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?
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.