6. Whilst this might be true of some charities, it’s far from correct for all. I work for a national charity who are the polar opposite … humble, outward looking, community focused and actively recruiting a diverse workforce that represents the people we support and the wider population.

    As always, it’s positive and healthy to have a debate but perhaps without unnecessary generalisations?

    • Hi Trish,

      Thanks for joining the discussion and great to hear the positive work being done in your own organisation.

      All my pieces are written from my own experiences and unfortunately this is what I find in a majority, but of course there will always be exceptions which I’m delighted to hear!

      These comments are open to everyone of course, but so far most have the same experience.

      It would be great if you would like to write a piece from your own perspective?

      Very best, Chris

  7. Thanks Chris. I question daily whether the current system in our sector is fit for purpose, so it was great to read somebody else asking similar questions. I have a lot of thoughts but airing them publically is something else. More power to you Chris!.

    • There are more people questioning than you might think Liam, so you are very definitely not on your own. Same with #NHS etc. Someone/something has to be the catalyst for change. If covid or the war isn’t it I don’t know what is. Many areas need a total #RESET and now!