Charities ponder their future at NPC Ignites

Influential charity figures today contemplated their future in a changing social and political environment at NPC Ignites, the sixth conference of the New Philanthropy Capital think tank.

Chief executive of the Red Cross Mike Adamson spoke of “an unfulfilled potential and inconsistency in our performance” within his own organisation, before admitting that he thought there were too many charities.

Charity has been through the wringer in the last year. Revelations about the way children’s charity Kids Company was run and the close relationship it had with government were followed by stories scrutinising the ways charities behaved. The result was that the government commissioned an enquiry to review the way charity self-regulates.

Judging by the humility and self examination evident in the room at the opening session of NPC Ignites, this difficult period for charities has certainly made a dent. 

The title of the session ‘Boldness in times of change’ hinted at bravado from attendees but the comments showed little of it; there seemed to be much scratching of heads about what to do, contrition and a heavy-hearted admission that charity needs to change. 

This extended to the role of charities in the modern world. Adamson asked the audience (and possibly himself): “If people can go to Lesbos to provide support to refugees, what’s the role of the Greek Red Cross? What’s the relevance of the Red Cross when we are also deploying volunteers?”

Large parts of the voluntary sector as we know it today will change or disappear.

When asked what he thought the role of charities in the future might be, David Robinson, founder of Community Links, a charity that helps disadvantaged people, was very blunt: “Do I think there is a role for charity in the future? No, I don’t. I think there will be a role for values-led organisations. And I think we have to redefine what we think those are.”

Adamson appeared to advocate a rebranding for the sector. “I think the word charity is very unhelpful,” he said. “When the Daily Mail attacks, it uses the word charity but the future is about values-led organisations small and large.”

Robinson had earlier sounded a warning to an audience mostly made up of charity representatives to be aware of what was going on around them. The sector hadn’t foreseen the changes that had occurred in society in the last five years, such as changes to local authorities and the accepted presence of food banks, he said. 

Similarly, Robinson suggested the voluntary and charity sector should think about what might be ahead of it now: “Large parts of the voluntary sector as we know it today will change or disappear," he said.

He reminded attendees they should be thinking about the need of service users and that the organisations were unimportant. 

“This isn’t a recipe for organisations that want to be here forever,” Robinson warned.

Photo credit: Joshua McKenty