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To think that the charitable sector in the UK is unnecessarily fragmented?

(43 Posts)
legalalien Tue 16-Aug-11 08:42:28

I've read a few articles recently about the need for improved careers advice /CV assistance in schools and the fact that cuts to school budgets are likely to lead some schools to reduce services in this area.

Hmm - I thought - sounds like an area that would be ripe for volunteering - wonder what's out there (it occurred to me that for a particular school there would be some merit in setting up eg a facebook group whose members were the particular school's sixth formers and a selected group of experienced professional volunteers who could provide advice).

So I googled to see what was out there - and there seem to be about five million different charities / local authority initiatives / private sector initiatives by recruitment and publishing firms, blah, blah - and much of the material in terms of online advice is incredibly duplicative. There's so much out there that if I was trying to find help (or to volunteer in some way) I wouldn't know where to start.

In other areas there also seem to be numerous charities all covering similar ground.

Is it just me? Or is this horrendously inefficient? Is there some room for merger activity in the charitable sector (I seem to recall the charities commission encouraging this a while ago). And if not, is that for good reasons or because individual charities have individual personalities involved? Genuine question, and from someone without experience in the charitable sector.

InTheNightKitchen Tue 16-Aug-11 08:59:06

Research?

legalalien Tue 16-Aug-11 09:07:03

Am I doing research, you mean? No, I just find it all a bit confusing. Perhaps because I'm from a country with only 4 million people, so that everything tends to be a bit more centralised. Also, in principle I'd be keen to do some volunteer work, and I know a few other people who would too, but it all seems too hard (e.g. I volunteered for the London school reading thing several months ago, they sent a holding response saying they had lots of applications and I haven't heard anything since. I would have thought it made sense try and process / train like made over the summer holiday so that people could hit the ground running for the new school year- makes me think it would have been easier to contact the local school directly). And most charities advertise volunteer posts on a "you'll be lucky if you get it" basis, I guess because lots of people want a volunteer role as a way of building up work experience on a CV rather than for middle class "lady bountiful" reasons grin

onagar Tue 16-Aug-11 09:11:01

Horrendously inefficient? yes it is. Though if you had 'one big charity' you'd then have to deal with them only helping those they approved of or applying conditions (as churches do)

If this all needs doing we should do it as a society. That's the kind of reason we have societies and if anyone in this country needs charity we've been seriously negligent.

5inabed Tue 16-Aug-11 09:14:47

I work for a small charity in Scotland and we don't have many volunteers (some for the charity shop) it can be very difficult in a small organisation to maintain volunteers. You need a specific person to find and match them up with a client, police checks etc, someone who has the time to chat with them find out whats happening - we don't have that as we are a coalface organisation it is difficult to get funding in this climate and everyone usually helps with more than their job. I would imagine a lot of parents would have volunteered for a reading programme especially if it affected their children. Perhaps you need to approach small charities who really need help if it is work experience you are looking for. BTW if anyone fancies abseiling off the Titan Crane in Clydebank (west of scotland) this saturday for deafblind people let me know!

motherinferior Tue 16-Aug-11 09:16:17

I think perhaps that you should actually do some looking at the sector, instead of making wild generalisations about it. Try investigating NCVO, ACEVO, and NAVCA; reading Third Sector magazine (a publication for which I used to write a regular column); look at the funding bodies like Esme Fairbairn, Big Lottery; and so on.

motherinferior Tue 16-Aug-11 09:17:20

What I mean is, volunteer by all means. But please don't barge in with massive assumptions about a complex, extensive sector which does certainly have a lot of flaws but which appears to be fair game for generalisations about 'charities' in a way that others don't.

motherinferior Tue 16-Aug-11 09:19:36

oh, and everyone's merging at the moment. Of course they are. Funds are tight. Age Concern and Help the Aged merged last year. ChildLine merged into NSPCC. Small providers merge into big ones. All the time.

Whatmeworry Tue 16-Aug-11 09:25:21

The purpose of charities is to provide little kingdoms for princelings to rule.....

http://escholarship.org/uc/item/97p470sx

Hence no interest in combining.

It's also worth looking at their economics and how much (little) gets to the end recipient.

legalalien Tue 16-Aug-11 09:28:15

fair point motherinferior - am conscious that I'm making ignorant generalisations which is why I posted this in AIBU and disclaimed any knowledge! given many (most?) adults in the country aren't actively involved, and it would be nice if a few more were involved, i thought it worth a quick ponder, if that makes sense? My initial reaction may well be wrong, but it's likely the same initial reaction that others have, if that makes any sense?

