Vicky Browning: We must fight back against fear

If the sector loses its fighting spirit it loses one of its most defining and vital roles, writes our columnist

Vicky Browning
Vicky Browning

At the heart of all charities lies the desire to change the world. Charities were set up to challenge unfairness, to give voice to the voiceless, to offer hope and to fight for change.

But the current hostile climate of negative media coverage, the lobbying act, the referendum debate, fundraising practices and more has left many charities unsure of the new rules of engagement with regulators, the government and the press, and nervous about speaking out. It feels like the sector is losing its chutzpah.

In 2014 there was outrage when charities were told to "stick to their knitting" by the then charities minister. Yet a recent CharityComms Campaign Network meeting heard that some charities were starting to avoid using the word "campaigning" because it increasingly has negative connotations. They're damping down any overt sense of activism to avoid rocking the boat with funders and service commissioners.

One attendee said: "The economic and political climate is pushing charities from changing-the-world mode into steady-the-ship mode."

Depression-era US president Franklin D Roosevelt once famously said: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

Charities might believe their fear is reasoned and quite possibly justified. But if the sector loses its fighting spirit it loses one of its most defining and vital roles. The world still needs changing, and charities need to make their voices heard - on Brexit, on health, on social care, on the environment, on disability and much more. We must fight back against the fear.

Vicky Browning is director of CharityComms

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