Consultant Matthew Sherrington says 'institutional ego' has detached charities from the public

Speaking at the Bond conference this week, Sherrington says taking support for granted has become most acute in the international development sector

Matthew Sherrington
Matthew Sherrington

The professionalisation of charities over the past 20 years has led many to adopt an "institutional ego" that has detached them from the public, whose support they for granted, according to the fundraising and communications consultant Matthew Sherrington.

Speaking at the international development umbrella body Bond’s annual conference in London this week, Sherrington said the problem was most acute in the international development sector.

"Certain things that have happened in the international development sector have made what I call a real ambivalence towards public supporters more acute," Sherrington said.

"This is the most intellectually navel-gazey, ivory-towery sector in the charity sector I’ve ever experienced in terms of programme-thinking, policy thinking and the way it has bred a disdain for public supporters."

He said some charities in the international development sector had taken the attitude that if their supporters did not think like them or have the same motivations as them, they were not good enough to be their supporters.

He said they often talked about their public supporters in ways they would not dream of using about their beneficiaries or partners in communities around the world. "That’s not OK," he said.

Sherrington said large charities had developed an institutional ego by taking on commissions to deliver public sector services on the government’s behalf.

"From that institutional ego has come a detachment from the public where charities have started existing in order to lobby but they the public support for granted," he said.

Sherrington said the sector could recover the public’s trust – which has declined over the past year, according to research by YouGov – by "reconnecting with its supporter constituency".

He said: "You need to decide if you want them or not."

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