This week’s RADAR is a vulture, picking over the carcass of the week’s news looking for some tasty morsels.
Unless you’ve been living in a yurt for the past few days you’ll know that it was a bad week for care homes. If it wasn’t the exposure of abuse at a residential hospital near Bristol it was the news that Southern Cross, the nation’s largest provider of care homes, is teetering on the brink of collapsing into administration. Southern Cross is far from alone in being at risk, as Age UK pointed out in its highly critical report ‘Care in Crisis’, which was published on Monday and is available here. This considered piece by a social worker specialising in elderly care is also well worth reading, pointing out that the news from Southern Cross should come as a surprise to no-one. The piece also makes the point that the plight of Southern Cross, which stems largely from private equity firms cashing in at the height of the property boom, is particularly interesting against the backdrop of calls to open up the NHS to private providers, showing at the very least that care and profit are not easy bedfellows. Tuesday’s Panorama on the abuse at the Winterboune View home speaks for itself and therefore needs little comment, though if you want to spend an hour feeling deeply, deeply uncomfortable, it is still available on iplayer here.
It is often said that the most important thing people want to know when donating money to charity is how much of that money is being spent on the end cause or service user. Though many within the sector dismiss overheads as an indicator of a charity’s effectiveness, the majority of the public don’t want the money they donate to be spent on administration. Last week saw the first of the Charity Commission’s new-style public meetings, at which the regulator’s chair Dame Suzi Leather described a ‘good enough index’ of how much money a charity spent on administration as the ‘holy grail of charity information’. The logic of Dame Suzi’s argument was that, if the commission is in place to serve the public, and if overheads are the key public concern, then the regulator has a responsibility to try and provide that information. Her comments provoked a quick response, with one of the most articulate predictably coming from New Philanthropy Capital, who have in the past said it is “dangerous to use reported administrative or fundraising costs as the basis of any judgement of effectiveness”. NPC’s departing CEO Martin Brookes’ blogpost describes the Commission’s thinking as “surprising” and “worrying”, and argues that not only are the level of overheads in a charity not informative, but that the majority of charities should in fact spend more money on administration. Ultimately both Brookes and Leather are right, overheads are a poor indicator but, in the interests of serving the public, the Charity Commission needs to provide people with the data they want. What both ultimately need is for charities to put the time and resources into producing robust evidence of their impact, convincing the public that they are using money effectively and therefore making the overheads debate redundant. The key issue there, I think, is the significant gulf between an internal and external view of the sector. At the Commission’s conference, nfp Synergy’s Joe Saxton presented research which showed just how wide that gap was. Particularly relevant to the argument surrounding overheads, the research showed that three quarters of people surveyed thought that a CEO’s salary was an administrative cost, and the vast majority felt that a CEO salary of over £60,000 was wasteful. My feeling is that this lack of understanding of how charities operate is indicative of a public catching up with the increasing professionalisation of the sector over the last decade, and will only fade away with time, work, and the kind of evidence of professionalism and impact that relatively few charities can currently demonstrate.
Next week sees the welcome return of the Third Sector Women Lunch & Learn. The theme is “Powering up communications on a budget”, and the session will include three speakers who will be; sharing advice and tips for improving communications capabilities with limited resources, showing how to use social media to advance your business, and helping us to understand the power of a robust communications strategy. To get everyone in the mood, here is an article from Civil Society profiling research which showed that a third of communication professionals in UK charities feel that communications isn’t valued highly enough by their organisation.
Lastly, here is a TED talk by Bruce Aylward, who “lays out the plan to continue the scientific miracle that ended polio in most of the world — and to snuff it out everywhere, forever” – well worth watching.