Time for charities to stand their ground against bullies

Tabloids cropped

Susan Smith argues that it's time for decent, well run charties to stand their ground against tabloid bullies

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12th February 2016 by Susan Smith 0 Comments

Age UK Trade and Help for Heroes both appeared in the mainstream media this week for not very positive reasons – one accused of profiting off older people and the other of general mismanagement and the poor treatment of staff.

Both responded firmly and appropriately. Age UK Trade issued a strong rebuttal and withdrew the offending product – an E.ON energy deal for pensioners. Help for Heroes threatened to take legal action against its accusers.

Good for Help for Heroes. Assuming the story is false, that is.

Negative media stories about charities have become increasingly common in the last year. We’ve read about the death of 92-year-old Poppy seller Olive Cooke, who was inundated with fundraising requests, there’s been stories about questionable tactics employed by charity fundraising call centres, questions around the management of the KiltWalk, the demise of Kids Company, and the enormous salaries of some charity chief executives.

It isn’t easy running a charity and there’s no reason to roll over at the slightest criticism

While some of these stories are perfectly legitimate, others on closer inspection are not. The majority of charity chief executives in Scotland earn less than £50,000, for example, and the few that don’t run multi-million pound operations. The profits of Age UK Trade has been so cruelly making from partnering with E.ON to sell what it thought was the best energy deal go straight to its mother charity Age UK to provide services (many of which are free) to vulnerable older people across the country.

So, is the tabloid press picking on charities?

Perhaps. But perhaps the third sector can also take a bit of advice from Oscar Wilde who famously said: "There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about"

The third sector of charities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations has grown in stature and impact enormously over the last decade. Clearly it must be doing something right if it has become fair game for muck rakers.

With increased professionalism comes increased responsibility and increased accountability. Charities aren’t perfect, they make mistakes and some are better run than others. Just like people there’s no such thing as the perfect charity. But these days organisations need to remember that good intentions won’t let them off the hook if things go wrong.

Fortunately, the vast majority of charities are well run and enjoy high levels of public trust as a result. Therefore  it’s great to see both Age UK Trade and Help for Heroes standing their ground. It isn’t easy running a charity and there’s no reason to roll over at the slightest criticism.

Susan Smith is editor of Third Force News.