OPINION: Charity sector must retain its unique identity

Geraldine Peacock, chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

I don't usually tell stories, but this one has a moral to it that I feel resonates with the sector at present.

Three animals were having a huge argument over who was the best. The first, a hawk, claimed that because of his ability to fly, he could attack anything repeatedly from above, and his prey had no chance.The second, a lion, based his claim on his strength. No animal in the forest dared to challenge him. The third, a skunk, insisted he needed neither flight nor strength to frighten off any animal using his unique arsenal. As the trio debated the issue, a grizzly bear came along and swallowed them all: hawk, lion, and stinker!

As parallels and similarities between the sectors increase, the voluntary sector is continually being asked to prove its "added value". Why, I ask myself? And not just why, but why more than other sectors?

The recent irksome media coverage following David Blunkett's announcements at the NCVO conference demonstrated a serious lack of input from the sector itself.

Increasingly it feels like our destiny, what and how we are, is being shaped by ill-informed others.

We cannot allow that to happen. We must safeguard the distinctive character of the voluntary sector; recognise its value and become smarter at promoting it - or we could be swallowed up.

Our value is directly linked to what makes us distinctive. We are flexible and motivated by our values and mission, rather than by profit. Crucially, we are able to give voices to those who would not otherwise be heard.

The way we work sets us apart, too. We identify need and develop ways to meet it. The private sector, by contrast, identifies new markets and then attempts to fill them. If things go wrong, they withdraw and look for new opportunities. If things go wrong for us, we stick with the need, however difficult, and look at new ways of meeting it.

This committed ethos, however, should never be used to excuse poor quality or a lack of effectiveness. We are all, ultimately, judged on our results, but these should be measured, monitored and promoted by us and benchmarked alongside other service providers. We should tell our own tales.

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