I'm generally an optimistic and hopeful person. Many of us who work in the voluntary sector are, because we see so much of what is good in humanity and how generous and kind people can be to each other. But I do feel a bit ground down of late. Uncharacteristically, I ignored a rather stupid email I received from an MP that would normally have prompted a robust response from me. I simply didn't have the energy to slap him down! It just felt a bit pointless – he clearly hates charities and won't change his mind, so why bother? My team is worried that I'm losing the will to whinge. But it just feels harder, and the climate seems so hostile for our sector. And this isn't helped by the generally scaremongering mainstream media reporting on charities.
My team advises me never to read the comment threads under online articles. Unfortunately, when the Charities Aid Foundation published its latest UK Giving report, my team wasn't around to remind me of their excellent advice. The report is great and the coverage was OK. But, stupidly, I started reading the comments. This reinforced the truth about the internet – that although its value to charities can be immeasurable, it's also where ignorant, abusive people go to project their opinions far more widely than is merited.
And they were out in force on this one. It is hard to describe the horrible, ill- informed tripe that littered the comments sections wherever the report got coverage. The hatred of charities that oozed from the screen made me feel ill and rather depressed. I might have understood if any of it had any basis in truth. But it didn't.
I recall an article on the Third Sector website in March about Google Poetics. If you type in a keyword, Google completes the sentence based on what most people search for. If you're having a good day and want to spoil it, type into the search bar "charities are" and prepare to be annoyed. Spoiler alert: the most popular search phrase is "charities are scams".
Politicians and the media clearly aren't basing their knowledge of what the public thinks about charities on any sound, well-crafted evidence. So it must come from reading comments and poorly designed, biased opinion polls. For goodness sake! If you ask someone out of context if the staff of a children's charity should be paid, they are bound to say no. But if you ask them if a not-for-profit organisation that works with severely physically and emotionally traumatised young people should pay their workers, I suspect they might say yes.
Thankfully, those people commenting are not representative. If you Google "charities are scams", you get 637,000 results – but a search for "charities are important" gets 64 million. Still not a scientific analysis, of course, but if the public despised and distrusted charities that much, they wouldn't give as much as they do – more than £10bn in 2014, according to CAF, and this in a time of austerity. And the National Council for Voluntary Organisations says that more than 15 million people volunteer. The proper data indicates that we are not, in fact, a nation of people who dislike and distrust charities at all. Phew!
Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change