Opinion: Rewards for integrity, vision and impact

Social change is rarely easy to achieve, often requiring shifts in both actions and attitudes.

From those who are tackling problems, it needs not only a clear understanding of and perspective on the issues, but the independence that will bring the essential commitment and hard work.

Luckily for all those who like the status quo, the latest evidence from the Charity Commission suggests many charities are supine service providers, unwilling and unable to nibble the hand that feeds them. The research showed that 88 per cent of charities are going hungry, failing to secure full cost recovery.

By their own shocking admission, only 26 per cent of charities delivering public services feel free to make decisions with no pressure to follow funders' wishes, and more than 30 per cent of service delivery charities - 67 per cent with incomes of £10m or more - rely on contracts for 80 per cent or more of their money.

Forget talk of mission drift or betrayal of trust; these are no longer charities except in name. They need casting out if the sector is to have any meaning or integrity, just as the Charity Commission's curious and carefully under-publicised decision in 2005 to allow the Trafford Community Leisure Trust and Wigan Leisure & Culture Trust, as charities, to take on councils' statutory functions, including graveyard maintenance, needs reversing.

In such an atmosphere of compromise, even fear, when it comes to the heart of what charities should be about, the timing of the Directory for Social Change's new Social Change Awards (disclosure: my suggestion) is impeccable. Each award implicitly or explicitly seeks those threatened qualities of integrity, vision and commitment, such as the Everyday Impact Award for someone "who gets off their backside and achieves something positive for the cause they care about".

As well as an Influencer Award and an Investing in Social Change Award, there's even a Public Body Award for working "with the community to achieve shared social change objectives", and not - it could have added - abusing charities and those in need by constantly breaking the Compact and underfunding the work so that hard-won donations and volunteer time must subsidise public services.

Let's hope the Social Change Awards - the nomination deadline is 5 April, with presentations at Charityfair on 6 June (see www.dsc.org.uk) - reveal the true heart of the charity world and its partners; making a difference, not merely marking time.

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