'There isn't much humility in the charity sector', Christian Aid PR chief warns

Chine McDonald calls for charities to be brave if they want to deal with the problems they were set up to solve

Chine McDonald
Chine McDonald

Charities lack humility and need to face up to difficult decisions in order to truly achieve their aims, according to the head of media and PR at Christian Aid.

Speaking at the creative agency Good’s virtual event "Change Conversations: 2021 in Focus" last week, Chine McDonald called for charities to be brave if they wanted to deal with the problems they were set up to solve.

When asked what she thought success looked like for charities, McDonald said: “I guess I would say there isn’t much humility in the charity sector and that’s part of the problem.”

Using her own 75-year-old charity as an example, she said: “What would it mean for us to really work hard so that we don't exist in 75 years’ time, so that we are not in these jobs doing things that make us feel good?”

She said the charity also needed to ask how it could ensure that the people it supports in the global south had “an experience of what it means to be treated with dignity, equality and justice”.

McDonald went on to say: “In order for us to do ourselves out of business, we have to be brave and make some difficult decisions about what we’re here for and how we operate.”

But, she said, the pandemic had helped Christian Aid to make some progress, because the need for Zoom meetings had “really accelerated the levelling-out” of power imbalances between the UK offices and those in countries where the charity worked, because all participants were “just faces in boxes” on a call.

Her fellow panellist at the event, Adeela Warley, chief executive of CharityComms, acknowledged that charities would need “a new mindset” that was prepared to “test and learn” to tackle the aftermath of the pandemic, but also to follow through on changes that were beginning to happen before the advent of coronavirus.

“It feels to me like the ice has melted and we’ve got a chance to put things back differently and better, not just let the ice freeze back over things as they were,” she said.

“I would really encourage charities to take their time and to really interrogate who they’re for, what they’re for.”

Charities had “stepped up to the plate and done extraordinary things” over the past year, she said. “But I definitely think we went into the pandemic on the back foot.

“Sometimes in the past we haven’t moved fast enough, we’ve been prepared to just carry on with business as usual and hunker down and say we’re the good guys – and the pandemic has thrown that up in the air.”

The third panellist, Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the food poverty charity FareShare, also said the pandemic had created change at charities that would not have been as fast or as great otherwise.

But, he said, increased competition from companies that wanted to do good “really ought to act as a slap in the face to us that we’ve got to up our game, and if we don’t we’re going to be toast”.

Boswell also said the sector should not apologise if charities needed to merge as a result of the pandemic, because that was part of “making connections and problem-solving and communities coming together.”

The virtual roundtable discussion was the first in a series of events Good has organised to run over the coming months.

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