(will try and look at some of the sites but I'm genuinely not researching so not sure I'm going to have the time to do that! Any accurate "popular" summaries out there that I can read for the benefit of my general knowledge?)

FWIW I'm happy to make wild generalisations about all sorts of things, not just the charity sector grin

Mandyville Tue 16-Aug-11 09:38:40

Ooh - really, motherinferior? I'm researching volunteering - fun to find someone else who's interested!

legalalien on the practical front, if you want to volunteer, have a look here volunteering.direct.gov.uk/ or contact your local Volunteer Centre www.do-it.org.uk/wanttovolunteer/aboutvolunteering/vcfinder

More generally, I think it is telling that you're from a small country. One of my colleagues (from an even smaller country, actually) is perpetually amazed at our plurality. The thing is, a lack of central control in the voluntary/charitable sector could well be 'a good thing'. If a service is really important, we should be providing it through the state (cf onagar). If it's a nice-to-have, or something incredibly specialised which the state is bad at supplying (e.g. extra help for deafblind adults in the west of Scotland, cf 5inabed) charities may step in. The needs of deafbind adults in the west of Scotland are likely to be different even from the needs of deafblind adults in, say, Birmingham - so some local specialism is welcome.

Also, as motherinferior says, there is merger activity. Personally, I think it's interesting to think about the changing role and funding of charities/the voluntary sector over the decades. Once, charities and mutual support/insurance groups were all there was (beyond family and friends, church and community). Then the state stepped in and did some things - big things like nationalising health care. But charities and mutual support groups remained. Now, many charities are funded by the state to do things the state doesn't do well for itself. The lines between state and charitable activity are blurred - this is one of the reasons why Coalition cuts are affecting actual services already.

Finally, mi I think you maybe feel attacked by the OP's post, but ALL sectors are open to horrific generalisations - I took her post as an attempt to learn. And I think that throwing out the acronyms almost makes her point - the sector IS complicated and tough to understand (which is why people like you and me get paid to understand it). I don't think it damages us to acknowledge the complexity. Please don't take this badly - I just think you're speaking from a position of so much knowledge that you might scare people off!

TigerseyeMum Tue 16-Aug-11 09:40:16

I worked in the charitable sector for years, it is fragmented in the same way as all business is fragmented. Yes there are often similar organisations offering similar services bt often they are subtly different - for example, we offered careers support for people who had mental health difficulties in a specific region. We overlapped slightly with another organisation that covered the neighbouring region but did the same job as us. We also overlapped with an organisation that offered the same support to the general population, including those with mental health difficulties.

So at first glance we all 'did the same thing in the same area' but in fact we were the only ones that offered long term suport for people experiencing the whole range of mental health difficulties.

We closed down when the government launched its national framework that in theory supports the same clients as we did. I went on to work for this agency. In reality we did not support the same clients, in the same way, as extensively or for so long. It was 'one size fits all' and it didn't work. That has since been replaed and in theory is covered by the agency I currently work for. Again, we do even less of this type of work so all that support, knowledge and expertise effectively has been lost. The professionals who used to refer to us still lament the demise of the project, so it is not just me who thinks there is a gap in the market.

There has been much written and researched about how charitable sector fulfils a very important need in the UK community. They are much more sophisticatedly run these days and are not just the 'well meaning ladies offering cups of tea' image they used to have.

The challenge is to gather the information about what is available all under one roof. Your local Volunteer Bureau should do this and should make that available to you (their quality varies though so some do, some don't).

Mandyville Tue 16-Aug-11 09:42:31

Whatmeworry - all small enterprises have that character, surely? Families, businesses, charities, all of them.

Your point about £ to intended recipients is interesting, though - and just as applicable regardless of charity size. In fact some would argue that it's also true at the state level (e.g. amount spent on admin vs. amount spent on nurses). I wonder whether profit-making businesses are really any different, though. No idea, actually - just wondering!

TigerseyeMum Tue 16-Aug-11 09:46:31

I think the problem with the money aspect is that there is often a prevailing image in this country of everyone being prepared to work for nothing if they work for a charity. In fact, charities can be large employers, some pay the 'going rate' but most - including the one I worked for - pay much less.

So therefore, as with most business, the costs of salary payment and oncosts, including NI, sick pay etc etc are probably the highest, followed by premises and marketing.

But there is an image that te 'pound put in the collecting tin' should go directly to the beneficiary almost with being unmediated in between. That just can't happen.

