The Power of Doing Good
Over the next weeks and months we will be running a series of features on the Power of Doing Good, exploring the full range of services provided by the Voluntary and Community Sector, demonstrating its value to the economy and in tackling key social issues. We’ll also be charting the implications of this for public policy and what changes are required to fully harness one of the strongest drivers of our economy. We will also focus on individual charities, and some of the impacts they have on peoples’ lives.
Whenever Elections come around politicians spend much of their time crafting messages for different interest groups. It is deemed important to address business, large and small, to cover off the farmers, organised labour movements and many specific interest groups.
However courting charities and celebrating their achievements is invariably deemed much less important. Just check the party manifestos from the last Assembly elections and count the references. There are not many. Recently the profile has been risen, but only because the budgetary crisis puts many in imminent danger.
This seems perverse when you consider the sheer number of organisations, 6127 according to NICVA’s last State of the Sector report. They have a combined workforce of more than 44,000 and are supported by more than 241,000 volunteers. Logic would suggest that in voting power alone this is a group of critical importance, well worth proper attention.
One of the most obvious and important reasons for the collective neglect of charities in political discourse is the sheer diversity and scale. They operate in every sphere of life and have divergent interests and concerns. This means that achieving common purpose can be difficult. In addition even within the sector there is a widespread lack of knowledge of the total picture.
Sometimes it is difficult to know where to start. This is so fundamental that it even manifests itself in how we collectively describe ourselves. Is it the Third Sector, the Community and Voluntary Sector or is it better just to say the Charitable Sector? What all the organisations do have in common, however, is doing good. That’s how they get charitable status and is what they all have in common. And that is why we are calling this series The Power of Doing Good. It is what the sector, whatever you want to call it, should be collectively demonstrating, and the more different organisations understand about each other and how they all fit in, the better equipped they will be to make positive change happen.
The fact is that without the work collectively undertaken by charities societies would not function. Take away the 244,000 volunteers, remove the 44,000 staff, many of whom work in front line services helping the most vulnerable, and where would we be? Many organisations are deeply concerned about the dependency they have on public funding. This is a valid concern. However the dependency is mutual.
Efforts are hampered by general misconceptions. Many members of the public appear to believe that people who work for charities should do so for no pay. Therefore when they donate to them all their money should go to the cause, overheads are not welcome, and so therefore there is hostility to chief executives and senior staff getting properly remunerated for what is often complex, difficult work. The dangerous notion is out there that whilst it is perfectly acceptable for private sector bosses to get paid vast sums, when the benefit of their activities to society is at least open to question, people who do good should not be paid at all. This mindset is perverse. The fact that it seems to have been embraced by many in the traditional media is a matter of profound concern and needs to be challenged.
The sector may all be doing different things. It may be structured in different ways: the movement includes universities, with all their resources, and tiny community groups; there are charities that rely exclusively on public funding, others that raise their money from public donations; there are social enterprises, community interest companies; the list goes on.
However it is the notion of doing good that sets it apart from other sectors, and brings it together. It is important for the politicians, policy makers and the general public to understand the Power of Doing Good. When that message gets across, it will be much simpler to renew and strengthen the common purpose - to make the society we live in a better place.
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