‘There are too many charities’ says NCVO chair 

20 Apr 2018 News

Peter Kellner, chair, NCVO

There are “too many charities”, the chair of NCVO said last night, before urging organisations to consider merger or closer collaboration.

Peter Kellner was chairing a panel last night to discuss a new report from the think tank NPC, Let’s talk mission and merger, where he said: “I think we all know in our heart of hearts that there are too many charities.”

His comments appear to be at odds with his chief executive, Sir Stuart Etherington, who told the umbrella body’s annual conference earlier this week that the idea that there were too many charities was “nonsense”. 

Giving his annual state of the sector address, Etherington said: “I want us to grow our impact. I want us to make a bigger difference to the challenges I have talked about.

“I have heard it said too frequently that there are too many charities. Nonsense. I have heard that there are not enough volunteers. Wrong.

“If anything we need more charities. And more social enterprises, more co-operatives and more mutuals.”

Kellner was at the conference when Etherington gave his speech. 

And yesterday he echoed Etherington’s call to increase the “impact of our sector” but that “getting the right range and number of charities” and building relationships between them was part of the challenge. 

Kellner said that there was a particular challenge for the charity sector in proactively seeking out merger or opportunities to collaborate.

He said “underperforming” organisations in the private sector find themselves facing takeover bids, but that in charities “as long as you keep going there isn’t any pressure”.

‘Stay focused on the mission’ 

Sarah Atkinson, director of policy and communications at the Charity Commission, told charities that it was important to keep “focused on the mission”. 

She said that should consider merger if they find that “a different kind of organisation can deliver your mission better”.

She added that by focusing on the mission, charities may realise it is “the time to stop” and that charities should know that they “don’t have to struggle on”. 

Atkinson said that as the Commission understands the data it holds on charities better there might be more it could do to encourage conversations.

She said there was the potential for “life cycle prompts” when charities file accounts or appear to be struggling.

'We need a grown up discussion'

Iona Joy, head of charities team at NPC and co-author of the report, said that the conversation in the sector around merger often becomes “polarised” and called for a “grown up discussion”. 

She also called on the sector to talk about it more openly. 

“There are really good stories and we need to get more open about sharing them,” she said. 

Chris Martin, chief executive of The Mix, which was formed by the merger of YouthNet and Get Connected, revealed that the merger between those two organisations was prompted by the two chairs meeting at a dinner party, where a funder urged them to merge. 

He said that he “did a lot of work to bring the two staff teams together” but now the charity was reaching more young people, had increased its income and was in a position to grow further. Martin also said that he does not think that the charity would have been in a position to partner with the Royal Foundation on the Heads Together campaign, prior to merger.

Richard Litchfield, chief executive of Eastside Primetimers, which produces an annual report into charity mergers, added that the total number had been relatively “static”. 

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