Sector's campaigns are not professional enough, says Reclaim chief executive

Ruth Ibegbuna tells an NCVO conference that the sector is looked down on by others

Ruth Ibegbuna (Photograph: Chris Thomond, Guardian)
Ruth Ibegbuna (Photograph: Chris Thomond, Guardian)

The charity sector allows itself to be looked down upon because its campaigns do not look professional enough, according to Ruth Ibegbuna, chief executive of the youth charity Reclaim.

Speaking at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ campaigning conference in central London yesterday, Ibegbuna said putting out more professional-looking campaign materials did not need to cost money and could lead to more money coming in in the long run.

She also called for more unity across the sector, saying it needed to find "collective courage" if it was to make lasting change.

She said: "Part of the reason our sector gets looked down on is that we allow it to get looked down on because it doesn’t look professional enough."

At Reclaim, she said, she had asked professional communications companies to help the charity, which at the time had only two employees, with its marketing instead of making donations.

"If you start with ‘I’m not asking you for money’, loads of firms let you in," she said.

She added that if a charity began a relationship with a company in which it seemed like it was not looking for money, after the first year the company would often pick that charity as the charity of the year for the following year.

"Corporates are used to charities asking for money so sometimes when you don’t you get far more from them," she said.

Ibegbuna said charities should not be afraid to hand control to beneficiaries, even if it led to the charity being seen as "angry".

She said: "I think sometimes we allow other people to define what we should be saying, who we should be and how angry we should be.

"I’m angry because things in this country are not great at the moment. No one’s going to tell me, as someone who runs a charity, that I’m not allowed to be angry, because if you’re not angry you’re probably in the wrong sector."

Ibegbuna echoed comments made earlier in the day by Rob Wilson, the former Minister for Civil Society, saying the charity sector needed to come together with a more unified voice.

Leading a small charity in the youth sector, said Ibegbuna, she was often very frustrated by larger charities asking hers to promote their latest campaigns, then ignoring the smaller charity’s request to reciprocate.

"What is that?" she asked. "I think as a sector we need to be amplifying each others’ voices and we need to be challenging each other. But we also need to be developing a stronger personality as a sector."

She said she thought effecting social change was possible, "but it is a long way off if we don’t quickly unify, find some collective courage and have people leading not for their organisation but for the sector". She added: "I see too much of organisations leading for themselves."

Ibegbuna said: "I think that even if you’re a person leading a tiny charity that supports a community in Doncaster, there should be a thread that takes you all the way to the person at the top of Oxfam. If we’re not working together we will be fragmented and we will be weak."

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