Friday, 28 December 2012

CHARITIES OUGHT TO CHANGE

Charities may find that they must
Including their product

It has been remarked before on Conductive World that if Conductive Education were to give serious attention to services for the disabled in the developing world then it might learn useful lessons towards developing positive services for disabled children and adults in the already developed economies.

Georgie Fienstein started and runs the presently London-based development charity Afrikids. She was on BBC Radio 4 just before Christmas, offering sharp criticism of charitable aid for developing countries. Here is my edited synopsis of what said

We are still stuck in the 1980s. It is past time for the charity sector to provide, and the public to fund, a new form of charity, one that is respectful, engaged and creates independence. Guilt, shock and pity are [at present] the motivating impulses. But you have been donating to images like this since the 1980s. So why has nothing changed? And where did all the money go? This type of fundraising is antiquated, delivers the wrong message. If good money follows bad, nothing will change and it is actually a net negative for society at large.

I suggest that you do not donate. Instead I suggest you write to your favourite charity and ask three simple questions:
  • When will the project they are fundraising for stop?
  • How will they know when it stops that it was successful?
  • How will they share the information on its success or failure with you, the donor?
Any good charity can answer these questions. Many can, but unfortunately, there are many more that can't. Charities should also get serious about sustainability. As a concept, it is uncontroversial – teach a man to fish, or better still build his own fishing rod and all that. For me, though, sustainability does not mean solving today's problems. It means ensuring that local people can solve their own problems independently of external assistance. In practice, this means funding businesses. My charity chooses ones which meet social and economic objectives while also delivering a 'multiplier' effect in the local economy. This effect will ultimately produce greater benefit than, for example, other more immediately profitable but limited enterprises. The end result of this approach is that my charity is on track to be sustainable in the next five years. And with that, it will close in the UK in 2018.

If the wider development sector is ever going to achieve sustainability in practice, we are all going to need to take a radically different view to supporting more commercial-type enterprises, and contemplating the possibility of closure, than they do today. If the wider development sector is ever going to achieve sustainability in practice, we are all going to need to take a radically different view to supporting more commercial-type enterprises, and contemplating the possibility of closure, than they do today. Until both the industry approach and public perception of charity changes dramatically, I fear we will not unlock the key to effective development.

Until both the industry approach and public perception of charity change dramatically, I fear we will not unlock the key to effective development. Both donor and charity have a role to play in this, but let's start simple – say No to pity fundraising – it belongs in the past. Today, the public and the people we seek to support, deserve more. I used to say that you'd never see a billboard for my charity at the train station, until 2011 when we were donated the whole platform of billboards in Canary Wharf station in London. It was too good an opportunity to miss. The slogans on our posters were:
 
They can't depend on us
Please help us walk away
Help us close down

Summarised from Saying No to pity, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 19 December:


You might think that her message to charities is not dissimilar to the 'conductive' message that CE holds out to disabled children and adults, to their families, and to anyone or any institution relating to them. Perhaps CE might think more widely of turning its own critical methodology (like 'Feuerstein's finger'!) back on to itself and its institutions.

If only out of enlightened self-interest

Why change the charitable model that has served Conductive Education since it got into the Western charitable act in the late nineteen-eighties? After all, hasn't this done the business well enough over the last thirty or so years?

There indeed are a few small centres in the UK that raise enough charitable money locally to provide 'free Conductive Education'. More strength to their arm. But this has no potential for bringing the benefits of meaningful, continuous CE to all those who might potentially benefit, nor of fund even a skeletal national expansion. It is no basis for creating a social policy, any more than is the fond expectation of 'state funding'. If that is what CE has set its eyes on, then it has failed.

And things get ever tighter for charities, as for everything else, while the recession drags on into its unknowable future, as Robin Wigglesworth reports in the Financial Times –
 
The woes of the global charitable industry are deepening as donations – both smaller individual gifts and philanthropy – continue to contract as demand for the services of non-profit organisations keeps mounting. Charity officials and experts harbour little hope for a meaningful recovery in 2013. Individual donations – the single biggest source of revenue for most charities – have shrunk sharply in many western countries. Bigger gifts from philanthropists and endowments have also slumped after the financial crisis took its toll on their assets...
 
In some countries, particularly the UK, charities have also been hurt by a dependency on public sector outsourcing contracts. These contracts have been among the first to be cut or cancelled altogether when austerity 'bites. 'This was a difficult year, and I think 2013 will be another difficult year,' said Ben Kernighan, deputy chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. 'It’s a pretty grim picture in terms of income.'
 
 
Relying on the mixture as before may prove increasingly unproductive, and this may go for the product offered, the service-model, as much as it does fot ways of financing it...
 
References
 
Fienstein, G. (2012) Saying No To Pity, BBC Radio 4, 19 December
 
Wigglesworth, R. (2012) Charities hit by austerity measures, Financial Times, 23 December

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