Big charities 'go for safe option'

The rise in commercial activity and service delivery among the largest charities is creating an ethos similar to that of business organisations and a tendency to go for the "safe option", according to a commentator in Charity Trends 2007.

Michael Lake, director general of Help the Aged, says the larger charities are increasingly professional, and that, in many ways, he favours consolidation and the survival of the best.

"However, I am concerned these market tensions will reduce capacity to challenge difficult and non-topical issues in favour of more obvious and well-established activities," he says. "The latter is the safe option and one that the bigger, more ponderous organisations might be inclined to favour.

"The former characterises the very best ethos of charities, and there are many wrongs that still need to be righted by organisations prepared to take a risk. This drift towards a safe option is further encouraged by a numbers-based analysis of the sector. Charity impact is often best measured in qualitative terms and as a force for change over a longer period."

The Charities Aid Foundation has included such commentaries for the first time in its annual analysis of the performance of the top 500 charities and top 500 grant-making trusts. This year's report shows the year to April 2006 was one of strong growth for the top 500, with income rising by 8.6 per cent to £10.9bn.

Another contributor, Ian Wylie, chief executive of autism charity TreeHouse, says the private sector is becoming interested in charities, using modern techniques of business analysis. "How long will it be before venture philanthropists agree to invest in a well-known charity but insist on replacing the board and senior management and repositioning the organisation?"

He says the 1:1 ratio of voluntary to non-voluntary income in the top 500 confirms "charities' finances are now integrally bound to the finances of national and local government and of large grant-making bodies".

He asks if it is fair that the biggest charities get so much: "Should the giants of the charitable world capture such a proportion of voluntary and non-voluntary income just because they have the brand muscle to do so?"

Fact file

- The income of the top 500 fundraising charities grew by 8.6 per cent to £10.9bn in the year to April 2006, according to Charity Trends 2007.

- The top 100 absorbed two thirds of the income of the top 500 charities.

- Half the income of the top 500 was from voluntary sources. Of the next 500, it was 64 per cent.



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