Caron Bradshaw: An annus horribilis perhaps, but we should learn from it

The Queen used that phrase in 1992, but she also provided some insights for the future

Caron Bradshaw
Caron Bradshaw

December is a period of reflection and the time I look forward to the future. Some in the sector will look back on this year and consider it rather horrible; an annus horribilis, if you like. In 1992 the Queen used this phrase in a speech at the Guildhall marking the 40th anniversary of her accession. She said that it was not a year on which she would look back with undiluted pleasure. Many of us probably feel the same. Beyond that famous phrase, the speech was full of insights, which, all these years later, provide a sensible dose of perspective as we reflect.

Sometimes this year it felt as if the sustained and wide-ranging criticism would never cease. How charities raise funds and manage data, and how we are run and regulated, have all been subject to harsh criticism. It seems as if high-profile failures, of different kinds, have been endlessly debated.

Many sense that the negative commentary has been different than in other years - it has changed things, and trust in the sector has been damaged, perhaps fatally. On the flip side, some believe that this year, though riddled with bad news, is just part of a historic cycle of negative press that comes and goes - we need only weather the storm and things will return to normal. Only time will tell which is right.

Back in 1992, the Queen wondered how future generations would judge the events of that year. "I dare say that history will take a slightly more moderate view than that of some contemporary commentators," she said. How true, and something worth remembering. Yet when you are in the grip of the moment, it is difficult to maintain a calm or compassionate head. Indeed, in the Queen's words, moderation and compassion are sometimes lacking in those "whose task in life it is to offer instant opinions on all things great and small".

Are we in crisis? Have we suffered a collapse in confidence and trust? I don't think so, even if our challenges have been significant. The actions of a few might have been described as immoral, and the state of the whole sector damned, but these proclamations are often based less on facts and more on the feelings such grotesque headlines can generate. As we look to 2016, we must aim for moderation in our language and our responses.

A section of the 1992 speech reminds us that we are all open to criticism, and that it is good for us, whether the source of criticism is a supporter or not, or the criticism unwelcome. It might feel hard to find the good in those last few rough months, but we must. We should learn from and avoid the mistakes others make and use them to shape our role in society. That is not to say that we must be grateful to those who have drafted against us. The Queen put it thus: no section of the community has all the virtues or all the vices. We must not get swept away by the storm, but learn what we can from it, work to right wrongs and communicate with strong leadership. That's what I will be aiming for in 2016.

Caron Bradshaw is chief executive of the Charity Finance Group

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