Focus on survival brings 'widespread dysfunction' in charity sector, says report

Thinking Big, published by NPC and the Lankelly Chase Foundation, says too many charities deal with the symptoms of social problems rather than the root causes

The report

There is "widespread dysfunction" in the voluntary sector because many charities focus on survival rather than impact, according to a new report.

Thinking Big: How To Use Theory Of Change For Systems Change, published today by the think tank NPC and the Lankelly Chase Foundation, says many charities adopt strategies that deal with the symptoms of social problems rather than the root causes.

It says funders should fund more projects that tackle root causes, rather than supporting short-term fixes.

The report says charities "need to get better at challenging themselves" and outlines how they can do this by learning to understand why social problems persist and how they can be more effective at tackling them – a process known as "systems change".

The report outlines five rules of thumb for charities.

1 Understand the context of the environment in which you operate.

2 Know yourself and the assets you have.

3 Think systemically by considering underlying causes and interdependencies.

4 Learn and adapt.

5 Recognise change is about people and their values and beliefs.

Katie Boswell, deputy head of funders at NPC and one of the report’s authors, said the report set out to give charities and funders "accessible and practical" guidance on how to tackle barriers to systemic change.

"Many charities are trying to do this, but struggle with the jargon," said Boswell.

Funders, she added, often didn't help by holding charities to account over pre-set outcomes that stifled their potential.

Julian Corner, chief executive of Lankelly Chase, said he hoped the report would encourage charities and funders to think afresh about bringing about change.

"Many charities and funders want to change the world yet too often are working at cross-purposes, tussling over requirements, criteria and processes," he said.

"If we are going to change the systems perpetuating many of today’s social and environmental problems, we are going to have to work together much more collaboratively and flexibly."

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