The charity sector is going through a difficult period and should focus on new models and ways to reinvent itself, the outgoing chief executive of Comic Relief said this week.
Liz Warner, who will leave her post at Comic Relief at the end of the year to set up a social enterprise, was speaking at charity sector think tank NPC’s summer reception on Wednesday evening.
She told the audience that she wanted to offer an optimistic view of the future and “talk against the current vibe in the sector”.
She said the sector has a “really exciting future” but needs to “embrace it and let go of some of the old.”
Warner said the sector was currently going through a difficult period but that she expected this drive forward innovation in the sector.
“We often feel a bit beleaguered,” she said. “It’s quite hard not to feel brow beaten in times where we’re living under constant press scrutiny, particularly somewhere like Comic Relief where we sometimes feel like we have a target pinned to our heads because we are so public facing.”
She added that it is “tougher to raise money in traditional ways” and “really difficult to deliver services”.
“But I think that this scrutiny and this questioning and the pressure we’re living under is actually going to serve us well,” she said.
This is because “tough times force reinvention”. She added that: “I actually feel pretty optimistic about what is going to come out the other side.”
Warner said the sector should spend less time trying to fix old models and focus more on finding new ways of doing things.
“You can’t always fix the past models,” she said. “I know that everybody thinks you should be able to but I actually think would like to say maybe we shouldn’t spend quite so much time trying to fix the past and might spend a bit more time on looking to some of the new scalable models that will be the future of social change.”
She cautioned against “living in our own quagmire of worry and concern” and urged charities to look to the future.
‘Yet to have our Netflix moment’
Warner also said that a big disruption, such as the one Netflix has had on the television industry, was yet to come.
“The real disruption of the charity sector is yet to occur. I think it’s yet to have its breakthrough model,” she said.
“We are yet to have the Netflix of charity. It will come.”
She added that it is vital to involve younger people who have demonstrated that they are passionate about social change.
“The answer has to be that we need to work with the generation and we need to hand on our beliefs and values sooner rather than later.”
She gave examples of this happening such as pop up stores, social enterprises, new models of philanthropy like the movement for founders pledging future earnings.
‘We mustn’t hang on to the past’
Warner urged charities to embrace the future and new technology.
“All of this won’t happen if we hang on to the past and we don’t engage with the users,” she said. “We need solutions designed by and with users. We need digital first solutions. We need to go where the people are and we need to go mobile.”
She also said that improving diversity was important, and that it is only by “doing true diversity and inclusion, and I mean that in the widest possible sense, that we will accelerate change and speed up the invention of the new”.