Charities need to thrive, not survive

Monday, 3 April 2017

As a former scientist, I take statistics pretty seriously. As a charity chief executive for Worldwide Cancer Research, the stats from a recent survey I read gave me pause for thought.

SCVO, the charity membership body for Scotland, showed that just 1 per cent of people working for Scottish charities are optimistic about the financial future. The report concluded that charities were moving into ‘survival mode’: getting by, rather than thriving.

Smaller charities face a ­constant battle of trying to raise more funds in spite of the ­public’s continued generosity. New regulations, increasing operational costs, and a sustained attack by some of the media on the larger charities mean that, no matter how big or small, they have weathered a rough storm in recent times.

Although this survey was ­covered in the media, it didn’t seem to provoke the kind of ­reaction I would have expected. The third sector employs as many people in Scotland as the creative industries and the energy sectors ­combined, with an annual turnover of nearly £5 billion. What kind of response would there have been if ­suddenly Scotland’s energy workers expressed a rock bottom rate of confidence in their companies’ financial futures? I imagine there would be a few more people filling up their car fuel tanks that night.

So why should a lack of ­confidence among charity staff matter to everyone else? The charity ­sector is an integral part of the Scottish economy and society. A thriving society needs a strong charity ­sector. And the sector needs staff who feel confident that they can make a ­difference.

A huge chunk of ­cancer research is funded by ­charities. Without us a lot of research would just stop. All the brilliant research proposals, containing the cures we need now, would be put back into desk drawers. Cancer patients would definitely be worse off.

That’s why we have to do everything we can to help the sector thrive, not just ­survive. It’s not just about donations, but supporting charities as they take new risks and ­challenge convention. It’s about trusting them to do the right thing.

In response to the survey, Penumbra chief executive Nigel Henderson called for more trust in the sector to deliver. He said: “We know what we’re doing. We’ve got good policies, procedures and practices and we can demonstrate that we are best value in terms of price and quality.”

We can’t ­completely control the environment we operate in, but we can influence ­attitudes and confidence in our abilities. Who better to give the sector a much-needed pep talk than ourselves?

It’s going to take resilience and optimism to get confidence up again. It’s crucial that we do, for society: those whose generous donations are given to us in the hope of finding creative solutions to common problems. They’ve put trust in us and we must deliver.

Dr Helen Rippon is chief executive of Worldwide Cancer Research, www.worldwidecanceresearch.org