Be less defensive, Girlguiding's Julie Bentley tells charities

The organisation's chief executive tells the NCVO annual conference that the sector must accept some criticism is valid

Julie Bentley
Julie Bentley

Charities need to be less defensive and more prepared to work together, and must make sure they put their beneficiaries first, according to Julie Bentley, chief executive of Girlguiding.

Speaking at the close of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ annual conference in London yesterday, Bentley said charities should not be afraid of change.

She urged delegates not to prioritise their organisations over their beneficiaries and said the sector needed to move towards a future in which its automatic reaction to negative headlines was not defensiveness.

"We need to accept that some of the criticism we’ve received is valid and, when this is the case, it’s important to own it and not arrogantly defend the organisation or individual position regardless," she said.

Bentley said charities had to be prepared to explain to the public what it meant to be a modern charity, and that often the best way to do that was to allow beneficiaries to speak, in their own words, about what it was the charity had offered them.

And, she said, charities should be aiming for a future in which beneficiaries come first – no matter what that meant for the charity.

"As soon as any charity starts to feel beneficiaries are there to be held on to an all costs, we have lost the plot and we have forgotten why we’re here," she said.

"We’re not here to be the biggest; we are here to deliver services as best we can to those who need them and want them."

She said that if another organisation could deliver that service better or more accessibly, charities should embrace that, arguing there was no point in one charity doing something that was detrimental to a charity with similar objects.

"Competition is a reality for many charities in terms of contracts and bidding, but we can take some control over that by being both a competitor and a collaborator, and that takes trust and communication," Bentley said.

"I do believe two charities can compete against each other and be in partnership at the same time."

And she said charities should be prepared to allow takeovers if that meant the beneficiaries would continue to be provided for.

"Sometimes what’s best for the beneficiaries is not best for the charity and its staff – and that can be a very difficult truth," she said.

Bentley also said charities should be prepared to share expertise and insights, as well as collaborate on service delivery – something the sector talked about frequently, but still did not achieve in practice.

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