Warrington Disability Partnership

Is it time for Charities, large and small, local or national, to speak up ?

It may well be !

Charities take note. The UK is in the grip of a snap election. Well a mild grip. There is a lot at stake and for disabled people, or people with impairments, whatever language you want to use, there is a lot at stake for us and our families. You might think that charities would, could, play a big part in campaigning to argue their case and influence political parties at this crucial time. But charities are under attack, cowed by two years of negative publicity about their approach to fundraising - well the largest charities anyway - there is fear out there and as this excellent piece from the Guardian suggests, it's perhaps time to ease up a little on the issues around "how" campaigning is done and take a minute to remember "why" it should be and can be, a crucial part of why charities exist.

Don't get me wrong, I very much understand why there has been criticism of some of the largest charities in this country. Fundraising has become a hugely professional, slick, modern, marketing led business. Note the word "business". Billions are being raised and the methods used have wandered more and more into telephone call centers, repeat "asks", dubious use of donor data to categorise those who might be angle to give more.....and more.....

Fundraising has in my view slipped way too far from face to face contact, respectful and dignified personalised donor care and building long term relationships. Things are changing thankfully and the response of some of the very largest charities, tho I suspect not all, has been encouraging. Strategies have been revisited and revamped. The approach is to better value volunteering and understand the impact that excessive "asks" can have on individuals. But whilst all this is going on the fear of a further political backlash grows. Now we have a snap election and if we are not careful, charities large and small may well feel reluctant to speak up, to campaign for what is right, because frankly they have taken a lot of stick recently and may want to shrink into the shadows of this election rather than make waves. It can't happen. We need charities to speak up now and take off the shackles of the fear they may feel.

Local and often small charities are I think rightly cheesed off at the results of what they see as somewhat sharp fundraising practice which is just too slick, too remote from the donor etc and smaller charities are paying a price for errors and misjudgements they have not made. New legislation around data collection feels reasonable enough but when you don't raise hundreds of millions and don't have IT or HR departments, implementing the changes is not easy and actually your supporters don't get what the fuss is about. They were never taken for granted or pushed too hard. They were respected and had face to face human contact all the time. But now it's all about new processes, opt in not out and restricted use of email and new sign up forms. So local charities are also in danger of being cowed by the impact of the last couple of years.

The bottom line for many city or town based or regional charities has always been the need to carefully evaluate whether speaking up will upset their donors, their key influencers, their corporate or political support. Being "neutral" isn't just easier for Trustees or managers, it's possibly seen as mandatory when it really shouldn't be so. If politicians give their support only if you toe the line and don't speak out against their parties policies that's not great support, it's support with strings attached. Charities have to be prepared to campaign and remind the voters "why" they need to speak up and worry a bit less about the how, or be overly concerned that being neutral is the default position.

Again, there is so much at stake in this election and we have to hope that charities find their campaigning voices quickly and loudly remind the electorate of why they exist and let's be honest, many exist because there is huge injustice out there.

Our health care system is in crisis but Brexit squabbles are the only headlines. Disabled people have been made to pay a massive price for the greed and unlawful activity of our financial sector. Community social care is collapsing for lack of funding and our older family members are seeing first hand what the real impact is of "living longer" unless you have a few hundred thousand behind you.....meanwhile those affected by cancer and many other life threatening diseases, are waiting longer for urgent care, paying through the nose just to park a car at a hospital, and whatever you do, do not need to visit an A&E.

Dramatic ? OTT ? Well you will judge. But there is good reason to urge charities everywhere to shout why they exist from every rooftop they can find over the next few weeks. Most of all charities large and small should think carefully before not taking sides. Maybe, just maybe, the time has come to face the fear and do just that, take sides, say what you really think about the policies and actions of those standing before you asking for your vote ?

Heres what the Guardian had to say about campaigning charities. It's worth a read. Please note everything in this blog piece represents my own personal views and very definitely not necessarily those of WDP. If you have an alernative view or want to take issue with anything here, please comment and let us know, or voice your support for the content, we welcome all views !

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About the author

Mark Wilson was a trustee on the WDP Board for five years, and a social media management lead until 1st May 2017. Mark's personal blogging website, The Blue Badge Blog, covers a wide range of disability issues, particularly accessible travel.

4th May 2017