Dame Mary Marsh: 2010 will be a testing year for charity leaders

We must keep the pressure on politicians, writes our columnist

Dame Mary Marsh
Dame Mary Marsh

A new decade does feel like a time for a fresh start and a burst of optimism. However, the environment in which we are operating remains challenging.

Many of the uncertainties of the past 18 months are still with us and predictions are constantly changing. Leaders in the sector are being tested as never before and there is little relevant history to reflect on for guidance. Nor is there any clear consensus among economists, other advisers and opinion-formers about the right action to be taken at any level.

Politicians have surged into pre-election debates, with particular areas of the public sector such as the NHS and schools receiving strong affirmation.

For the third sector, the worry remains that this year is going to be even tougher than 2009 for everyone, including organisations that work with some of the most challenging and needy beneficiaries in the health and education sectors.

Raising income from any source, including public sector contracts, will be difficult. Voluntary donations continued to flow in many areas last year as donors and supporters stretched to cover their existing commitments, but this is unlikely to last.

Many foundations and trusts expect to pull back this year, in response to a significant reduction in their incomes, at the same time as demand for grants is rising sharply.

The generous philanthropy from wealthy individuals that has grown so significantly in the past decade has already started to slow. Earned income and social finance will be important areas for potential growth, but only some third sector organisations are ready to seize these opportunities.

Will the political party manifestos live up to the warm words we have heard before? Will they reaffirm the importance of the role that charities, social enterprises and other voluntary organisations play in supporting individuals and building stronger communities, and be clear about the resources needed to deliver this?

Critically, our resources include our people - volunteers and employees. They cannot be taken for granted - investment in people has to be a priority.

I hope that we will all be feisty in our scrutiny of what the politicians propose. We need to use our voice effectively - collectively and individually, privately and publicly, with carefully considered arguments supported by evidence about what does and does not work. It will be an interesting as well as a difficult year.


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