This is Dr Mary Chadwick's website and blog with an idiosyncratic approach to civil society, politics and public policy...
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been contributing to a short publication designed to help City people interested in becoming charity trustees. My piece is a contextual chapter where in 2,500 words I’ve been trying to encapsulate the boundaries of the sector, its history, what it does and the future prospects…whew! In writing this I’ve been reminded of the very old Monty Python sketch on ‘Summarising Proust in 15 seconds’ – still available on YouTube and still (moderately) amusing.
It’s been interesting trying to characterise what is different about the sector especially in the prevailing gloom. Stephen Bubb, CEO of the umbrella organisation Acevo, has spoken of “a sinister agenda” and the most hostile political environment for charities for a decade. Add to this the cuts: NCVO has calculated that in the five year period from 2010/11 to 2015/16 the voluntary sector may lose around £1.2 billion in funding a year, a fall of 9.4% from public sector constraints. And this is happening when economic conditions have resulted in an increasing demand for services – the vulnerable, homeless people and those seeking advice for debt problems.
Some academic commentators too are gloomy. I’ve recently read a book that looks beyond the increasingly blurred sectoral boundaries to examine so-called ‘hybrid’ organisations, those that possess significant characteristics of more than one sector. Examples include partially nationalized banks, social enterprises and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As the third sector grows and becomes increasingly engaged in income generating activities then their characteristics may become increasingly hybrid in nature. This is interesting, but I don’t buy its narrow central premise that the classic charity is a membership led body with no paid workers. First of all, charities have always been much more diverse than this, and delivering paid for public services is not new. And, if you start from this narrow perspective then all management and professionalism seems suspect.
What really puzzles me is why some of the sector’s prominente don’t seem to understand that engagement with the political elite is never an equal relationship. Politicians wax and wane in their enthusiasms and as I’ve commented on various occasions, their policy agendas are values loaded. The sector too has its fashions – social impact is up there right together with social investment. The caravan will at some point undoubtedly move on again to the next best thing.
But my faith was restored the other week when my partner Adrienne and I attended a celebration of ‘Breathing Matters’, the charitable fund of the Centre for Respiratory Research at UCL. It was set up to raise awareness of and help find a cure for a range of interstitial lung diseases and other respiratory infections. Some of these comparatively unknown diseases have no cure, yet are under-funded in research terms. My wonderful lung consultant at UCH, Dr Jo Porter, is Clinical Director.
One of these diseases is Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (“IPF) responsible for the deaths of around 5,000 people annually, claiming more lives than leukaemia or ovarian cancer with over half of those who develop it dying within three years of their diagnosis. Yet its causes are still little known, and apart from a lung transplant, there is no real cure.
The event in question was held to celebrate Breathing Matters’ third birthday and its impressive fundraising: £150,000 raised in the first three years, from events, such as cycle rides, tractor races, donations, Christmas cards and sponsorship.
Breathing Matters exemplifies the charity sector operating at its best. It identifies and channels a genuine unmet need – research for a disease that is increasing in frequency (or possibly frequency of diagnosis) with the goodwill of volunteers – fundraising often by sufferers themselves, their families and friends. This has enabled early stage research, and the appointment of a Research Fellow (the Lawrence Matz Clinical Research Fellowship), research that has leveraged £1.3 million in further institutional funding.
Attending events like these highlights how the real values of the sector remain despite the top level noise and flummery. The sector is far more distinctive and resilient than some of the doom mongers accept and will continue to address real need whatever the economic and political climate.
I’m prompted to this post by the fact that Breathing Matters has retweeted the story of my illness that I wrote at their request exactly one year ago, today. So I’ve decided to recirculate it as per the link:
Reading the blog, is a reminder of how life has moved on over the last year, partly because my peculiar condition seems firmly under control, and has become more of an annoyance than a preoccupation. It’s annoying to walk more slowly than many other people, but not earth shattering; it’s 15 months since the last flare and I’m feeling pretty healthy and am working hard with some really great colleagues at Cass CCE. I’m still reminded of the love, kindness and support of so many people, and have forgiven the exceptions. So life is pretty good.
My latest thoughts on third sector mergers. This article was first published in ICAEW’s Charity and Voluntary Sector Group newsletter in April 2013 and is reproduced with kind permission of ICAEW.
Is the sector really consolidating?
“Over the past year Mary Chadwick has been exploring the landscape surrounding mergers and collaborative working in the voluntary and community sector. She shares her findings with us.
Back in 2002, having escaped from the City and deciding what to do with my life, I met Helen Dent, Chief Executive of Family Action. Helen gave me a huge amount of support in my journey to the third sector and we remain friends. She had taken over as Chief Executive of Family Action (then Family Welfare Association) and transformed it to a thriving organisation, meeting the needs of today’s society, with a turnover of around £20 million. Family Action offers outstanding support to help families overcome difficulties and flourish.
After 16 years as Chief Executive Helen is retiring. She is one of those people who you know would have been hugely successful in whatever sector she chose. She will doubtless have a busy and successful life after she leaves Family Action, and I like many many others, wish her the very best. But it was only some years after we met that I realised that Family Action is descended from another organisation I had encountered as a historian – the Charity Organisation Society (“COS”). The story of the COS is just one example of the curious history of a number of our well known charities.
Toynbee Hall is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the publication of the famous Beveridge Report with a series of lectures. The Report, published in November 1942, famously described its goals as eliminating the Five Giants: Want, Ignorance, Squalor, Ignorance, Disease. On Monday, Geoff Mulgan asked what would be the changing face of welfare in the future; what giants will we need to slay; what will be the next welfare settlement?
I set up my website over a year ago, driven by a decade of experience in the third sector (aka voluntary and community sector, nonprofits, civil society organisations – we can get too hung up on words and definitions). As a newcomer I found the culture and underlying assumptions fascinating, partly because of the differences from the highly charged atmosphere of the City financial sector to which I was accustomed.
Through consultancy and afterwards through a social enterprise I explored this world, and strove to make organisations more fit for purpose, occasionally with some success. It’s a sector that alternatively inspires and enrages but I am still amazed at the commitment, drive and creativity I find.