'The uncertain environment does not mean charities should be risk averse’

19 Sep 2019 News

Charities should not stop taking risks despite the possibility of an imminent election and uncertainty over Brexit, charities were told yesterday. 

Kate Sayer, consultant at Sayer Vincent, told attendees at Charity Bank’s Road to Growth event that it is “easy for us to become very risk averse” in this “difficult environment”. However, she said “this is not the time to think risk management is about being risk averse”, adding that charities need to be “bold”.

“Failing well is actually a really worthwhile thing to do” as it is “part of learning and doing things better,” she said. Risk management does not mean just stopping doing things, but being proactive by implementing pilot schemes and promoting “creativity”.

This form of risk taking is necessary for growth and sustainability, she explained.

Edward Siegel, chief executive of Charity Bank, said charities are in a “period of uncertainty”, but that does not mean the bank is seeing a large increase in loan applications.

‘Difficult environment’ should not detract from charities focus on tech and young people

Other speakers agreed that the current climate should not mean charities stop innovating. They said charities should be mindful to make sure Brexit uncertainties do not detract from their focus on digital skills and young people.

Elizabeth Chamberlain, head of policy and public services at NCVO, said: “It is a challenging external environment at the moment because of uncertainty” surrounding the political climate. The concern, should a snap-election go ahead, would surround “everything happening so fast that charities did not have a chance to influence”.

But there are also other “key issues” that charities should focus on. For example, technology “is still an issue where charities are behind the curve”. She said that one out of every five charities had faced cybersecurity breaches and 36 per cent believe staff are missing digital skills.

“The way in which people engage now is so affected by technology”, which means charities are “missing opportunities to engage a younger generation of volunteers,” she added.

Chamberlain said this is all part of the “huge issue about diversity within the sector”. These “revealing inequalities” mean that “trustees are drawn from quite a narrow section” and are not attracting younger people.

Peter Spencer, charity solicitor at Wellers Law, concluded that “it is all so easy to become reactionary”, but said charities should focus on being "proactive”.

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