Sir Stephen Bubb: It's time that charities stopped apologising and got on with the day job

We have been dragging our feet, and what we need now is to be bold, hold our heads high and shout about the excellent work that charities do

Sir Stephen Bubb
Sir Stephen Bubb

No one can deny that the charity sector has had its problems recently: fundraising, executive pay, safeguarding, the list goes on.

We have also had media attention in a way we’ve never experienced before. We’ve had criticism from politicians and commentators; people who supported the sector have challenged it to sort itself out.

So there is definitely stuff we need to address. But we also need to get back on the front foot and start shouting about the impact charity has. There has been far too much defensiveness recently, and too much apologising. While politics is mired in endless debate on Brexit, the very real problems that many communities face are being ignored.

It’s the role of civil society to give voice to those issues and to be the champion of the voiceless. And yet the voice of civil society is not being heard, and that cannot be just because it’s difficult to get a hearing.

Is it because many of our charities’ leaders are keeping their heads down, afraid of criticism? Is it because we have become mesmerised by the criticism? We seem to have become unsure of ourselves, unsteady on our feet. Yet the very communities that need our support, and our voice, want us to be strong. So we can’t remain quiet. We need to shout and make ourselves heard.

Now, this is not to say we should not be learning lessons from recent problems. We all know there are defects in our governance and leadership systems. Charity Futures was established to help tackle the underfunding of charity infrastructure. But is this enough?

Perhaps it is time to take a radical step in reforming our charity governance systems. "One size fits all" is increasingly out of step with the many challenges we face. The Charity Commission is looking less fit for purpose and unable to effectively tackle both regulation and support. And the sector itself needs to understand what it can do to become more transparent and better led. 

At Charity Futures we want to support that voice for the sector by arguing for better infrastructure and promoting more effective research that will underpin sustainable charities. We have been busy exploring the establishment of an Oxford Institute of Charity, whose mission would be both promoting good charity and researching what helps us to survive and grow.

What we need right now is to be bold, to hold our heads high and shout about the fantastic work that so many are doing to help those in need.

Sir Stephen Bubb is director of Charity Futures

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