Also, 'national' charities - think Mind, RSPCA etc, do not financially support local branches, who do their own fundraising. And all charity accounts are scrutinised by those bodies who give the money eg ESF.

lesley33 Tue 16-Aug-11 09:55:20

With large charities there is mergers happening.

But many small charities are run totally by volunteers. Yes in theory it would be better if they merged with similar charities run by volunteers. But often they don't because of personality clashes, different ways of thinking how a service should be delivered or because a charity is set up to honour someone - often a dead child.

It is IMO better that volunteers put the time into making things better in their own small charity, than insisting that all new volunteers join an existing charity.

Private sector often have their own initiatives to promote themself. Although there are exceptions, most aren't interested in combining with other private sector bodies. They want their charitable initiative to be branded and marketed as being done by their company only. If we insisted they had to join up, most just wouldn't bother doing anything for charity.

Also some small charities are set up because people involved feel the large charity isn't being run how they would want it to be. For example, cats and dogs homes set up by people who don't agree with the policy of large charities that put healthy but unwanted animals down.

legalalien Tue 16-Aug-11 09:56:38

Still here and reading with interest (having asked the question I have little to contribute to the answer).

Truth be known, I think my gut feel is not so much that I want to be involved in formal volunteering but that living in a big city I miss the elements of "small society" that I grew up with- knowing neighbours well, helping out those going through a bad patch etc, etc , sharing skills - which I don't think can be done entirely through formally organised activity. Where I grew up society was much more "mixed" than it is where I am now. Not quite sure that there's an easy fix for that, though.

<continues pondering>

pointydog Tue 16-Aug-11 10:00:16

But all sectors ar elike this. Organisations are set up and run by individuals to address local, regional and national issues. Some were set up over a hundred years ago and some just last month.

If there were only twenty or so mega charities, there would be great disadvantages with that as well.

You might think it is horrendously inefficient because there is a (misguided) expectation that all money that goes to a charity is spent on the charitable service. That will never be possible.

lesley33 Tue 16-Aug-11 10:01:04

I think the point about how some charities are different even if it looks on the surface as if they are not.

For example, there is a big difference between brownies and the woodcraft folk in terms of their ethos. But on the surface they do the same - both run weekly activities for children alongside weekends or trips away.

If you use a charities services you may totally understand the difference, but sometimes from the outside the differences aren't so obvious.

Also IME small charities tend to use a higher % of their money to actually help people than most large charities do. I think it is unavoidable as any large charity inevitably has more bureaucracy when running a large organisation.

Mandyville Tue 16-Aug-11 10:02:18

legalalien have you heard of timebanking? If you're in a city, there may be one near you. It's not the same as those informal links you're talking about, but it may be a better proxy than formal volunteering...

It's not an easy fix, no. And I think cities have always been different from smaller communities in this way. Thinking about it though... I live in a small city and my networks are city-wide. I don't know the people on my estate well, but I have connections on the other side of town to whom I feel reciprocally bound (in the informal way you're talking about). I think in a city, you have to perhaps be more deliberate about the way you make connections - perhaps by joining clubs or what-have-you. Don't know - what do others think?

cat64 Tue 16-Aug-11 10:02:52

Message withdrawn

lesley33 Tue 16-Aug-11 10:03:19

legalalien - Look and see if there is a Time Bank in your area - this would fit perfectly what you are looking for. Time Banks are free to join and members do things for other members and earn credits that they can spend getting help in return. It basically tries to formally recreate the culture of neighbours helping each other out.

Google it and see if you can find one that way.

Mandyville Tue 16-Aug-11 10:11:02

lesley33 great minds! I just googled and found the results confusing (more fuel to legalalien's fire!) so I'm going to recommend this link: www.timebanking.org/ Some of the others were traditional volunteering under a time bank banner.

legalalien Tue 16-Aug-11 10:26:23

just spent half an hour on a "time bank branded site offering traditional volunteering opportunities" site and then came back and saw your post! As it happens, there's an active timebank a mile down the road so have dropped them an email. Will see what happens.

Mandyville Tue 16-Aug-11 10:33:29

I'd like to blame the Big Society and associated bollards for that first one...! Good luck!

legalalien Tue 16-Aug-11 10:40:19

Can I ask another potentially controversial question arising from this morning's surfing (i.e. skimming the surface) extravaganza.

deep breath

are there not rather a lot of private consultancies specifically targetting the "third sector" in much the same way as such consultancies have traditionally targetted the public sector? Are they all useful / necessary?

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