There are too many charities, says British Red Cross chief

Mike Adamson tells NPC conference that there are too many chief executives and back-office functions, and collaboration is the best hope for the future

Mike Adamson
Mike Adamson

There are too many charities and they need to adapt the way they operate to the modern world, according to Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross.

Speaking during a panel session at the think tank NPC’s annual conference in London yesterday, Adamson responded to a question about the future role of charities by suggesting that the traditional idea of a charity was probably out of date.

"I think the word charity is very unhelpful, actually," he said. "I think we have a problem with terminology, because the problem is that when the Daily Mail attacks it uses the word charity, but the future is about values-led organisations, both small and large."

He said: "There are far too many of us charities, in my view, but we do need to create movements and make a difference through getting organised, and sometimes you do need organisations to do that."

Adamson said the challenge for his charity and others was how to adapt to the modern world and charities needed to "broaden alliances and collaboration to achieve as much impact as we possibly can".

He said charities needed to ensure they worked in a way that suited their beneficiaries.

"It becomes counterproductive where you have too many chief executives and too many back-office functions, and when we end up with pathways for service users that are complicated because they need to move from one organisation to another to put together a package of help," he said.

"We have a responsibility to work in ways that are designed around the people we are trying to help, and if that is not happening we should really take a look at ourselves and the value for money in the way we are working."

Adamson said that charities were failing to make use of the amount of quality data available and many charities were "data-heavy and insight-light".

David Robinson, co-founder of the local support charity Community Links, questioned whether charities would have a specific role in the future, and said he felt the divides between public, private and voluntary sectors were redundant.

"Is there a role for charities in the future?" he asked. "No, I don’t think so – not specifically.

"I think there is a role for values-led organisations, and I think we have to rethink how we divide up the sectors. I think our old ideas of statutory organisations, voluntary organisations and businesses are redundant. We need to think much more creatively about forms of organisation that are values-led."

Robinson said organisations needed to change the way they worked, mentioning mergers, collaboration, restructures and informal alliances. He said charities should "be honest with ourselves that this is not the recipe for organisations that want to live forever – it is for those that still want to change the world".

He said: "I think we have lost touch, in many of our biggest organisations in particular, with our founding zeal."

In regards to fundraising, Adamson, who chairs the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ working group on opt-in fundraising, said the Red Cross was forgoing income to build "longer, deeper and more trusting relationships with donors", which he said would be for the long-term benefit of the charity.

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