A Year to be Proud of

The most positive aspect of 2017 has been the way so many in the sector have come together to push back against those seeking to diminish it, writes CEO David Crosbie in Pro Bono News, 21 December 2017.

A Year to be Proud of

In 2017, charities in Australia have faced unprecedented pressure.

While growth at the big end of charity town – particularly the big universities –  continues to boost overall turnover across the sector, the reality for most charities is that growth is stalling.

There are three main drivers of this reduction in growth:

  1. Increases in government revenue are stalling, particularly at the state and territory level where GST returns have gone backwards in real terms. At the same time, demand for government funded services and capital investment is increasing. The squeeze is on.
  2. Fundraising returns have diminished, partly as a consequence of increased competition for fundraising income, but also reflecting negative consumer confidence that has meant our rates of giving as a percentage of our incomes is still more than 15 per cent below pre-GFC levels.
  3. Increased competition for fundraising income is mirrored in the increased competition for fees and service charges, with the added element of for-profits often competing in the same space. As the amount of money available in given areas – education, health, employment programs, housing etc, rises, for-profits are increasingly making inroads into what were previously almost exclusively not-for-profit providers.

Many organisations are entering what has been described as the starvation cycle where investment in organisational capacity and development is reduced to enable important programs and services to be maintained.

Like other sectors, including government and corporates, accelerating rates of change fuel uncertainty. When governments are uncertain, it further exacerbates uncertainty in the charities sector.

Disruption, including digital disruption, is starting to impact across our sector. Many charities have made their reputations offering high quality responsive services, but maintaining quality as competition grows and real incomes are reducing can be very difficult.

These pressures on all charities are driving more collaboration and mergers, although the complexity of achieving purpose-driven mergers cannot be overstated. Mergers can be even more demanding when nationalising Federated bodies – a process that often amounts to a merger of eight separate entities. No corporate M&A expert would seek to merge eight separate companies in one deal.

Yet despite all these challenges, I am constantly uplifted by how so many in our sector not only continue to thrive, but do amazing work.

If our sector has one overwhelming weakness, it is that we do not promote our achievements and our value to the degree that they deserve.

This year I have seen or visited programs that have: reduced crime; reduced suicide; increased educational attainment amongst at risk populations; created music, art, self expression and confidence; found people places to live and jobs that made them feel valued; cared for people when care was all that mattered; helped people achieve their dreams, find themselves, their families, their communities.

Sometimes, I find it important to touch the work of charities, to know why we do what we do, to feel what it is to make a difference in other people’s lives and in our own. That is the joy of working and volunteering in our sector and we should always cherish it.

For me the most positive aspect of 2017 has been the way so many in the sector have come together to push back against those seeking to diminish us. Well over 100 organisations signed an open letter to the prime minister expressing concerns about the way Susan Pascoe was treated by an assistant minister who had refused to meet anyone from the ACNC, despite the ACNC being his area of responsibility. When I presented a copy of the signed open letter to the assistant minister, he suggested this response from the sector was unprecedented, and I agreed.

This is just one example of our growing collaboration as a sector. This week I have participated in group meetings of over 25 charities concerned about the threat to advocacy. All are dedicated to fighting proposed legislative changes that could diminish the voice of charities in public policy.

It is probably not surprising that as threats to the sector grow, the collective voice of the sector becomes stronger. Increasingly people across our sector are talking about the solutions, the need to do better, to speak up and strive for positive change. We are finding a collective voice.

This bright star of 2017 means I am really looking forward to next year, because a united and collaborative charities sector, informed by purpose and driven by their communities, will always light the way towards a better Australia. And that is the Australia I want to be part of in 2018.

Read on Pro Bono Newshttps://probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2017/12/a-year-to-be-proud-of/