Opinion: Third Voice - 'Hopeless' causes are the reason for our existence

Richard Chambers, fundraiser at Cerebral Palsy Care

Nick Cater recently asked the question "what's the point of a club anyone can join?" (Third Sector, 10 May).

We in the charity world have never been a club and are barely make up a sector, despite the name we go under. All that really connects us is archaic legislation that is finally going to be changed after 400 years.

Our profile has never been greater, yet we still cannot agree on how to define that most basic, if nebulous, of concepts: 'charitable status'.

We are a group of organisations so numerous and diverse that it seems increasingly unrealistic to talk in terms of being part of the same family.

What exactly does an appeal for a kidney dialysis machine for an NHS hospital have in common with the distribution of bibles to Christians in South America? How does one begin to compare the funding of private schools in the UK to a campaign to save animals around the world from being tortured and killed?

Please be assured that I do not mean this as a criticism of the third sector, such as it is, because I believe the defining strength of a charity lies in its refusal to conform to what already exists.

The concept of charity allows anyone to try to prove their cause - big or small - is worthy of official registration, and the right to request support from the public. It is an expression of the basic freedom that all of us currently enjoy: the freedom to change the world, as far as the establishment and public opinion will allow.

To do this requires both the faith that others will support seemingly hopeless causes and the motivation to create something new, risking both heartache and ruin in the process.

The private and public sectors have failed hundreds of millions of people worldwide, and it is increasingly left to charities to help those left behind by business and government.

So I don't understand Cater's need to "head off the hopeless" - surely the most perverse idea ever espoused in 'our' name. In my opinion, hopeless causes are our business, and they always will be. The fact that there are so many queuing up for registration is the most sobering comment on 21st-century society.

Each charity begins with the idea that things can get better. We need more ideas like that. We need more charities.

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