OPINION: The core costs issue goes on

Peter Stanford, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

The chairman of a social reform charity I much admire was on the phone this week, bemoaning the effects of the current obsession among donors with project funding. His organisation has been successful at getting money for new initiatives, but is struggling to pay for its infrastructure.

Redundancies are on the table. The tragedy is, he said, that even long-term donors, who have hitherto understood that charities need central administration, appear to have lost sight of the fact.

It is a story all too familiar in the third sector. As trustees meet this month to approve budgets for the new financial year, it is an unpleasant reality that we are all having to confront. Institutional donors, companies and trusts are following public opinion on this matter. Look at any survey on attitudes to voluntary-sector organisations and you will find 60 or 70 per cent questioning the need for a headquarters building, support staff, or even salaries.

Hence the popularity of well-intentioned amateurs who opt to hire a lorry themselves and drive it to Romania, Ethiopia or wherever there is a humanitarian crisis, stuffed full of food and supplies collected from their neighbourhood.

The reality is that administration costs are carefully managed. What is spent ensures, in the case of Romania or Ethiopia, that the aid is handled by professional staff and so gets to those who need it most, rather than falling into the hands of freeloaders who target the unsuspecting amateurs who turn up on their doorstep without a clue.

The third sector as a whole appears to regard the "too much on admin" argument as a cross we have to bear. Before this crucifixion complex means we all become nothing more than the sum total of the projects we can get funding for, we must think again. The argument for core funding is a good one. If we can all state it clearly and often, without fearing that some of our brethren will take advantage of our candour, then we might just be able to put the third sector on a sounder, more sustainable financial base.

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