Professionalisation of sector might have alienated donors, suggests Tory MP

By Tim Tonkin, Third Sector Online, 10 October 2012

Rory Stewart

Rory Stewart

Rory Stewart tells fringe event at the party conference that the modernisation of charities has removed the lifeblood and energy that motivates volunteers

The professionalisation of the charity sector and the influence of national charities might have alienated donors, according to Rory Stewart, the Conservative MP for Penrith and The Border.

Stewart made the comments yesterday during a fringe meeting hosted by the Charities Aid Foundation at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.

Research published last month by CAF showed that more than half of all donations to charities now come from the over-60s, compared with just over a third 30 years ago.

Stewart told delegates part of the problem was that many people had become disconnected from those charities that had professionalised their operations.

"We have put so much energy and joy into the development of a specialised profession of the third sector, and we have tended to assume that we were doing the right thing," he said. "All of this might have created charities that are further and further away from the imaginations and interests of ordinary people.

"We have got to get out of this ludicrous role we have been in for the past 20 years, where charities love to be called professional because they think somehow volunteers are amateur, are second-rate. In doing that, we have actually removed the lifeblood and energy that meant those generations of the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s wanted to give and get involved."

Stewart said his constituents believed that large national charities dominated the sector and had an overbearing effect on the smaller, local charities that many donors were better able to identify with.

Speaking from the floor, Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charity Finance Group, said it was wrong to suggest that large charities were to blame.

"The vast majority of charities are tiny, tiny organisations working very locally," she said. "This is about charitable giving; it’s not about saying that commissioning services through larger organisations is having a detrimental effect on the giving culture."

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