13 Apr After Oxfam: The future of charity
After Oxfam: The future of charity
It is no secret that charities are under intense scrutiny at the moment. Following allegations of sexual misconduct perpetrated by Oxfam staff in Haiti, there has been significant fallout for the organisation itself coupled with a wealth of public bad feeling. Most notably, Oxfam has lost over 7,000 donors as a direct result of the scandal that broke in February 2018. It may be easy to indulge in broad despair and distrust for charitable groups as a result, but it is important to remember that what follows is constructive; a frank look at how charities operate, an emphasis on safeguarding, and a revivifying of crucial public trust measures and transparency.
What do the UK public think?
In order to better understand the effect of the Oxfam scandal on public opinion, I spoke to a customer-facing member of the Oxfam fundraising team. For him and his team,
“the impact of the scandal was immediately noticeable. Fundraisers noticed a significant increase in verbal abuse on the street, from slurs directed at the charity, to those of a very personal nature.”
Despite an increase in negative encounters, he goes on to say
“It is worth noting that besides that increase in negativity on the street some fundraisers noticed an increase in people stopping to offer words of support, both for individual members of staff and the charity as a whole… Based on these observations, it seems that the scandal has had a polarising effect on members of the public, with people rushing either to critique or defend Oxfam & charity in general, more vigorously than before.”
Interestingly, many people have taken a more nuanced view of the story, often refraining from criticising the organisation or ‘big charity’ in its entirety. However, the inevitable and considerable loss of support by donors on the other side represents the price of what is deemed to be a fundamental breach of trust between a charity and its supporters. Does this incident represent a fundamental shift in how we think about charity and our demand for transparency?
Charitable giving in the UK
This is not the first time that the charity sector has been rocked by scandal. Less than three years ago, fundraising malpractice and significant governance failings on the part of charity Kid’s Company led to their collapse. The coercion of the elderly and vulnerable people for the purposes of fundraising was a particularly shocking and distasteful revelation to their donors and the general public. The silver lining – charity regulatory bodies reviewed policy on fundraising strategy and data protection, restricting the type and means of contact that a charity could use to acquire donations. A welcome change to the public, the handling of the Kid’s Company scandal was swift and relevant. Ultimately, it seems to have done little to levels of charitable giving in 2016 and 2017.
Latest survey findings suggest that charitable donations remain consistent. Despite the looming economic uncertainty of Brexit, the Charities Aid Foundation’s annual UK Giving report showed donations to charity are holding steady at £9.7 billion a year. Interestingly, there has been a considerable rise in the proportion of people saying they did something charitable. This might include giving giving money or goods, or volunteering, rising from 79% in 2015 to 89% in 2016. Is this set to change as a demand for transparency brings more distasteful stories to light?
The future of charity
Vicky Browning, the leader of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo) has identified a profound shift in the landscape occupied by charity.
“I think that feeling of entitlement to the benefit of the doubt has really diminished…We are not perfect and we need to do better and this is what we are going to do about it’. The sense that we are slightly untouchable because of the nature of our work has gone. This is the new normal, this is what it’s like now.”
For Browning, echoing the concerns of many concerned stakeholders, a move towards complete transparency is crucial for the charity sector coupled with a zero tolerance stance on abuse. Undoubtedly, greater openness and increased demands on charities will produce a disenchantment among private and larger corporate donors that will reduce charitable spending.
Concerning the availability of grants, a recent report by PwC stated:
“Grants from across the public sector are becoming scarcer. Those bodies that continue to fund charities are rightly looking for evidence of the impact and outcome of the work, making access to the funds more competitive… How can they be sure their donation is being put to best use and having the most impact?”
Donors should be critical of where their grants or donations are spent. An increase in charity disclosures and available information is an essential part of that process. However, Browning has emphasised the importance of understanding and what that may mean to a donor in a practical sense. An important example of this is the expectation for rigorous internal processes that will significantly reduce instances of malpractice or abuse within charities. With an increase in these kind of processes comes an increase in spending on administration, something donors must be able to reconcile. Using similar measures and a renewed vigour for stamping out harmful practices across the sector, Browning concludes:
“If we are going to continue to do the work we are most proud of, we must actively confront the parts of the sector we are most ashamed of.”
What can you do? Advice for donors
Do your research! If you are looking to donate to charity but you’re worried about where your money is going, or whether an organisation shares your own ethos, make sure you read as much as you can. With demands for greater accountability of charities, the information has never been more accessible! Look at their Annual Reports, Financial Reports, newspaper articles written about them, as well as a plethora of online information and resources. For more information on UK charities, visit www.gov.uk/find-charity-information.
The need for charity in today’s world
In the UK alone, 83% of people have made use of a charitable service in the last year according to Aveco. A similar and often more intense demand is seen throughout the wider world, with people increasingly relying on charities to provide where public services have reduced provision. Charities are providing an ever broader range of services in response to the ever growing needs of the people who require them. The diversification of service provision has seen huge leaps forward in sustainable development, and the sharing of initiatives that works for the benefit of humanity across a huge variety of fields and applications.
At EmbraceAbility, we understand the weight of the commitment undertaken by sponsors and donors when they choose to support a charitable cause. To those who support us, we make our own binding commitment.
– We are committed to using all of our resources to achieve our vision – building inclusive communities in which every person is valued equally.
– We are committed to the highest accounting and financial standards – EmbraceAbility ensures that all our finances and resources are carefully monitored. They are then utilised in a considered and appropriate manner.
– We are committed to complete transparency and open dialogue with our sponsors – we will send updates to all of our sponsors on a monthly basis. Sponsors will receive regular impact reports, financial reviews, and project evaluations.