We are witnessing a struggle for the soul of the sector. Battle lines have been in place for a long time, but the seismic plates are now shifting more quickly. Sooner or later, everyone will be forced to declare whether they are a Cavalier or a Roundhead.
Cavaliers largely view the sector through the prism of philanthropy, in which the poor and needy have good done to them by people of superior status. Roundheads believe that the sector has an important role in transforming society and that this can be achieved only with a transfer of power to the communities being served. Cavaliers run services like aristocrats and, while they recognise the importance of consultation, they control the process. For Roundheads, power is legitimate only if it is held by or on behalf of the communities served.
Several contributions to the July edition of Third Sector raised issues about the distribution of power. For example, the academic Colin Rochester in his book review described how voluntary action could be empowering (page 17), and Tom Traynor, head of research at the Directory of Social Change, drew attention to the inequalities of power between funders and those seeking social change (page 7).
There is no indication that these conflicts are exercising the minds of leading players in the sector, but if voices clamouring for change are not heard it will be difficult to secure a smooth transition. We know what happens to Cavaliers who fail to bow to progress. Can we move forward without spilling blood?
Wally Harbert, Frome, Somerset
Transforming Rehabilitation is wasting our time and money…
As the chief executive of a small charity offering mentoring, we have put enormous resources into preparing ourselves for the Transforming Rehabilitation programme and ensuring that we would be able to apply for any tenders that came our way (July, pages 32-35).
But I feel we have wasted huge amounts of valuable time and money going down this road in the mistaken belief that our work would be taken seriously and valued. We are picking up the pieces of a disastrous and rushed change where most of the referrals we receive are from people who are being released with no accommodation. Most don't have much hope of getting any accommodation at the moment either, even with our help. I wonder where this is going.
Jane Barkes, chief executive, The Footprints Project, Bournemouth, Dorset
...and will limit the help we can give to high-risk sex offenders
The Transforming Rehabilitation feature highlighted the uncertainties and opportunities for charities supporting low-risk offenders. These are equally as acute, if not more so, for charities working with high-risk, long-term offenders.
The charity I lead uses local volunteers to help reintegrate high-risk sex offenders into the community. In our view, the budget constraints across the criminal justice system might have the unintended consequence of limiting the volunteer response to some of the most reviled members of our community. Like others working with high-risk offenders, we find that the stigma associated with long-term and high-risk sex offenders makes for a less attractive charitable funding proposition.
In this sector, it takes courage, innovation and evidence to win support. These are fundamental issues for funders to understand if we are to gain their support for the longer term.
Liz Brown, chief executive, Circles UK, Reading, Berkshire
Media criticism of charities
When NPC conducted polling last year, we found a vast gap between those who were comfortable with charity bosses earning the same as their private sector counterparts (22 per cent) and those who weren't (43 per cent). Some accused charities of existing only "to feed the fat cats" or to serve "the needs of its own staff". This is why the Understanding Charities Group was established, to coordinate a strong narrative across the whole sector. Putting our heads in the sand is not an option.
Sue Wixley, communications director, NPC, London SE1
I am tired of all this media attention on charities. It would be interesting to see the fabric of the society start to fall apart at the seams if charities were not around to paper over the cracks left by the lack of central or local funding.
Terry Squire, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire
The sector needs to get on the front foot about charities' invaluable contribution to UK society. The more charities that get involved in the Understanding Charities Group, the stronger our collective voice can be.
Vicky Browning, director, Charity Comms, London E1
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