Charity and social enterprise debate

In October, I had the opportunity to take part in Stone King’s “Charity and Social Enterprise debate’, chaired by Baroness Pitkeathley, president of NCVO. Speakers were allocated a side to debate and I had the opportunity to argue in favour of social enterprises as an alternative to traditional charities, alongside Julian Blake (Social Enterprise Partner at Stone King) and Chris Wright (Chief Executive at Catch 22).

Arguing against were Jonathan Burchfield (Charity Partner at Stone King), Kathy Evans (Chief Executive of Children England) and Rosie Chapman (Chair of the Charity Governance Code Steering Group).

The debate was friendly, with both sides acknowledging that drawing solid lines is often unhelpful. I touched on two main points during the debate: the over-regulation of smaller charities, and under provision of unrestricted funding.

Firstly with regards to the overregulation –– the current regulatory environment is appropriate for larger charities but certainly not for the smallest charities which make up the vast majority of the sector. This disproportionate over-regulation often results in more “professional” boards that are able to assist with regulatory compliance being sought after and recruited by charities i.e. accountants and solicitors. Much is the load placed on traditional volunteer boards, that there is very little room for non-professional individuals, making the sector highly exclusive and impossible to penetrate.

Secondly, funders have the power to provide more unrestricted/ core funding, but in some cases, simply choose not to. This creates an environment where smaller charities are constantly fighting fires looking to cover their overheads. As a result of this, crucial issues such as long-term strategy, diversity and environmental impact, are often moved to the side lines.

My closing remark was simply this: where do our loyalties lie? Do they lie with the institutions that we have built, or with the individuals that we serve? If we are to truly say that our loyalties lie with those we serve, structures should be irrelevant – the most important thing should simply be our ability to drive meaningful change.

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