Editorial: An exercise in the art of the possible

The financial rules for charities are changing, but the Funding Commission is offering up a new game plan

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

This week's report from the NCVO's Funding Commission is an attempt to seize the initiative at a time when a radical shift in the financial context for the voluntary sector is taking place.

The laudable aim it sets for itself is to "design the future we want and work to make it happen".

Some of its recommendations reframe and reinforce familiar concerns such as the need for the sector to find better ways of describing the impact it makes, improving support for social enterprise and creating a level playing field in the process of commissioning public services.

Others, such as a £20m a year restructuring fund run by the government and a 'big society grants' programme, are reworkings or extensions of previous or existing programmes such as the Modernisation Fund and Communities First. The proposed new Better Asking campaign also has echoes of the Giving Campaign from earlier this decade.

So it appears that the commission, rather than going for big new ideas, has chosen the practical path of incremental improvement – trying to build on or extend what already exists, learning from past mistakes and working with the grain of current realities. Instead of asking for the moon, this report chooses the art of the possible.

This is a sensible approach in the circumstances. It doesn't push too hard at an Office for Civil Society that has just had its budget cut and is trying to implement a whole new political agenda. And it emphasises that the sector itself must step up to the mark and get its own house in better order.

This is bound to prove difficult. Asking trusts and foundations to improve their grant-making and get involved in social investment, for example, will probably raise a few hackles. Asking for "collective approaches to fundraising" is akin to a contradiction in terms. But the chips are down, a new game is under way and this isn't a bad game plan.

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