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The Clarity Commission; 5 things I learned as a charity sector newbie

When I started my internship here last July, I didn't know much about the charity sector. Aside from a newspaper story I wrote for the British Heart Foundation and a week’s work experience there, I scarcely knew my Band Aid from my Gift Aid.

When I started my internship here last July, I didn't know much about the charity sector. Aside from a newspaper story I wrote for the British Heart Foundation and a week’s work experience there, I scarcely knew my Band Aid from my Gift Aid. It's been a fascinating learning curve over the last six months and although we are not a charity, we work solely for non-profits. So I thought while many of our bloggers reel off their last Auld Lang Syne at home, I’d muse on five things I learned about the charity sector in 2012.

The National Lottery is vastly overprotected

Charity lotteries can be a vital source of funding, but they are handcuffed by government legislation. The 2005 Gambling Act restricts lotteries to a maximum £400,000 prize and no more than £4m proceeds for a single lottery, with turnover for the year capped at £10m. A Select Committee looked at unshackling lotteries, but in place of these restrictions proposed a 12% duty. This is all in the name of protecting the National Lottery. We’re talking about a national game with celebrity guests and constant TV coverage that has over 35 million regular players. And we’re protecting a lottery that gives to good causes from other lotteries raising money for good causes. To me, admittedly a charity newbie, that just feels like giving Usain Bolt a 30 metre head start and asking his competitors to run in flip flops.

I’m passionate about the role of street collections and they're still alive and kicking

I came across the idea that street collections were ‘a thing of the past’ in an online debate. At the time I read it I disagreed, but when I researched it more I realised I strongly disagreed. Our research shows that 1 in 3 people are happy to be asked for money in the street. More importantly, of the people we asked 1 in 3 had given to street collectors in the last 3 months. That was a figure beaten only by charity shops and way ahead of more 'modern' methods like debit card (9%) or text message (3%). I think that street collections, although basic, are a vital part of the fundraisers arsenal which can be used to support ventures into other revenue streams. They are not ready to kick the bucket just yet and the idea of ditching them is just beyond the pale.

Asking a charity how it spends its money shouldn’t be a curveball

Our research shows that donors’ biggest worries are ‘too little money going to the cause’ and ‘being unclear on how donations are spent’. Often, the only way to really find out how a charity spends is to sift through their full accounts. It’s time consuming, it’s arduous and frankly most people just won’t bother. A quick click onto Help for Heroes will show you a huge list of everything they spend money on, but this is the exception, rather than the rule. Why can’t every charity make it easy to see, at-a-glance, how much they spend and on what? The Charity Commission website also needs to step up to the plate and knock confusion out of the park. 

Paying trustees is a big issue and will continue to be

Ever since Lord Hodgson recommended charities with an income of over £1m should be automatically allowed to pay their trustees, the debate has intensified. It is one I knew nothing about before starting here, but now I am aware of the arguments on both sides. The lure of recruiting the best qualified and most able trustees, at odds with the idea it should be done out of love and passion, the very ethos of the charity sector. The right of larger charities to succeed and employ the best trustees, countered by the threat of an ‘arms race’, where charities are forced to spend more donations on staffing because their competitors have ensured people won’t be trustees for free any more. The recommendation has been shown the door Charities Minister Nick Hurd, avoiding the arch politician’s pitfall of being blinded by an Aye for an Aye. 

TOIL is among the hottest of potatoes

When Joe put down his thoughts on time off in lieu, I was not prepared for the response it would garner. We were flooded with comments, as was his article on the Guardian website. There was a complete divide in whether people thought charity workers should be entitled to TOIL. I still don’t know how much TOIL actually gets taken in the charity sector, but I do know that for every person who thinks it’s reasonable, there is someone who is passionately against it and I've never heard a charity nail its TOIL colours to the mast. What I have learned is that if Beelzebub himself opened a chip shop, his potatoes still wouldn’t be as hot as TOIL.
I guess what I’ve learned is that charity begins at home, home is where the heart is and absence makes the heart grow fonder.
And after 2 weeks of absence over the festive period, I can't wait to get back into it.

Rob White

We've blogged on all these things, click the headings for links to the original blog. Our regular blog will be back from next week, with a new topical entry every week, featuring opinions from people working in the sector. Swing by on your lunch hour or wile away Friday afternoon and see if you agree with what we're writing.


Have I Collected the right opinions? Or should I take some TOIL and do more research? Leave us a comment below.



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