Passive or Active – The Challenge for 2018
18 January 2018 at 8:47 am
We should never underestimate the importance of collective voices writes Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie, as he sets a challenge for charities to be more active in 2018.
We live in a time of accelerating change. Charities are changing – just as business and government are changing.
Most charities are very aware of the need to adapt and respond to the complex environments in which they operate. Many have been successfully pursuing their mission through decades of changes. They have learned to not only adapt, but also influence the factors that determine their future.
In a political climate that promotes divisiveness, some charities choose to be passive, to work with whatever is imposed on them, hoping that if they keep quiet, their programs or their funding will not be lost or diminished to the point where they can no longer be effective or even survive as an organisation. This passive approach is partly reflected in the submissive response of some charities to the changing priorities and demands of governments or other funders.
It seems logical that if the capacity of a charity to pursue its purpose is determined by the vagaries of governments and other funders, the pre-requisite for achieving organisational stability is not just diversified income streams, but also a capacity to influence these vagaries in a positive way.
Good charities do more than good work. They also ensure they can continue doing good work over time. This means dedicating some of their organisational time, energy and resources to influencing the environments in which they operate.
It’s a lesson we can learn from business and industry – their success in influencing government decision-making on issues that impact them comes from combining their economic clout with a collective voice.
I think in terms of passive and active charities. Passive charities do not see it as their role to influence the environment in which they operate. Active charities take a different view.
Being an active charity is not always about having a loud voice, raising concerns, being in the public domain. Nor is it just about political advocacy. It is about a commitment to purpose, an understanding of the value provided to their communities, and recognising the importance of broader collaborative actions that help shape the environment they operate in.
I am very privileged at CCA to work with over 70 “active” charities, charities committed to doing more than good work. They have put their own time, energy and resources into supporting a collective voice seeking to protect and improve the regulatory and policy environments that impact their capacity to achieve their purpose. These are charities that look beyond their day to day work and see the importance of enabling all charities to be more effective.
On a recent trip to Canada, I had the opportunity to talk with some charity leaders about how they had coped with a government that had actively sought to close-down the advocacy activities of many charities. (The previous Harper government imposed strict limitations on advocacy backed up by government managed audits, starting with environmental groups then moving on to welfare providers.) I also asked what they would do differently given their experience.
The short answer was that we should never underestimate the importance of collective voices, and, whatever we choose to do, it is important to not be passive, not be too willing to compromise.
The more Australian charities become active in resisting moves that negatively impact on them, the more we join together, the more we raise our collective voice and make our case in public and political domains, the more secure our future will be.
It is not always easy to be an active charity – in many ways it is the harder road. Finding the time and resources to prioritise issues that do not immediately impact the bottom line can be a struggle at the best of times, let alone when survival is more tenuous. But that is exactly what good charities do, what our sector needs to do. We have already shown that our sector, actively working together, can achieve real change, even when government policy positions seem intractable.
So here is a challenge for 2018 – be more active. Raise your voice. Act out your belief in the value of what you do, support all the good work your organisation does, become involved and support our peak bodies, be an active part of a stronger charities sector. Working together our sector is a powerful force. We can shape and change our environment.
Active charities are the heartbeat of the Australia we want to live in.
About the author: David Crosbie is CEO of the Community Council for Australia. He has spent more than 20 years as CEO of significant charities including five years in his current role, four years as CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia, seven years as CEO of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia, and seven years as CEO of Odyssey House Victoria.
David Crosbie writes exclusively for Pro Bono News on a fortnightly basis, covering issues of importance to the broader not-for-profit sector.