There has to be a better way to run a charity

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Susan Smith says charities struggling to stay afloat are in an abusive relationship with funders and stakeholders

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20th February 2019 by Susan Smith 0 Comments

It’s a tough job running a charity. Nobody really expects it to be easy, but it really shouldn’t be this hard.

Rising costs, increased demand, public funding cuts, short-term funding and the knock-on impact this has on planning – these have been the woes of Scotland’s third sector forever. It is time for this to change.

Over the last few decades the introduction of the third sector into the mixed economy of the public and private sectors has changed the role of charities in our society. This has been driven by the desire to balance social and economic factors. The idea is that a bigger role for the third sector will make the state more efficient while improving the health and wellbeing of citizens.

It’s not just the third sector that says so – this agenda has being driven by local and national governments and economists.

So why does it seem to be getting so much harder for charities to deliver the services our society desperately needs?

As we report this month, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations’ (SCVO) latest sector forecast research shows it is particularly tough for medium-sized organisations – those with an income from around £100,000 to £1 million.

These organisations have grown beyond the honeymoon phase of the sexy start-up everyone wants to fund, but are defying the capitalist trajectory that would see them morph into a mainstream conglomerate that could sit comfortably in the public or private sector.

They are the squeezed middle – organisations like Fife Gingerbread which has been supporting families in its area for three decades.

This sort of organisation benefits from staying local, it has so much work to do it doesn’t always have time to innovate, and it depends on the goodwill and energy of committed staff and volunteers.

And when an organisation like this loses funding it closes services, makes staff redundant, helps fewer people, and its community becomes weaker. Its failure costs society and the economy dearly

It’s been a difficult decade for all sections of society – years of recession and austerity have hit hard. The third sector though has been invited to the party at time of famine, and told to be grateful. Its innovation has been rewarded with a place at the table but it still feeds on the scraps of the public and private sectors, and is dismissed as unprofessional when it asks for more.

Charities that continue to exist in this environment have a survivor’s mentality – they are resilient, they adapt, they keep fighting. That doesn’t make the system efficient, though – it makes it abusive.

There has to be a better way.