Mark Flannagan: Turbulent times bring opportunities for charities

The sector should use this period of uncertainty to highlight the unique role charities play in society, writes the chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer

Mark Flannagan
Mark Flannagan

I am optimistic. I shouldn’t be. There is uncertainty on every corner. A second recession is on the cards. Our political leaders are failing to lead. Yet in the weeks since the EU referendum I have had more positive and strategic conversations within our sector than in the entire year before.

True, there is a great deal of angst about the future and Brexit scares the living daylights out of many of us. I have attended and taken part in a number of meetings to discuss what it will all mean. The overwhelming mood was that we needed to seize the opportunity now open to us. The words that resonate among us are those powerful one of Jo Cox, the MP murdered just days before the EU referendum: "We have far more in common than that which divides us."

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, recently called upon our sector to help heal our society. I couldn’t agree more. Many people I have spoken to agree. We charities do good – we are the social glue that binds our society together. Charities are about the common interest; people working together for a shared cause. The hundreds of thousands of volunteers who give up their time to support individuals to fundraise, to raise awareness and the myriad other things they do are testament that our society is not broken. We still have an active, caring society.

The opportunity now for our sector as a whole and for its leadership is to talk more about this. It is not its role to preach but to celebrate and illustrate our central role. Politicians desperately trying to work out how to reconnect with the public can see that charities are connected with their voters in ways they can only dream about. The media, even the most prejudiced, will still cover the local fundraiser and the local volunteer doing something for their community.

We can declare together that we will include anyone who wishes to help – from any nation. The young and the old can work together to put something back into society, to help others, to make things better. Every personal action to help a charity is a statement that charities matter. A recently published Charity Commission survey showed an overall drop in trust and confidence. However, the survey also showed that when people engaged with charities their confidence was higher. Individuals trust their charity, their cause. Their voluntary action matters to them.

In turbulent times people want reassurance. They want to know that their neighbours are good people who would go out of their way to help them. Society as a whole wants to feel that there is, at our heart, good. Our sector, with the good it does every minute of every day, can be a visible sign that, after all, things are going to be all right. It is time to focus again on the individual. People, supporters and beneficiaries are the heart of charity. It is time to focus on the local and personal good that charities do – large and very small. Our combined efforts and impact do make a difference and can help to heal divisions in society.

Mark Flannagan is chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer. @MarkFlannCEO

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