Funders want charities to show that every penny they raise goes to the frontline. But what about the vital role of backroom staff?
If a week is a long time in politics, four months seems to be an aeon, as least as far as charity donations from individual givers are concerned.
At the start of year, when scandals broke about Oxfam and the Presidents Club, dire consequences were predicted. Thousands of donors were, it was reported, cancelling direct debits as a result of their disillusion with charities. Charity leaders felt they had been dealt another body blow, just as they were starting to recover from the collapse of Kids Company and questionable fundraising practices.
This is not to minimise the consequences for Oxfam, which has been forced to make cuts of £16m to its aid programmes and lay off staff, after losing government funding. And Sports Relief saw a big fall in the amount it raised on the night of its televised appeal in March, from £55m in 2016 to just £38m this year – the lowest for a decade. But many in the sector are breathing a sigh of relief that the general impact seems to have been less cataclysmic than predicted.
However, charities still need to address some worrying trends. The CAF report noted that charities are relying on a diminishing pool of dedicated individual donors who are giving more. That matters, since individual donations form the largest chunk – 28% – of income for most of the charities in the IoF survey.
Part of the problem is that funders continue to believe they maximise their impact by giving every penny to the frontline, and they want charities to be able to demonstrate that almost every last penny they raise goes directly to the projects and people they support. This is in line with the narrative peddled by all UK governments since 2010 that public services are “bloated” with administrative staff. In the public sector, this has resulted in vital support staff being valued much less than those on the frontline. For charities, this focus could be lethal, as a new report by the thinktank, Charity Futures,makes clear. In the report, Stephen Bubb, the former chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, points out that charities need to spend money on administration and monitoring in vital areas like safeguarding. He singles out Comic Relief, but there are plenty of other examples where charities shy away from any idea that they have admin costs: Crisis, asking for £26.08 last Christmas to cover the “exact cost” of funding a place at one of its Christmas centres, Combat Stress’s pitch for £21 to pay for an hour of its helplinefor veterans suffering mental health problems, or the RSPCA’s winter appeal request for £8 to feed a cat over three days of the holidays, £10.40 for a rabbit, or £12 for a dog.
Bubb and Daniel Fluskey, head of policy and research at the IoF, believe the way forward is to change the language used around fundraising. The Charity Futures report says charities should attach a “warm glow” to core costs by identifying the backroom staff who are integral to a charity’s function.
Warm glow or not, more has to be done on the narrative about how charities operate and spend donors’ money.
Source: Guardian Voluntary Sector online
Jane Dudman is the Guardian’s public leaders editor