Clare Laxton: If we're not ruffling feathers, we're not doing our job

Charities need to be campaigning for change. Ultimately, the aim is to put ourselves out of business

Clare Laxton
Clare Laxton

Why are we here? It's the age-old philosophical question that people have grappled with for centuries. Don't worry, though, I'm not about to embark on an existential debate. Instead, I'm going to wonder whether we as a sector, as trustees, charity employees and volunteers, ask "why are we here?" enough. Spoiler alert, we don’t.

As a charity campaigner, I wonder whether we know what it actually looks like for us to succeed in our missions. And how would we get there? Do we challenge ourselves that maybe we’re just not trying hard enough to fix the system that is broken around those we support. Are we focusing our campaigning skills to really put ourselves out of business? Have we been put off by the political cloud that surrounds campaigning and popped it in the "too-difficult" box, to dust off at a later date?

We shouldn't exist just to exist and "cos charity is a good thing". We should be fulfilling a need at the same time as actively trying to eradicate that need. Success in this for a charity such as Clic Sargent would look like a young person being diagnosed with cancer but not being left with intractable mental health issues, or a parent having a child with cancer but not being plunged into debt because of all the travelling for treatment they have to do.

It would be different for other charities: an end to people sleeping on the street, no more domestic abuse, or children and young people’s lives not being blighted by the fact that they grew up in care. Whatever the vision, we can achieve it if we have a laser-like focus on changing the system alongside delivering our services.

You might think I’m a bit naive and optimistic, and that campaigning can’t change everything. And you’re right – to an extent. But over the past decade I have seen the impact that one voice can have in making change – one story that absolutely encapsulates why the system just doesn’t work for that person. I have seen government ministers and companies understand that, and change it.

I have seen, too, the power that the sheer weight of an argument can have in bringing change. When I worked at the Family Planning Association nine years ago, I could only dream of a day when there was an emergency motion in parliament in favour of extending abortion laws in Northern Ireland.

I love the conversations I have in trustee meetings that focus on articulating the impact we’re having. As the chair of a small charity, I know that not every organisation can have campaigning functions, but we can still make change. We can have conversations with our partners and funders and highlight the issues that those we support face. Every day as a sector we are changing the system, chipping away at those bits that just don’t work for the people we support.

My Twitter cover says that well-behaved women rarely make history. It's so true, but this doesn't have to be confined to women. Why are we here if not to disrupt a bit, change the system for the better and make history? Let's be sure about what we’re for and actively try to achieve that through system change. Let’s ruffle a few feathers with our campaigning and work towards a world where our services aren't needed any more. We might never get the whole way there, but dammit let's give it a good go.

Clare Laxton is associate director for policy and influencing at Clic Sargent, chair of The Kids Network and a trustee of the National Children's Bureau. @ladylaxton

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