Twenty-five years is a long time. It gives you the kind of perspective on events whereby you can look back and realise you had no idea of the significance of the issues at the time.
When I first edited Charity Times in 1994, it was an extremely different time. The country was coming out of recession and there was a sense of optimism that was, perhaps, to result in the sweeping victory for Tony Blair. And much like that event, not all of the things that seemed so good turned out the way they were expected to.
This is not to say that the sector is any worse. Indeed, I would say – from my vantage point on the hill of time – that the sector is stronger, more resilient and better at delivering where the impact is needed.
If there was one word to sum it up it would be ‘progress’. Some of that has been hard won, and some it is still to be made. There are three areas in which I think the charity sector has been fundamentally changed, and I would like to try and encapsulate my brief thoughts on each:
The internet has changed the sector in many ways. Some are obvious, such as social media campaigning and donation sites; some are behind the scenes, such as the use of CRM and payments (remember, it was unusual to have a computer on every desk back then, let alone dial-up connection to the internet) or recruitment.
But the impact has also been more subtle, such as the way in which the donor triangle has shifted, or how certain causes ‘play better’ on YouTube than others. In all, technology has been a force for good, but it has its dangers, too. Containing a negative or false story is now almost impossible, let alone attempting to tell the other side of the story. This brings us to the issue of trust.
At the moment. the sector is undergoing a period of self-refection. The Oxfam scandal, high administration charges, a lack of clarity on what a charity is, and criticism of overly aggressive appeals are are all very present. Some of these the sector has had to endure for political reasons, others are self-inflicted.
A quarter of a century ago, the issue would be explored and rectified, now the endless memory of the internet means charities still have much to do to rebuild public trust. There is an irony that the more professional charities are – and they need to be to avoid such issues – there will always be another argument that they are too ‘corporate’. A balancing act with a sheer drop on either side.
There was an idea that charities should be run by amateurs and retired colonels – that the sector had no need for modern management or efficiency. This, even then, might have been something of a minority view, but it now is, rightly, extinct.
For charities of any size, the complexity and duty of care is such that professionalism is applauded. I would like to think that when Charity Times launched the first ever charity awards, we might have had some influence in helping to shape the sector. Today, the awards stand, not only as the longest running such awards, but one where as a judge, I have personally seen the nominations evolve and the sector advance. There is much to take pride in, and there is a clear feeling of pride with every entry.
These are a just a few topics defining the change over the last 25 years. Undoubtedly there are others, and you may debate the ones selected. However, I feel the sector is more fit for purpose than before and for the coming times ahead.
Mark Evans is the founding editor of Charity Times and the editor of Better Society Network.