Authoritative independent voices are pretty easy to find when it comes to discussing the state of the economy: OBR, IFS, IEA, Adam Smith Institute…take your pick.
Add to this the economic forecasters, who are ten a penny inside banks and accountancy firms. And then pile on staunch business advocates like the CBI, IoD, or FSB who all find it relatively easy to commandeer the airwaves.
Add in a few sector experts like the manufacturers’ EEF or the British Retail Consortium. Finally top this off with a few talking heads from the boardrooms of large corporations: a Sorrell, a Branson or a Polman. There is certainly no shortage of voices to speak out for commerce.
Life is not quite so easy for the Third Sector…
Charities fight for the same media airtime as the for-profit sector, and rely on the same sources of income: individual supporters, corporate givers and government contracts. But as a society, we just don’t attach the same significance to the health of the charity sector – despite it representing around £43billion of annual spending – around a third more than the MoD, for example.
There is little robust independent analysis; very little media dedicated space; a lack of clear and reliable data; and a dearth of confident commentators to drive understanding of the sector.
It’s worth identifying some exceptions, of course:
The Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) often ventures into the waters of non-profit affairs, but there are very few big-name think-tanks or commentators for whom charities are a primary focus. When they do venture into the charity field, their reflections can be pretty generalised. A recent paper on transparency is typical.
It’s true that left-leaning newspapers such as The Guardian, with its Voluntary Sector Network do allocate space for charity-oriented content. As does Huffington Post, say. And there are a number standalone ‘trade’ publications and web-sites dedicated to the sector’s wellbeing: Third Sector, UKFundraising and CivilSociety stand out.
When it comes to supplying raw data, the sector is ably represented by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) but its reports lag reality by a year or more. And lacking the urgency of news or the influence of a good solid prediction, third sector health rarely enters the public conversation. The sector too often fails to explain a compelling ‘so what?’.
Meanwhile there are very few voices who regularly speak out as critical friends of the sector. A couple of exceptions may serve to prove the rule.
Iona Joy, for example, is head of New Philanthropy Capital (NPC)’s charities team – producing guidance for both charities and funders on social impact. As a regular commentator on issues facing the sector, she has appeared on BBC Television News and Radio 4, and written for The Guardian and CityAM.
Similarly, Jay Kennedy, Director of Policy and Research at the Directory of Social Change (DSC) has been featured in Charity Times, The Third Sector, The Guardian and Civil Society Media. The DSC exists to support charities in the work they do, providing them with training, books and resources and research. Last year he cast his eyes over the proposed new Charities Act, voicing concern about the changes and jumping to the defence of charities and their long-term welfare.
Finally, by comparison to the Corporate world or the world of politics, there are very few Charity leaders whose names would make it onto the public radar. And almost none in a positive sense.
Whatever the outcome of the final efforts of the recent Commission on the Donor Experience, one ambition must be that more influential voices now stand up for the good of the sector – as supportive and thoughtful friends – in public as well as in private.