Janet Thorne: "The charity sector is built on care, compassion and solidarity."

Janet Thorne, CEO of Reach Volunteering talks about how the sector can be a force for change, encouraging care, compassion and solidarity across the country.

It’s time for the charity sector to step up and build a bold new vision of society, anchored in the values of care, compassion, and solidarity.

We are living through a time of massive change, with crises growing on so many fronts, including the cost of living, pandemics, erosion of democracy, failures in institutions such as the NHS, and the looming threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. It’s just a little overwhelming! So should our response be to focus downward, stay in our lane and try to withstand the onslaught? Or do we look up and out, and aim for a bigger change?

The crises are interconnected and intersecting - they will get harder and harder to deal with. But this is a hopeful article, for this reason: if the challenges are part of deeper, systemic and cultural issues, then the solutions are also deeply interconnected. Shifting things in one area can help with other parts of the ecosystem and if we address the underlying cultural issues we have the chance of making transformative change. Charities have a valuable contribution to make to this change.

One of the ways we can shift culture is by telling different stories of what it is to be human. We need to move from narratives that depict us as passive, individualistic consumers to stories, policies and programmes focused on people’s agency and care.

The charity sector is built on care, compassion and solidarity. People give money and their time freely, driven by a desire to make a difference in the world. We have often approached our work in terms of solving problems and fixing what is broken. We need to look wider and deeper and recognise that the solutions to the world's problems are not simply technical, but also require a deeper understanding of the human experience.

A useful way into this is the values work by Common Cause Foundation. Amongst other things, their work demonstrates that people are much better than we think. Most people hold compassionate values to be most important but we assume our fellow citizens are mostly motivated by extrinsic rewards like money and power. This misperception actually holds us back from taking action, limits policy options and political will. So shining a light on the compassion that already exists in the world is a great way to galvanise people into action.

People’s values strengthen through use, like muscles. A call to action focused on compassionate values is more effective, in the long term, in generating support for your cause. At the same time, it also strengthens people’s support for other causes - even those that seem quite unrelated. So we all benefit.

Reach Volunteering’s first attempt at this is our campaign which aims to change the story of what it is to be human by challenging the misperception that people don’t care. Colleagues from across the sector have participated, sharing inspiring quotes from their volunteers about their values. It’s been really motivating to catch a glimpse of so many different people acting out of generosity and kindness, in so many different ways and places.

Reach itself is quite literally built on the fact that people want to volunteer their expertise to make the world a better place. During the pandemic we saw how many people stepped up to help, and we are seeing a similar surge as people see the impact of the cost of living crisis.
However, we need to do more than simply share stories. We need to be bold about our beliefs, and we need to be unapologetic about the importance of care, compassion, and connection in the world. We know how widespread it is and how powerful it can be. We need to be vocal about our values, and advocate for policies and practices that reflect these values. Most of all, we need to help create the deeper cultural change that we need - a culture which recognises us all deeply connected and caring deeply - about each other and the ‘more than human’ world.

The charity sector has a unique opportunity to lead this shift in thinking. By embracing a shared narrative that is focused on care, compassion, and solidarity, we can help to create a world that is more compassionate, just, and equitable.

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