Australian Charities Warned Against UK Mistakes
4 September 2013 at 10:41 pm
The outspoken CEO of the UK’s Directory of Social Change has urged the Australian Not for Profit sector to avoid the mistakes of charities in the UK at the National Conference on Volunteering in Adelaide.
Debra Allcock Tyler, described by conference MC Amanda Blair as ‘a Duracell bunny with a potty mouth,’ held the crowd spellbound during her keynote address as she passionately encouraged charities to stand up for themselves and avoid compromising their mission to serve others for the sake of money.
“I’m incredibly impressed with the voluntary sector in Australia,” Allcock Tyler said.
‘We’re buggering it up left right and centre (in the UK). Focus on what you do and ignore what we do.”
“I’m feeling really bitter and hurt,” she lamented of her own experience in the sector.
“We must never compromise our ethics and our beliefs. We must speak up, serve others, and speak for them regardless of the cost to ourselves. Money is the mechanism, not the motive, and its what distinguishes us from the private sector,” she said.
“Our job is to serve people. That is all.”
It’s important, Allcock Tyler said, for charities to assert their independence and avoid being fearful of losing funding by standing up to the public and private sectors.
She spoke of ‘gobsmackingly arrogant’ assumptions from private sector and government in the UK that charities were inefficient amateurs who didn’t know how to handle money.
“Those perceptions are absolute and utter tripe!”
“They’re greedy, lying, morally bankrupt and dishonest and for some reason those very same people constantly say our charities need to change.”
“Slavish servitude to short term corporate greed launched the British economy into crisis. They have nerve to tell us we’re not sustainable!”
“The condescension coming from the private and public sector in Britain really, really pisses me off.’
“Many of our leaders think that business has the answer to everything. The UK government wants charities to be more businesslike.”
“The only sector relatively debt free in the UK was the charitable sector yet government was forcing charities into debt by making them bid for grants and borrow capital,” she said.
“It would see them forced to adopt unproven, untested, mechanisms not suited to funding social change,” she said.
Yet the biggest mistake the public sector made, she said, was thinking of charities as a transaction, where money was given as a resource to solve a particular problem.
Attendees become animated as she spoke of a meeting between Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and some of the UK’s top charities over a proposed deal to tackle youth unemployment by getting young people to volunteer with charities.
“Volunteering isn’t free! We’re not there to serve volunteers. We don’t want some young person to turn up for a coupe of weeks, spend all time and energy on them, and then they bugger off once they’ve got something on their CV,” she said, leading to a chorus of ‘hear hear’ from the crowd.
Allcock Tyler said transparency was a key principle for charities to win trust.
Some charities in the UK were advertising in misleading ways, she said, such as labelling products with claims that 100% of profits would go back into aid.
“We’re partly to blame because we don’t stand up for ourselves and we don’t tell the truth”.
“I can’t find where overall levels of giving or volunteering have declined with bad publicity. We worry too much. We’re afraid we won’t get the money and the support. If we don’t have the guts to stand up for ourselves we won’t get the support.”
“We have to speak out, because we’re speaking out for beneficiaries, for vulnerable people, if we don’t speak out, who will?”
“It’s our job to tell the truth”
The Not for Profit sector was unique, Allcock Tyler said.
“We’re not necessarily better people – in fact, some of the most ruthless self-aggrandising bastards I’ve ever met run charities, but I think that the fact that we work in our environment that makes us think about the beneficiaries of the work we do makes us special. “
“They (charities) do all that with sod all money and very little recognition,” she said.
Debra Allcock Tyler is the Founding Chair of the Small Charities Coalition/Charity Trustee Networks and an internationally published author on topics including leadership, management, communication skills, personal development and time management.
She was the opening keynote at the conference, hosted by Volunteering Australia and organised and hosted by Volunteering South Australia – Northern Territory.
The two day event is covering over 70 discussion topics around the conference themes of lead, partner, build and sustain.
The event was opened on Wednesday by the Governor of South Australia and brings together Not for Profit organisations, directors, CEOs, volunteer managers, volunteers, policy makers, government officials, corporations, researchers and academics.