Monday, May 23, 2011

Charitable Giving

I first worked for medical charities in the mid 1980s and it was extremely challenging but satisfying and rewarding. We had a job to do, in my case recruiting training and supporting volunteers, and were by and large left to get on with it. We were expected to get results but the management was light and the bureaucracy minimal. Our members' needs, not the staff's needs were paramount

My last experience of the charity world was absolute agony. The charity resembled the most bureaucratic, management obsesssed arm of the NHS. It was like a particularly unfunny version of Yes Minister. Staff were expected to log virtually every movement on a computerised management system that wouldn't have been out of place in the DDR, and  unable to do anything without first doing risk assessments and a huge pile of associated health and safety paperwork. And don't mention the dreaded police checks and the hated proposed Independent Sageguarding Authority, thankfully dumped by the Coalition.

In my experience too many charities are now run for the benefit of an ever expanding paid workforce, partly because of government red tape, partly because of empire building. In the last fifteen years I increasingly heard staff complaining that volunteers couldn't be trusted to do X, Y or Z. My reaction invariably was; "why not?". The voluntary sector, thanks to government interference and an increased dependency on government funding, has been nationalised. Which means that its role as an independent force to fight for its client group has been diminished, it won't bite the hand that feeds it, the government.

The Coalition is about to introduce tax reforms to encourage donations to charity, which is to be welcomed. But it really needs  look at the whole ethos of the voluntary sector in this country. Cash is crucial to charities as it is to any organisation in any sector. What the voluntary sector needs to do is to encourage volunteers and volunteering, in many ways much more difficult than raising funds, especially if you are just tapping into taxpayers' money through grant aplications.

But volunteers and volunteering are at the heart of the voluntary sector, and my sense is that in recent years the charirty world has lost its heart.

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