Opinion: At last, we have got away from Groundhog Day

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

My assistant at the Charity Commission has a notice pinned above her desk: "If you always do what you always did, then you always get what you always got!" A salutary message to reflect on as the sector stands poised for reform and growth.

Three completely different things happened last week that showed me that we are certainly not just doing what we always did in the sector.

At the launch of Futurebuilders, more than 1,000 people turned up to find out how a new kind of financing, based on a mixed economy of grants, loans and equity, can ensure more effective, sustainable organisations and public service delivery. Futurebuilders is about making the sector fit for purpose, not only by promoting different forms of financing and grants, but also different ways of thinking and working.

The result of consultation carried out by the sector for the sector, facilitated by the Treasury and the Home Office, Futurebuilders is being operated by a consortium of agencies from the non-profit sector.

The second encouraging moment was Alan Milburn's strident call for charities and voluntary organisations to be given a key role in delivering NHS services.

He said, "Where government can sometimes be remote, the voluntary sector tends to be more sensitive to the specific needs of both individuals and communities."

This matches well with the ethos behind Futurebuilders and the sector is well prepared to deliver, as well as influence public services. But what about the general public? Is it ready for this, or is there work to do on its perception of charities and giving? I think there is, and was reminded of this by the third piece of information I came across.

Christian Aid's new website, www.lifeswitch.org, focuses on raising funds electronically by grabbing people's attention and entertaining/educating them rather than making them feel guilty or altruistic. Using humour and surprise rather than pathos and tragedy, it has strategically targeted a new set of supporters in a new way.

At last, it feels that we really are doing things in new and different ways, rather than being destined, Groundhog Day-style, to repeat over and over what we have done in the past.

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