Sue Tibballs: Please join my Charity Liberation Front

Charities need to find their fighting spirit in the face of relentless criticism

Sue Tibballs
Sue Tibballs

The charity sector is used to being criticised. There seems to be some sort of compulsion to tell the sector that exists to do good that it is bad and to knock its halo.

The past few months have been particularly relentless. "The public don’t trust us". "We’re not keeping up with digital trends". "We need a new ‘improvement agency’". On and on it goes

And we just take it, like Dobby the house-elf in the Harry Potter books, who is so institutionalised into slavery he can’t help but take the blame for everything.

There are, of course, things that happen in charities that shouldn’t, but this happens in all sectors. There are many ways we as a sector can improve, but I don’t see this happening if we’re on our knees.

We need charities to find their fighting spirit. Think of it as the Charity Liberation Front.

We need to understand that social change is much more likely to come if we feel mutually supported and affirmed. As we know from raising children, or supporting those who are vulnerable, change doesn’t happen when we shout and demand it.

Charities do amazing work. The sector delivers extraordinary value, not least because of the volunteers we mobilise and the modest pay most in the sector receive. There is a huge amount of creativity and innovation, particularly in service design and community regeneration. And the sector continues to be at the vanguard of calling for change – and not just providing the evidence that shows the problem, but doing the work of figuring out the solution.

Indeed, I see some brilliant examples of charities campaigning at the moment. Crisis, for example, has recently published an extraordinarily detailed strategy to end homelessness, and Shelter has developed a truly inspiring strategy built around a new movement for change.

These charities are doing what government and political parties can’t in this Brexit-dominated environment: devoting the time to think policy through and galvanising the public to want the change. Civil society holds the keys to many challenges – and is using them.

Times are tough. Austerity and Brexit are extending hardship, deepening social divides, wasting time, energy and resources. I don’t see our sector laying down its tools and being complacent.

I see it rising up, moving forward, going all out to protect those hardest hit while shouting from the rooftops about the risks of these political choices, despite being told that it is not our place to tell government the consequences of its actions, and despite the government trying to stop us doing so through measures such as the lobbying act and gagging clauses in contracts.

We do have challenges and we need to achieve more. But we should not accept that we are somehow perpetually failing. We are not. We are also much more likely to embrace change if we feel confident, valued and capable.

We don’t need an "improvement agency" but a "celebration culture": a shared effort in the sector to capture, celebrate and share the best of ourselves. We should offer mutual support, inspire and embolden each other.

We are not perfect, but we are good. In fact, sometimes we’re even bloody brilliant.

Sue Tibballs is chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation 

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