Last week, an audience – which can only be described as a veritable who’s who of the charity world – came together for the Annual Public Meeting of the Charity Commission, the regulator of charities in England and Wales.
The timing was auspicious. In a week when charities were being asked hard questions about ethics, morality and the methods through which funds are raised for good causes, the event was a timely reminder of the values, ethos and high standards of professionalism that are embedded in the sector.
The challenges faced by the sector are well rehearsed, with funding pressures, heightened scrutiny and fragile public trust just some of the things keeping charity trustees and chief executives awake at night. There was, however, no pessimism in the room – instead just a frank and refreshing acknowledgement that old challenges need brave and creative solutions.
HRH The Duke of Cambridge summed this up during a powerful and at times moving speech, in which he recalled the Royal Family’s long and productive history of charitable support and his own visits, as a child, to homeless shelters with his mother. This speech, as well as reflecting on the past, looked to the future. Collaboration, convening, working in partnership – these are the things that will allow charities to survive and flourish. While recognising that “charities exist because those who work and volunteer for them each believe passionately in their importance”, it is also the case that “the sector must be open to collaborate, to share expertise, and resources”.
It is – as the keynote speaker recognised – not an easy message for many to hear. However, already there are signs that the sector is beginning to see the merits of this argument – that we are seeing more collaboration when previously there was only duplication. Just last year, two of the UK’s bowel cancer decided to merge because of the similarities between the two charities and, ultimately, so that they could have a bigger impact.
This isn’t the right solution for all charities but it is something we should hope to see more in future. The charity sector has to survive and thrive. As his Royal Highness said at the end of his speech, in what is probably one of the pithiest summaries of the spirit of charity in recent memory: “kindness, compassion, neighbourliness, big and small acts of generosity form the glue of our society, and our links to other parts of the world. Charity facilitates and channels that generosity”.
In a week when charity giving was in the media for all the wrong reasons, this is a message worth remembering.