Comment: The art of the possible is possible

Why do we give money to charities?

Everyone will have different views - according to Coco Ferguson at the Institute of Philanthropy, four important characteristics of charities draw passion from those who support them: the ability to take risks, the ability to fund the gaps, the ability to take a long-term view and the ability to hold government and the private sector to account.

Much of our anxiety about independence emanates from the fear that charities are losing what makes them unique - that dependence on government money, say, is corroding the ability to hold government to account - and that the public will feel less inspired to part with its cash. But as well as talking about the threats to independence, it's good to look at organisations where independence is flourishing.

The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, for example, is an impressive outfit. It provides care and rehabilitation to survivors of torture in the form of a range of medical and therapeutic treatments. It also works to educate the public about torture. And in campaigning to change the law, it never stops haranguing the Government.

Frankly, it isn't a sexy subject for a charity, and it doesn't help that its beneficiaries - immigrants and asylum seekers - are pretty much Daily Mail scum of the earth, so there isn't much obvious money out there for its work. Yet it has been around for more than 20 years and its long-term sustainability prospects are good.

What I like about these guys is their attitude. They don't say "we can't get money from the public so we're going to have to take it from the Government"; they make a massive commitment to fundraising. A core team of 10 has managed to glean support from numerous high-profile celebrities and they raise millions every year, only a tiny proportion from statutory sources.

Government twitters on about sponsoring diversity and encouraging active citizenship, but most of its money goes to a limited number of organisations, which means that in practice it is undermining the conditions in which diversity thrives. Meanwhile, the Medical Foundation does its own thing. This, dear reader, is the art of the possible.

- Nick Seddon is an author and journalist:


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