August 25th 2010
A column inch in the business section of the Gazette suggests that charities are going to hit hard times, particularly if faced with an increase in Value Added Tax. That being so it has to be important to ensure that every last donated penny counts and that as much waste is removed from the administrative systems as possible. People giving money to good causes want that money spent on good causes, not on office blocks and duplicated facilities. Which raises a serious and sensitive question. In just two areas that I have found myself considering during the past week, the Armed Forces and Animal Welfare, there is, arguably, an over-provision not of funds but of organisations trying to provide assistance.
Nobody in the present climate and with bodies being repatriated and injured servicemen and women flying home from Afghanistan at an alarming rate, would quarrel with the need to make not just State but publicly-donated provision for those who have sacrificed so much. But it was the Colonel of a regiment that reminded me that working within this field are the Royal British Legion, SSAFA, The Army Benevolent Fund, The Air Force Benevolent Fund, Combat Stress, Help for Heroes and many others.
In the Animal Welfare spectrum the range is wider still, from large international organisations such as WSPA ,the ILPH and SPANA , through the major national charities such as The Dogs Trust and the Cats Protection league, the PDSA, Battersea Dogs Home and Blue Cross, down through the myriad of small sanctuaries and local shelters all trying to do their bit.
It will be said, with some justification, that each of the organisations is making a special and, in some cases distinctive, contribution to the causes that they support. Should we not ask, though, whether or not the time has come for a more effective Charity Commission with enhanced responsibilities to be allowed to broker deals between kindred spirits and projects so that we get the maximum bang for each buck given by a generous but increasingly hard-pressed public? Ought it not to be possible to create efficient Main Boards from, for example, the military charities to ensure that while the needs of the old and bold from former conflicts are met, the unique demands of soldiers and sailors and airmen recognised and the terrifying legacies of post-traumatic stress and physical damage caused by current conflict receive equal and fair treatment from “The Fund”?
I have worked over many years with consortiums of animal charities and I have learned from hard experience that the personalities that run them and, sometimes even internally and working under the same banner, can fight like ferrets in a sack. Nevertheless, is it not time that a degree of co-operation and cost-elimination was demanded? Fewer rentals on buildings and business rates, a streamlining of professional personnel, a reduction in the plethora of different fund-raising advertisements for much the same purpose and a significant cut in office costs could mean a lot of money released at the sharp end to pay for the things that the people writing cheques or putting money into tins believe that they are paying for.
This suggestion is, I know, likely to generate screams of anguish from those for whom turf wars are the stuff of life. It is, though, a debate the time for which has surely come.