Opinion: Who speaks for the sector?

The charity sector has a few ‘issues’ at the moment – perhaps crisis is too strong a word, but issues is certainly quite fitting. Public trust has been eroded by historic abuse – both sexual and of power – and remuneration of staff continues to provoke complaint.

To some extent, the sector as a whole must take some responsibility for that. There are some issues that are widespread knowledge within the sector and it has almost been far too quick to brush these aside for fear of damaging its reputation. But it is now a little too late for that.

Politicians have also created some of these issues by using the sector for political gains and subsequently failing to defend it in return. Then, of course, there is the press, which takes a very divisive and unsupportive view, as anyone who heard Camila Batmanghelidjh speak at the Charity Times conference earlier this year will testify.

The public has its own views too – views that have been made concrete by social media, a system almost designed to foment outrage and rash conclusions.

The charity sector could be standing at a crossroads now between a ‘bunker mentality’ or the option to re-engage, explain and promote itself. The problem is: who will speak for it? The current associations have done sterling jobs to help create a professional sector and to give advice to the sector – but where is a voice that speaks on behalf of the whole sector to the public directly?

There are still many goodwill media organisations that would help – but the message must be delivered. The sector does so much good, but outside of its own supporters, who knows other than appeals for funds?

It could be seen as a diversion of resources, but in an age where reputation is one of a corporate's primary concerns, perhaps it is time to think about informing the public directly about what the sector does, how it works, and why it is so important. This time without holding back, by being transparent and telling the story.

The world has changed, and doing the same thing over again may not be enough. Ultimately, it is public support that will defend and fund charities.

Mark Evans is the editor of the Better Society Network.

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