Last year was an unprecedented time in the history of the British Red Cross. The summer of 2017 brought with it a series of devastating UK emergencies alongside complex global crises affecting millions of people. The Red Cross was created nearly 150 years ago to respond in these moments. And it was heartening to see a huge outpouring of kindness from the British public in response.
The British Red Cross is supporting people through some of the defining crises of our time, both domestically and internationally – frail, elderly people caught in the revolving door between hospital and home, loneliness, refugees, chronic hunger, terror attacks, natural disasters, and ongoing conflicts around the world.
People are often surprised when they hear that the majority of our charitable expenditure is actually spent here in the UK (over 60 per cent in 2017). From providing assistance during an emergency, to making sure people know what to do in a crisis through our first aid training, we are supporting people around the clock across the country. Last year we were called out to an emergency in the UK every four hours.
In 2017, the generous British public helped us raise an incredible £284.5m for people in crisis, a record figure. The income growth is largely due to our role in raising money for the people affected by last summer’s domestic tragedies. The Manchester Arena bombing, London Bridge attack and the Grenfell Tower Fire took place within three weeks in 2017. Generous donations from the public, global stars and many businesses enabled us to raise £28m for the victims and their families. 100 per cent of this funding went to those affected.
I had the privilege to meet some of the many people we have supported in the last year – from the hurricanes in the British Virgin Islands, the conflict in Syria, to the tragedies on our own doorstep at Grenfell, Manchester and London Bridge. Every time I sat down and heard people’s stories, I was moved by the power of human kindness and compassion to support people in some of their darkest moments.
'We must adapt'
However, as we approach our 150th anniversary in 2020 we are forced to confront a changing climate. The fundraising environment is increasingly challenging, while demand for our services only rises. In common with other charities, a combination of a saturated market and new fundraising guidelines (which we have welcomed from the beginning) mean a projected reduction in regular donations. In order to continue supporting people in crisis, we must diversify our income and adapt to the current financial realities.
We estimate that up to five million people come into contact with the British Red Cross each year – each of these is a chance for us to connect and inspire people to join us in ways that work for them, whatever their stage of life. To reflect this desire for long-term, ongoing relationships with our donors and supporters, we have created a new role, a chief supporter officer, which will replace the role of executive director of fundraising. I am delighted that Paul Amadi, a hugely experienced and progressive fundraiser who embraces this new world of supporter engagement, will be joining us this summer.
As always, our focus must be on how we can make the biggest impact where it is needed most, within the resources available. This means adapting the way we deliver our services to ensure we are best placed to achieve our vision of a world where everyone gets the help they need in a crisis. We are doing this by developing innovative new service delivery models and encouraging a real culture of creativity and curiosity. To achieve this we need a workforce that reflects the people we are trying to support. I am personally leading our inclusion and diversity strategy so that we access the best talent wherever it may be found. We're also working to reduce the gender pay gap and increase diversity among our staff and volunteers.
We’ve been evolving since 1870 to remain relevant and to ensure we fulfil our mission to mobilise the power of humanity so people in crisis get the help they need. While these may be turbulent times, both at home and overseas, we will ensure we are ready to support people through whatever the next 150 years bring.
Kindness comes in many forms. And there’s something every single one of us can do to help. That’s why we connect those who’ve got kindness to share, to those who need it most, every day.
And we will keep doing this, for the next 150 years and beyond.