In a discussion with the Charity Commission in January last year Prince William warned that with the number of registered charities continually rising we must try to collaborate more and ensure we do not fall into the trap of becoming territorial and solely focused on individual interests. He points out the issue of trust and how the charity sector needs to do more to maintain the public's trust of charities in a progressively polarising age.
The Prince’s comments lay bare three worrying trends facing the charity sector:
- competition between charities in an increasingly competitive market stunting our ability to form coalitions;
- with this increased competition, a worrying trend of organisations focusing their resources and efforts more on their appearance and palatability to potential donors, rather than their genuine impact;
- and finally, the growth of the market generating mistrust and confusion amongst the general public.
Collaboration can make donations go further
The charity sector is continually growing, both in terms of pre-existing charities expanding their areas of work and reach, but also in terms of newly registered organisations. As a recent UK Giving study revealed, whilst the total amount given to charity is increasing, this is rooted in fewer people giving more, rather than an increase in people donating.
With the number of people donating to charity decreasing, there is now an increased necessity for charitable organisations to engage the wider population in not only donating to charity, but their charity specifically.
Charities reflect both their own interests and the interests of their beneficiaries. They, after all, believe they are doing the most effective work in their area of focus, so it is completely understandable that they would want donors to choose them. However, there is a line, and sometimes this competitivity actually limits our ability to be the most impactful and beneficial we can be.
Collaboration and working together can take the contributions of donors so much further than if we isolate ourselves, become inward focusing and view other organisations also trying to do good work as rivals and competitors. Where possible, we should encourage collaboration and partnership and ally ourselves with the force for good, not a force dominated by ego and driven by a crippling competitivity.
Donors have more choice
Now that the number of registered charities is reaching an all-time high, and the number of donors is on the decrease, donors have more of a selection in choosing who they wish to donate to.
Donors can now be shoppers in a charity supermarket; the challenge of the charitable organisations is to package themselves in the most attractive way possible in order to be selected off the shelf.
Due to this pressure, we have seen a variety of different attempts to appeal to the masses, utilising a number of different social media platforms, from celebrity campaigns to innovative and creative video campaigns. Marketing charities in new, inventive ways to expand engagement can develop into really brilliant outcomes and we should celebrate different ways of encouraging donations, so long as what is represented is genuine and honest.
Choosing a charity to support can feel like a task in itself, with multiple charities, big and small, working on the same issues, in the same areas, each claiming to have more of an impact than the other, all fighting for donations. Let alone the fear of potentially donating to organisations who have attractive campaigns but are limited in their real impact.
If we want to encourage charity giving and rebuild confidence in the sector, we must acknowledge that these fears are very real, and are often rooted in legitimate and plausible concerns.
Setting up a charity is not the only way to help
One way of tackling this issue of mistrust is through investing more time in ensuring people understand the full responsibilities, difficulties and impact they have as a charity.
We need to counter the premise that the only way to make a genuine change, to help those in need and to save lives is through creating a charity - there is more than just one avenue. We need to take heed of the Charity Commission's guidance on how to set up a charity, of which the first point explicitly asks whether becoming a charity is the right option for you.
There are other avenues, such as working with an existing charity, setting up a named fund, or setting up a non-charitable social enterprise which could be more effective. We should be vocal about the alternative options if they are more suited and help spread the information, so it is easily accessible and understandable to the public.
The Duke of Cambridge recommended this himself: "I do wonder at times if the compassion which leads people to set up or maintain charities could not be equally well directed at first finding opportunities to work with existing charities.”
For this to genuinely work though, larger charities need to be more open to project proposals from the public and give space for this very important interaction and sharing of ideas to take place and for those who are thinking to set up charities to think twice before they do so.
It is very important to always remember we are dealing with people’s lives and future and good intentions and compassion may not be enough.