Would Rowan Williams describe RADAR as ‘painfully stale’? Of course not! This week we’ve revel in the archbishop’s attack on the coalition, question whether news that charity numbers are decreasing is important, and sift through some philanthropy bits and pieces.
With his leader in the New Statesman this week the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams didn’t so much dip a toe into the world of politics as dive head first into the murky depths. His attack, in which he described the coalition as committing the country to “radical, long term policies for which no-one voted”, earned him a variety of (occasionally hilarious) newspaper monikers. The Guardian went with “Archbishop of the Opposition”, The Telegraph plumped for “The Primate of All England”, and the Daily Mail betrayed absolutely no prejudices whatsoever by describing him as “a profoundy divisive leftie”. That’s all a lot of fun, though probably a bit exaggerated. Williams’ leader could be read as a partisan broadside, though when taken in the context of his commissioning coalition policy-makers to explain those policies in the same magazine, it’s probably more credible to see it as an attempt to bring attention to the issues as he sees them. All the same, as he must of known it would, the article has provoked indignation on the right, and re-ignited a debate over whether the church should be involved in politics. Much has been made of this being the most outspoken attack on the government from the church since Lord Runcie’s attacks on Thatcher in the 1980s, and this article in the Guardian even proposed that when there is little or dis-organised political opposition the church has an important role in expressing apolitical opposition. All the same, the consensus seems to be that, while many have disagreed with this particular attack, the Archbishop of Canterbury does have a place in the political discourse. Ultimately, though I think it’s unlikely that this ‘outburst’ will have worried team Cameron too much, it is worth noting that the Big Society vision relies heavily on church groups, and that Cameron antagonises those groups at his pet project’s peril. For further reading on this I’d recommend the original article, this piece in TIME on church and state, and this piece on Cameron’s reaction.
Next, back to the beginning of the week, and the news that the Charity Commission has recorded decrease of 1,600 charities in the coalition’s first year, and a 150% increase in mergers. This led to some hand-wringing among sector leaders and press, with some choosing to see it as an indication of further contraction to come. This article in the Guardian brings together many of those views, as does this piece on the PFO blog. One person who bucked the trend was Karl Wilding of NCVO, who asked the question whether the drop in numbers really mattered much? Broadly he argues not, as you might expect from a representative of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. He points out that there are a few reasons why this might have happened, for example explaining that the number of charities wiped off the register depends more on how much effort the Charity Commission puts in to remove charities from the register than it does on the number of charities who actually disappear or go under. One of the things I found interesting in the debate around this was the way the increase in mergers was assumed by many to be a negative. Martin Brookes, of New Philanthropy Capital, was quoted in the Guardian articles saying that “Healthy companies merge when they spot synergies between their work, but charities do so to balance the books when they run out of money”. In this conversation merging was seen as a last resort, and of course it is in some cases (for example Fairbridge being taken over by the Prince’s Trust), but is there any reason why that has to be the case? We know that there are a bewildering array of charities often duplicating work, so surely smart mergers, or at least intelligent collaboration between healthy organisations, should strengthen both organisations as well as improving services for their beneficiaries.
Lastly, and in brief, two reports on ‘impact of impact’ on philanthropy.
- From the US, we have the new Charting Impact initiative that gets nonprofits to answer five questions as part of a public report that is intended to encourage donations and grants to flow towards effective non-profits. To see the Charting Impact website click here, and to read a blogpost about the initiative by Tactical Philanthropy’s excellent Sean Stannard-Stockton, click here.
- Philanthropic Lives, which was published at the tail end of last month by JP Morgan. The report explores the experiences of philanthropists in the UK, finding that “wealthy individuals are keen to give more to charity, but can be held back by not understanding the impact of their donations”. You can read the report here.
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