We live in difficult political times. From the poisonous, xenophobic rhetoric around the Brexit referendum to the rise of Donald Trump and the far right, political changes are taking place that are threatening some of the basic values of modern society.
Although the most dramatic of these changes have occurred in the last year, the political wind has been blowing in a particular direction (further to the right) for several years, and the ideas and policies that have followed from this (such as massive cuts in social services budgets) have proved disastrous for some of the most vulnerable people in society – including the poor and sick.
These developments represent a threat to the values which most of the charity sector holds dear – not simply progressive liberal trouble makers (of which we are proud to be part at ChangeStar).
Yet, if you looked at fundraising and charity sector blogs over the last couple of years, you almost wouldn’t realise that some of these political events were happening. Fundraising and communication teams within charities have tended to keep their heads down, seemingly believing that politics is not their business.
On the occasions where fundraisers do talk about political change it’s usually in an administrative way – i.e. ‘how do we need to adapt to deal with the changes?’ – rather than making a concerted effort to challenge the changes (and the political ideas behind them) themselves.
This can be illustrated by the way that the sector has reacted (or failed to react) to the attacks on it from the right wing press over the last few years. And bear in mind that these are not just threats to the values of the sector but to the existence of the sector itself! True – some fundraisers have needed to get their house in order as to how they approach and communicate with supporters, but the reaction of the sector to the sustained attack from the right wing media has been largely to roll over and accept the blows rather than fight them.
In the face of these political changes, there have of course been loud voices from campaigners and liberal, politically-oriented organisations such as Amnesty, but that’s their job! But what about the rest of the charity sector – for example, the organisations that are trying to help people deal with poverty and increasingly sparse social services while the conservative government strips budgets in the name of austerity? There are countless further examples – but the point is – where is the fight? Where is the fire in the belly?
A strong charity sector is a sign of a healthy society, so perhaps the silent state of our sector is yet another symptom of our country’s malaise in the face of the rise of right-wing politics and the dominance of political ideology that favours the dismantling of the state in favour of market forces, and shows hostility towards anything that seeks to get in the way of them. This would include organisations that aim to seek regulation, help people who need support or hold governments to account – charities, in other words.
But charities should be some of the most political organisations in the world. They work for people who are disadvantaged, communities in need, environments that are being destroyed, people who are being neglected – and the reason all these needs exist is usually due to some inadequacy of the political system or its policies – from economic inequality through to insufficient environmental legislation.
So, charities ARE political, and they need to start acting like it. And this means everyone within charities – not just the experts within the policy department or the campaign team. We need to start seeing the big picture politically and doing something to improve it, as part of our roles. This could include speaking up boldly on political issues – both when these affect our own particular cause and when they are broader issues of principle, or just getting involved in the movement for a fairer, kinder, more sustainable world.
If we don’t all get involved now, the consequences for our sector – and the world way beyond it – could be devastating.
By Richard Docwra, Director, ChangeStar
Contact ChangeStar on: 01273 964018 or firstname.lastname@example.org