Kirsty Weakley: What can charities expect from 2019?

07 Jan 2019 Voices

As 2019 gets underway, Kirsty Weakley sums up what charities should be looking out for, and makes a few predictions about what the year might hold for charities. 

Just as mince pies, mulled wine and reflective reviews of the year are commonplace in December, January is the time for diets, gym memberships and speculatives pieces promising insight into the year ahead. 

Full disclaimer: I profess to have no psychic abilities. If you’re curious as to how good my previous predictions have been here’s what I wrote this time last year

Brexit, Brexit and more Brexit 

Brexit is still taking most of the political energy. Sorry. As withdrawal day looms (29 March) there’s still little clarity about what is actually going to happen. 

This means that charities need to be preparing for a range of scenarios. It also makes it difficult to get politicians to pay attention to anything else. 

Economic slowdown 

Brexit is widely expected to have a negative impact on the UK economy, but there are also signs that the wider world economy may be heading for tough times. 

Charities tend to be squeezed at both ends when there is a recession as funding becomes scarcer but need increases. 

Shared Prosperity Fund 

The government has proposed a new UK Shared Prosperity Fund to replace European Union funding, though it remains shrouded in uncertainty.

A consultation was expected before the end of 2018 but this has not materialised, and it is difficult to see how there would now be enough time for a meaningful process ahead of Brexit.  

Charity Commission roadmap 

The Charity Commission unveiled its new strategic vision last autumn. This demands higher standards from charities, and promises that the regulator will play a more active role and offer more support. 

The strategy received a mixed response from the sector, which was broadly supportive of the ambition but were concerned about some of the language used.

Crucially the Commission must explain how it will fund the aims set out in the strategy. For years it has been mooting a levy on larger charities but it has still not launched a formal consultation. 

Before it can go out to consultation it needs to gain approval from the Treasury. I’m not holding my breath on this one, but stranger things have happened. 

Tougher behaviour from the Fundraising Regulator? 

The Fundraising Regulator announced late last year that it now plans to name charities in its investigations report. 

It also welcomes a new chair this month. The Labour peer Lord Harris has only just taken up the role so it remains to be seen what direction he will take the regulator in. But I think I can confidently predict that there will be fewer “Wild West” references

A robot as chief executive?

New technologies continue to promise to revolutionise the charity sector (though incidentally many charities still receive a sizeable chunk of their income from cheques). And some technologies are having more success than others. 

Claims from new cryptocurrency platforms that they could open a new tranche of giving and restore trust seem far fetched and ill thought out. In reality they are still a long way off having any meaningful impact on the vast majority of charities. 

But last year saw more charities getting to grips with contactless donation boxes. As fewer and fewer people carry cash around with them, more charities will start to offer ‘tap to donate’ functionality. This still requires improvements in the technology and network capacity, and there is a need to bring down the start-up costs to make it accessible and scalable, but 2019 could be the year that this goes mainstream. 

I also expect that more charities will experiment with machine learning technology to automate some of their processes. Replacing the chief executive with a robot is probably still a few decades off, but you never know…  

 

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