Analysis: why more charities are turning to helplines

Advice lines run by sector umbrella bodies are under increasing pressure, inquries by Third Sector reveal

More charities are seeking help
More charities are seeking help

A number of organisations that run helplines aimed at charities have reported a rise in the volume of calls they are receiving.

Research by Third Sector shows that organisations such as the local infrastructure body Navca, the chief executives body Acevo and the Institute of Fundraising have seen a significant rise in the number of calls they are receiving from charity staff wanting help with a range of issues.

Navca reports a 173 per cent increase between 2009 and 2010 in calls to its commissioning and procurement helpline, and a 117 per cent increase to its line for enquiries about local strategic partnerships.

Calls to Acevo's CEO in Crisis line went up by a third between 2008/09 and 2009/10.

The Institute of Fundraising says that calls to its tax-effective giving helpline have gone from about 90 a week in the financial year 2009/10 to more than 100 a week in the current financial year.

Helen Giles, managing director of the consultancy Real People, a social enterprise set up by the homelessness charity Broadway, says calls to its Beyond the Helpline, which receives 90 per cent of its calls from small charities looking for advice on human resources, had trebled over the past three years.

So why are charities needing to ask for more help? Robert Foster, co-founder of the charity consultancy Red Ochre, says the economic climate is causing panic among many organisations.

"People are looking around thinking 'actually I'm out of my depth, I need to ask someone else what to do'," he says.

He says charities should have made more of an effort over the past 15 years to move away from a grant-dependent culture to an entrepreneurial one.

John Dawson, local commissioning and procurement adviser at Navca, says most calls it receives relate to the spending cuts and shifts in government policy. "For our local services team, enquiries have moved to how to engage with big society, what the changing structures will mean for local charities and keeping up with the rapid pace of policy change," he says.

Despite this, some helplines in the sector have been receiving fewer calls, such as the Charity Commission's contact centre and one operated by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which was limited to members only from January. A commission spokeswoman says the main reason for the decrease could be that more people are using its website.

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