One in five of Britain’s biggest charities spends less than 50 per cent on good works, new report claims

vfmThis headline appeared in the Telegraph this week. The team here at Community Impact Bucks spend time working with individuals who often receive little, if any, paid reward and give their time and energy to others through voluntary and charitable work – so I am bound to leap to defend charities. I see the good work most of them do. That is not to say they have all got it right nor do all necessarily give great return on investment.

Typically the headline statement above is based on a very blunt measure that gives, in many cases, a misleading result. In this case the calculation seems to be based on turnover (money in) measured against how much money is spent “directly” on services to beneficiaries. Sounds straightforward? But … what lies behind these headlines is complicated. Yet the damage is done in one swish of the quill (or stab of the laptop keys – but you see the point).

So why do some charities look like they have plenty of money coming in and not an equal amount being spent on beneficiaries? Some of the issue is actually a result of charities trying to survive without grants and donations. Charities are being encouraged to “trade” in order to be self-reliant rather than relying on donations. However, it costs money to “trade” – it is like running any business – and returns will vary, meaning the measure used by the Telegraph takes no account of the cost of running a diversification, such as a high street shop.

It is clear that some charities do not spend enough of their money on the beneficiaries. Yes it does cost to run a charity, and it even costs to support volunteers, but there should be a level of clarity about how much of your donation is used up in areas that do not directly impact on the beneficiary.

But why use such damaging and inaccurate sweeping statements? (Obviously to sell papers!) If there is a silver lining to the statement above it could be that it makes a good case for giving to local small charities that you know. Charities where you can see the impact first hand. But we know that the effect of this headline will not result in people who have given to large charities swapping and giving to a local charity. It will result in those people not giving to any charity. Probably because what most people will read is that charities are at best wasting your money and at worst embezzling it! Despite the headline identifying a few national organisations it will be read as all charities.

What concerns me is that this headline comes after a run of “charity bashing” that has been going on all year. This “charity bashing” is damaging for all of us because it will mean that volunteers will be less likely to give their time to help others, and those who rarely give to charities will feel it less attractive to do so. And it matters. With over 70% of charities in Bucks stating that demand is growing at an unsustainable level they need every hour and every penny to support others.

We all rely on the generosity of others as volunteers and givers to charity. And if you think you don’t just consider how often you, your family or friends have engaged with elderly support services, village events, cancer care, countryside, children’s services …….. and if you have never had the benefit of a charity it probably means that you didn’t realise they were a charity – or you have been extraordinarily lucky in life.

Charities could be better and be more transparent about how they spend their money – but most actually give outstanding return on investment. The Bank of England’s Chief Economist, Andy Haldane, recently cited one charity as delivering a social return on investment of 140%! ….. but that news didn’t hit the headlines!

Empty Homes…

housing

During the winter, and more so at Christmas, we think of those people living on the streets or in sub-standard housing. This week there has been a flurry of reports about empty properties, about the cost of keeping properties empty, about how they attract vandalism etc. – but the reality is that with about 30 people living on the street in Buckinghamshire it seems frustrating that there are still over 1,000 empty homes in Bucks!

The number of those living on the streets in 2015 is incredible, but the figure hides the huge number of families living in bed and breakfast and sub-standard accommodation. I am aware that some housing in the private rented sector is so bad that it falls below the minimum standards set… but when accommodation is at such a premium people are forced to take what they are offered.

At Community Impact Bucks we have recognised the housing shortage and have established a trading company to help councils solve the problem. Our team has years of experience of working with District Councils to help their teams deliver empty properties back into occupation. See more details here:  Community Impact Bucks Property Services (NB all profits go back to the charity)

What is clear is that when a property stands empty it attracts vandalism and brings down the tone of the neighbourhood, creates an opportunity for trespass. With rents so high and property values rising why would anyone leave a property empty? It is usually complicated. Sometimes the property is inherited and the owner can’t bear the thought of someone else living in the home of a loved friend or family member. Sometimes the property is in poor condition and the owner can’t afford to renovate. On other occasions an investor may want to redevelop but is taking their time while the value goes up. Whatever the reason, when there is so much pressure on housing, it cannot be right to see properties empty.

The District Councils are doing their bit by reducing council tax rebates for empty dwellings – and we will do our bit to try and liberate much needed homes!