Editorial: How hard times can focus minds

Changes urged on the sector for some time are now beginning to happen, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

One of the by-products of harsher times is that some changes that have been urged on the sector for years are beginning to happen. The number of charities, for example, is going down: there have been fewer registrations, and the total now stands at 161,687 - this is well down from 2007, when it was 169,297.

Merger and collaboration are also on the increase. Most negotiations go on quietly in the background, while some erupt into the open, as in the case of the RNIB and Guide Dogs. Their public spat over whether and how they should get together is awkward for those involved, but has focused attention on a vital question and prompted even more people to think and talk about it.

Then there's management. Most figures in our Charity Pulse survey are going south, but the perception of charity staff is that they are, by and large, being better managed. This might have happened anyway, as a result of rising professional standards; but it might be another case of hard times and reduced staff numbers concentrating minds.

How far will it all go? Shaks Ghosh describes how the Private Equity Foundation applies private equity business methods to the charities it backs and argues for a wider use of this approach in the sector. Hands may go up in horror, but economic necessity might again be the determining factor.

Will trustees also step up and shoulder their responsibilities better, as Dame Suzi Leather urged them to do last week? Most charity train wrecks are the result of poor governance, which is at an even greater premium when reduced income calls for steady nerves and firm strategy.

Another straw in the wind comes from the Institute of Fundraising's national convention last week, when the fundraising guru Ken Burnett said that good campaigning should produce complaints, and that every complaint was an opportunity. There's a tendency in the sector to sweep complaints under the carpet, but is that wise in times when donors are increasingly precious?

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