Help for not for profit and charity trustees

Why so silent?

Unless you have just emerged from a cave or have spent the last months in a cabin in Antartica, you will know that the story of the moment is how the poor in the UK are already suffering and that it will only get worse once the fuel hikes kick in. Poverty is set to increase significantly. People are taking out credit to buy food and other essentials. The level of debt is rising fast. Today (22 September) interest rates went up another half point. There is speculation that there may be unrest as the cumulative effects of rising prices and hardship increase even more.

These stories have filled the national press and media for some time now with only a brief hiatus for the period of mourning for the Queen. Yet looking at the local media, you would be hard pressed to find any such stories. Our local paper arrived this morning and looking through it, you would not really be aware there was a crisis looming. In amongst the pages of local news, including pages about the Queen’s funeral, sport, the local MP with his usual column of puffery, pages of puzzles – next to nothing on this issue. The city however sports a large number of local charities, several food banks, people dealing with homelessness and other worthy causes all working hard in their corners to help those in need. But they are largely silent.

Small charities need to be a lot more vocal about the work they do and the problems they encounter. It is they after all, who pick up the pieces arising from government failure. It is they who meet people who are desperate, in need, neglected by the system or otherwise struggling. With our local, we always get pompous rubbish from our MPs, every week without fail. But stories from the bottom of life’s heap?

I suspect there are several reasons for this. Charities don’t want to be seen to be ‘negative’ and talking about problems all the time. They are reluctant to be seen to be ‘political’ despite being allowed to comment on matters concerning their cause. I hear arguments around it is better to work behind the scenes and having a quite word with the local MP is preferable to banging the drum in the local paper. Well, it does depend on the MP of course, and some are receptive and good. For others on the other hand, it is a dialogue with the deaf.

There are confidentiality worries. And the great difficulty of getting people to write up their causes in an informative way is another factor. They are also busy doing the work and might feel that writing about it is taking them away from doing that.

I would argue however, that charities and not for profits almost have a duty to inform the public. This contact with those struggling in our society carries with it a kind of responsibility to speak out. Joining forces with other charities in the area adds to the power of their message and dilutes problems of individual organisations feeling exposed. Charities have seen their incomes fall for a variety of well-known reasons, but the demands on them have increased and will continue to increase as the winter approaches. They also have bills to pay like every other organisation.

Staying silent is not an option. Allowing local media to carry on in blissful ignorance while allowing the local MP and other bigwigs to print their nonsense is not an option. It’s a tough old world out there and – sorry to offend any religious readers – the meek do not inherit the earth.

Peter Curbishley

Author of How to be a Successful Trustee.

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