Wednesday 8 April 2009

Our glorious Third Sector

Good for Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA. He continues to Blog on the sector. His latest comments are worth reading. He is very ACEVO minded.(Click here to read it.) He has blogged on the need for governance reform and now echoes ACEVO's line on the importance of the third sector in our economy and society. I hope the recent controversy stirred up by the absurd attack on charity campaigning will help also direct attention to our sector and what we do.

I met recently with the new CEO of the Fundraising Standards Board, Alistair McLean (also an ACEVO member). This relatively new body is important to us. Bad fundraising has the strong capacity to damage a charity brand. This is a bold attempt at sector regulation by the sector itself. So it must work, or we risk regulation by others. Are we good at this?

The fundraising theme continues into the evening when I go to the launch of Virgin Money Giving. Virgin are taking over the sponsorship of the London Marathon from 2010. This is the largest single fundraising event in the world. So its vital. Virgin Giving has been set up as a new platform for Internet giving. It will handle all the sponsorship for the Marathon, but also will be a platform for other charity events. The new Chief Executive, Jo Barnett, has joined ACEVO and I am happy to offer her support. A charming and dynamic individual - as you would expect from Virgin! The evening involves drumming! The sight of the CEO of ACEVO and the CEO of The Institute of Fundraising with drums wedged between their thighs was one happily not captured by Third Sector magazine! Virgin Giving will be a free platform, so may be in competition with the for profit Just Giving. That will be interesting. But it is clear Internet giving is booming; as the new head of "The Big Give" tells me when he come in to see me this morning. Jon Brooks is not yet a member so I am aiming to seduce him in!

But you cannot divorce fundraising from the general reputation and brand of a charity; one of the key roles for a CEO. When I see the very variable standards of governance and the sometimes shaky trustee boards, I worry about our transparency and accountability.

And finally, as they say, I get an email from a member CEO who runs an international charity. He says it is becoming clear that the impact on the world's poorest people in recession is going to be "immense". For example he says the Irish Government have slashed their aid budget by 20%. He says, "we have many members working internationally who are facing real challenges as a consequence of exchange rate changes. There are a ACEVO members who are tied into arrangements which cannot easily be changed in the short and mid term where costs have risen by 25% as a result of the depreciation of sterling."

So perhaps a little reflection on this as we read reports of the recent research report from NCVO which has attracted some unfortunate headlines of the "crisis, what crisis" type . One of the reports The paper argues that "studies which predict recession catastrophe for charities are often not credible". The press report warns charities not to cry wolf and even suggest some charities may be talking up the crisis. Of course I have only seen the press interpretations and I am sure the actual report is more balanced, as one would expect.

I agree that the recession will present opportunities. I strongly believe that we can lead recovery. That is the purport of my recent lecture. And it is clear many parts of the sector are recession proof because the recession can be counter cyclical for some third sector bodies. But this type of reporting is deeply unhelpful to organisations like those above who are suffering real time and significant drops in support. In ACEVO we have seen a big rise in calls to our helplines and advice networks. There are CEOs who have lost their jobs. Telling them that they have been crying wolf is possibly not useful advice.

And now let me sign off by wishing you a very Happy and peaceful Easter. I shall be taking my Easter Communion at my old College in Oxford and even taking time off from blogging!

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