Debra Allcock Tyler: Face it – this government and regulator just aren’t that into us

Charities must not depend on the attention of those who don't value our work

Have any of you ever suffered the pangs of unrequited love? Did you ever desperately yearn for the object of your affection to notice how worthy of their love you were? Did it finally take a friend to brutally but honestly tell you: “They’re just not that into you”?

I know it is hard to accept, but as a brutally honest friend to our sector I have to say: it’s time to face the truth. Both this government and our regulator, whose love and attention we fight so hard for, feel no real affection for us.

The Charity Commission would have us believe that only it cares about the public, and its lack of love or trust in us is just a reflection of what the public think. Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that we’re being misled.

Even the commission’s own flawed research suggests that most of the ‘public’ have never even heard of it. But our public, who know us – supporters, donors, those we serve – they do love and trust us. We know, because they continue to access our services, donate and volunteer as best they can.

It seems the regulator is confusing public benefit with public popularity. It is true that many of the causes and communities we serve aren’t popular; but luckily, it’s not our job to be popular with the public. Our job is to serve our cause for public benefit. The commission’s job is to apply the law, not decide who wins some made-up popularity contest. Sometimes they really do behave like those awful exes who made us feel stupid, ugly and inadequate.

Then we have the current government – which doesn’t even remotely fancy us. We’ve wasted such precious time futilely trying to convince it that the people it was elected to serve will suffer horribly if the charities they rely on can no longer offer vital services.

We can warble our virtues under the balcony on a moonlit night ad infinitum – the government is not peeking over the parapet to hear our song. It is too busy courting the private sector, and we are not glamorous, attractive or rich enough to merit its attention.

If those who should love us can’t see our value, where should we lavish our passion and energy?

Well, until inevitable change comes, it’s on our supporters; the causes and people we serve, who tell us how much they value us; the trusts and foundations that have always loved us and prove it by quietly stepping up and doing their best to help when we need them most.

A brutally honest friend also reminds us that our value in the world is not dependent on the attention of someone who doesn’t value us – such as a populist, even hostile, government or regulator.

Charities have flaws, but we are not inadequate or unworthy. We do awesome, amazing, fabulous work. We make life better for millions of people. So remember – we are loved by those who matter most.

Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

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