Charities should not try to conform to the government’s “ridiculous” ideas about the sector, according to Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change (DSC).
Allcock Tyler, speaking on the first morning of the Charity Accounts’ Conference online, run by DSC with Sayer Vincent, also warned that relations between the government and the sector were worse than at any point during the last three decades.
‘We are messy and uncontrollable’
She said: “One of the messages we are very much being given by government – and not just by government, by some sector commentators – is that the sector is not very well run. That we are not very efficient, we are not very effective, we are not very ordered.”
Allcock Tyler said that this model for the sector “is about being ordered and tidy, and being obedient.
“It is about conforming to quite strict rules and regulations, about being cut and culled if we stray out of our little bit of where we are.”
She added: “It is utterly ridiculous, because it bears no relationship whatsoever to what our sector is actually like. We are more like an ecosystem. We fill the gaps. We are messy and uncontrollable because human life is messy and uncontrollable.
“We come in all shapes, all sizes, all colours. And that’s fine. We have got to stop trying to conform to some romanticised idea of what charities look like.”
Relations with government in a ‘parlous state’
Allcock Tyler also told the conference that relations between the charity sector and Whitehall were extremely poor.
She said: “The honest truth is, our relationship with government is probably worse than it has ever been, ever, in all my 35 years plus working in the sector.
“I have never known it in such a parlous state as it is now.”
She added that sector leaders had provided officials with “loads of data” to explain the consequences of coronavirus on charities, but argued that “facts and data don’t seem to work with this government”.
Her comments come less than a week after Karl Wilding, chief executive of NCVO, said that the government had seen the sector as "an irrelevance" during the crisis.
Keeping trustees calm
Allcock Tyler urged staff to work closely with trustees to prevent charity boards “panicking” as income fell because of the pandemic.
She said that trustees will need to “accept the fact that you may not be getting a lot of money in now, but if you hang on in there, I promise you the money will come back out the other end”.
“Sometimes we will shrink and sometimes we will grow”, she said, adding: “There is absolutely no shame in shrinking.
“We really need to discourage trustees from panicking and thinking, ‘Right we have got to close down or we have got to merge,’ rather than saying, ‘Let’s just adapt to these circumstances’.”
Allcock Tyler argued that one effect of the pandemic might be to ensure conversations about charity finances remember that money is only important as a way to deliver help to beneficiaries.
She said: “If your targets are about growing income, I wonder if those are the right targets to have.”