Funding charity – survival of the fittest?

Lots in the papers about the damage being done to the voluntary sector by cuts in public funding, which has started another round of the “are charities too dependent on state funding?” debate.

Harry Cole is arguing in the Guardian that cuts will allow market forces to prevail, with “good” charities surviving while their flabbier, lazier  brethren – the ones who can’t wean themselves off the tit of public funding –  go to the wall.  In the end we will just have the charities that the public wants to pay for.  His link to the story was followed appropriately, in my Twitter stream, by a tweet from the RSPCA listing the impressive number of warders and rescue centres they fund completely from public donation.

Well, I’m tempted to say that that’s all very well for the RSPCA.  The British public are always happy to give  to puppies and kittens with  a hard luck story. (I’ve been talked into re-homing 3 rescue cats myself.  I’m not immune to the madness).

You know who doesn’t do so well out of public giving?  Drug addicts.  And old people, particularly those with dementia.  Refugees aren’t high on the list.  Nor are victims of domestic violence.  Or ex-offenders.

Fundraising works fine when you’re promoting a service the public feel emotionally warm about – cancer, children, abused donkeys – (the top ten charities by donation in 2006 were Cancer Research UK, Oxfam, National Trust, British Heart Foundation, RNLI, NSPCC, Salvation Army, Macmillan Cancer Relief, RSPCA, Save the Children).  We are surpassingly generous in times of natural disaster.  But services many – shall we say less-photogenic – people depend on wouldn’t exist if it was left up to us to put our hands in our pockets.

Calling them charities is a misnomer these days.  Lots of third sector/ voluntary sector bodies are effectively small businesses working as not for profit arms of the public services.  I can’t say I mind.  Personally I care more about private sector companies making sizeable profits from government contracts to provide public services, but I guess a mixed-economy of providers is a good thing.  What we’re really talking about when we mention cuts to voluntary sector funding is cutting the services that the voluntary sector provides.  I’d much rather the focus was on that rather than arguing about whether we need a survival of the fittest, fight to the death funding strategy for charities.

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