Opinion: Ethical stands come easier to bigger players

Geraldine Peacock, a charity commissioner and a civil service commissioner, but writes in a personal capacity

Breakthrough Breast Cancer's recent rejection of a £1m donation from Nestle got me thinking about the degree to which charities should examine donors' motivations and how cross-sector partnerships make demands of both sides.

While many charities take a highly principled stand on where their funding comes from, others are prepared to accept cash from any legal source because without it they cannot fulfil their missions.

Based on purely anecdotal evidence, it seems to me that those organisations which take the most principled of stances tend to be the larger ones, the ones that can better afford to turn funding down. The smaller ones, meanwhile, tend to take a more pragmatic approach and, as one manager put it, are prepared to "empty the Devil's pockets to continue to meet identified need".

4Children's continuation of its relationship with Nestle (Third Sector, 12 May) falls somewhere in the middle, in that it is a fairly large organisation, but not a cash-rich one. Nestle's support "enables us to carry out an activity that the Government and others don't provide the funds for ... we are pleased to be working with Nestle," says Anne Longfield, chief executive of the charity.

In the coverage of these two organisations' varying views on the same issue, however, Nestle's voice has been silent. Writing in PR Week, Julia Hobsbawm, professor of PR at the London College of Printing and founder of the HMC agency, argues that Nestle should ask its partner charities to come to its defence if it is to limit the damage to its reputation.

This leads us to the heart of the relationship between private-sector funder and voluntary-sector recipient. If the relationship is about business, taking a view on partners' corporate issues, backing them when needed and being bullish about the stand you take can be important elements of that relationship.

The time to decide whether to get into bed with a corporate funder is well before the cash starts to flow. Cross-sector partnerships are a vital and growing part of today's voluntary sector scene. To do them justice, we need to be clear about what we stand for, what we want, what we should legitimately have a view on and where we should be prepared to make compromises.

And, of course, where we should not.

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