Dearden-Phillips is proposing a leaner but meaner third sector
Craig Dearden-Phillips posed some challenging questions of charities in The Year Ahead: Adapt or Die (January, pages 41-43). I would reply as follows:
1. Are you prepared to be taken over if it helps your cause? What is this obsession with being taken over? Takeovers require the legal transfer of assets, contracts, people and liabilities. A huge amount of due diligence is required before the right deal is concluded. About the only people guaranteed to benefit are consultants.
2. Are you prepared to hold on only to your organisation's brightest and best, and let large numbers of less capable people find new careers? You forgot to mention that holding on to your best and brightest also means running them into the ground, to be replaced as and when with an endless procession of cheaper youth. Why not be honest and say "let's get rid of older people, who are generally more expensive than younger workers"?
3. Are you willing to specialise and jettison the things you do that are of the lowest value? Specialising has proved a cul-de-sac for many women's charities seeking public contracts, so specialising might or might not be the right way. And when you say the "lowest value", what do you mean? Do you mean the lowest value to you personally, your organisation, your funder or the beneficiaries? I am intrigued by your dictum that you instinctively knew what worked. Almost all the people who come up with similar bold statements can never back them up with any hard facts, because they are usually based largely on prejudice rather than any real insight. Whole swathes of research indicate that what people thought worked and what did actually work were not always the same.
4. Are you prepared to become far more commercial in the way you deliver your mission? If charities were truly commercial, there would more of them, not fewer, because every new independent coffee house believes it can fill a gap or do it better than Costa et al. In some cases, they are right and in some cases they are wrong. It is called competition.
5. Are you up for this? I am wowed by your rhetoric on youth, but it ignores the fact that many new things have already been tried (and failed) and, in some cases, the voice of experience will stop the millennials from repeating the same mistakes. I remember being largely unconcerned by job security in my 20s and 30s, but this was a reflection of my lack of responsibilities. It was not the result of a mollycoddled, post-war consensus upbringing. Millennials will be just as afflicted with anxieties and an unwillingness to let go when they are in their 50s and 60s. A healthy dose of realism (which is now called negativity) born of experience is a good thing.
You say your approach will produce "a leaner, keener" third sector - but you missed the word "meaner" out of the phrase.
James Renton, Posted online
Allcock Tyler is wrong: donors are not just a means to an end
Debra Allcock Tyler got it horribly wrong in her opinion piece when she dismissed donors as just "a means to an end, not the end in itself" (Last Word, November, page 66). The word "charity" comes from the Latin "caritas", which means to display love for, or show empathy with, those less fortunate than oneself. Charity is not primarily about serving the beneficiary, and neither is it about serving the donor. The cause charities should be serving is the caritas-love relationship between donors and their beneficiaries.
Most charities start as acts of kindness between the donor and the beneficiary. As the donor becomes donors and the beneficiary becomes beneficiaries, individual acts become an infrastructure: a charity with employed staff. This is where the problems start. As employees grow in number and seniority, they begin to consider themselves to be the charity and the organisation's focus moves from the relationship between the donors and beneficiaries to the relationship between the paid administrators and the beneficiaries.
It is not the donors to Allcock Tyler's charity that are the means to an end. It is she who is a means to the donor's ends.
Viewing donors as "means to an end" changes the ethos of charity from a caritas-love based system to a sacrificial system, as identified by the Japanese philosopher Professor Takahashi Tetsuya. He wrote of this as "the rhetoric and logic of sacrifice through which the state produces and reproduces people who willingly offer their lives for the country... " to "...benefit the secure and the powerful; those who are sacrificed are only 'valuable' insofar as they are 'expendable' within the sacrificial system". Originally describing state systems, this now also describes many charities. For example, a recent edition of the business magazine Management Today showed charities preying on a "means-to-an-end" donor.
Allcock Tyler may well be correct to say that people are "hard-wired to be altruistic", but most are also hard-wired to dislike their altruism being exploited to serve the causes of others, such as the chief executive and fundraisers. Tetsuya's sacrificial system is not a role for caritas-charities. It is one for politicians (the "secure and powerful") to produce public support for appropriate taxation ("sacrifice") to provide the public services required of a civilised society.
Brian Seaton, Principal trustee, Small Charity Support
Please send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org or Third Sector, Bridge House, 69 London Road, Twickenham, TW1 3SP, or comment online at www.thirdsector.co.uk