Mark Flannagan: Has the charity sector become too ready to maintain the status quo?

It appears that many charities think ‘What would the minister say?’ as a prime consideration of their next move in policy debates and, as a result, do not speak out

The news that Blackbaud, owner of JustGiving and a major supplier to charities across the UK, has the National Rifle Association as a client, has seemingly exposed a hole in the morality of UK charities. 

I would have expected a flood of announcements from charities that their contract with the software company was under threat unless it dropped the NRA.  

But – and I really hope that I am missing something going on under the surface and not yet reported – all I see is a low-level “debate” about ethics. I don’t see action.

Has our charity sector really become so bland, so ready to debate ethics rather than act? Please tell me it isn’t so. 

Much like the “debate” over intrusive fundraising, with the resistance to act on giving consumers the power to opt out of being bombarded, the focus is on small process tinged with sadness, rather than action.  

It does lead me to ask: has our charity sector, taken as a whole, become too intellectual, too safe and too ready to maintain the status quo?

There are some exceptions. Shelter was quick to criticise the latest housing policy proposals. Its policy and moral base is well established and thought-out enough to be able to know where it stands.  

Refugee charities have not held back in their organisation against the Rwanda policy. They know their duty.

In recent times there has been a lot of talk about whether the sector is too much aligned to government.

It does appear that many charities think “What would the minister say?” as a prime consideration of their next move in policy debates and, as a result, miss the core of their raison d’etre – speaking out as an independent voice for a just society.  

I hope I am wrong, that what I see is not reality. But I don’t see as much active “political” campaigning on issues as there once was. I don’t see charities stepping up as critical voices, as they once used to. 

I do see a straining to be neutral as the default position.  

Why is this? Has the sector been so badly wounded by the recent and serious reputational crises that it is now scared, shamed even to take a moral stand?  

I hope not, but I remain to be convinced.  

Perhaps the Blackbaud-NRA contract will present an opportunity for the charity sector to regain its moral compass.

Mark Flannagan is a former charity chief executive who now works in the NHS

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