Opinion: Fair proof that the sector has ripened in age

The Directory of Social Change's Charity Fair is, like the sector, ever-burgeoning, with more participants, stands and events than ever before.

I took part in the final panel session, but I doubted there would be many prepared to sit it out late on a Thursday afternoon.

How wrong I was. The room was almost full to the brim. My fellow panel members and I soon found ourselves engaging in a superb plenary session. A palpable sense of a sector coming of age certainly shone through.

The audience, drawn from right across the sector, focused on three main themes: funding, reputation and regulation. The key issues? Funding first, including chuggers. Most people agreed that, despite attempts to demonise chuggers, those who have been 'chugged' find themselves part of a passionate dialogue about a cause, and are engaged by enthusiasm to give. It works.

We progressed to a debate about spreading financial risk by diversifying funding bases, including using loan finance and guarantees. Trustees were exhorted to be more creative with reserves policies, portfolios and inward investment in the sector - to price rather than cost services while pushing for continuity in contracts and grant making.

The discourse on reputation highlighted the importance of voluntary sector organisations not shooting each other in the foot by competing, when collaboration would help deliver on missions further and faster. The importance of values and ethics emerged as paramount because the sector's integrity depends on credibility leading to public trust. The importance of educating the public to understand the newly emerging non-profit sector, in its many effective forms, was emphasised.

Finally, 'standards and regulation', where it was seen as vital that the impending Charities Bill should ensure a voluntary sector fit for purpose, to compete and partner with other sectors on a level playing field. It should be enabled to be accountable, within a strategic regulatory framework, based on evidence of impact rather than the cost of postage stamps! This all required more investment in good governance.

What a time to be part of such a vibrant, forward-looking sector.

Geraldine Peacock is a charity commissioner, but writes in a personal capacity

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