I know it’s hard to believe but there has been some news this week. Aside from the news about the news, if you see what I mean.
But actually, this news is connected with the culture that has enveloped these islands, personified by the worst excesses of News of the World.
This week, the latest Charity Market Monitor was published, showing that for the second year in a row, the income of the UK’s largest charities was down. Fundraised income declined in 2009-10 by £70million.
Now, these kinds of fiscal figures may shock some of you – good. The total income of the 500 biggest charities amounted to over £6 billion. Top of the tree as always is Cancer Research UK which raised £379 million. Oxfam was knocked off its second place perch by British Heart Foundation: they raised £196 and £182 million respectively. Yes, in one year. Some of the UK’s biggest charities are big business indeed.
And on one level, this latest fall is good news. It amounts to only 1% of these charities’ fundraised income. A small decline which demonstrates that they are managing to keep donations up. But the figures mask the real truth for the whole of the charitable sector, which in income terms is a pyramid. A very small thin point at the top where a handful of enormous charities like the ones above and NSPCC, Macmillan crowd then thousands all along the bottom whose entire income will be below £100,000.
These very much smaller charities will be really struggling in the current climate, having fewer reserves, and fewer resources all round. Their falls in income are likely to be proportionately much larger, putting the work they do and the causes they serve at risk.
Which will explain why many charities will have taken up News International’s offer of free advertising and donations from sales this weekend. My own charity discussed pursuing it and decided no. There are some who reckon all income is fair game, its what you do with it that matters. But actually, most charities have ethical codes in place about whom and in what circumstances they will accept money. These codes probably make the News International toxic. My own personal view? No one should touch the News of the World offer with a bargepole.
But it leaves struggling charities with a dilemma, trying to meet increased demand on ever decreasing pools of resources. Personal giving is down, grants from public sector bodies are down, some private trusts have folded or suspended grants because of the lack of income from investments, businesses are increasingly inclined to offer benefits in kind – volunteers, free services – rather than hard cash.
If it is bad at home, it is worse abroad.
The real news this week? Another famine across the whole of East Africa. Millions of children, especially, starving to death. The juxtaposition could not be greater. A real tragedy is unfolding while we in the UK tweet ourselves into a frenzy about the graft and corruption endemic in our establishment institutions. Yet, just like the News International debacle, this famine has been years in the making. Despite the best efforts of aid and development agencies, working on the ground for years, trying to raise awareness of the problems facing countries like Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, with no one paying attention.
A lot like the few, brave whistle blowers, both journalistic and parliamentary, who were prepared to risk trying to shine a light into the murky affairs and practices of the News of the World.
And we all ignored it.
So, I ask you – nicely – to find five minutes this weekend for the real news story. Don’t justify why you can’t give, shouldn’t give. Already too many of us have been doing this – the Monitor indicates that the overseas charitable sector saw one of the sharpest declines – determining that charity begins at home in tough times. And I wonder which media institutions might have contributed to such a wrong-headed sense of priorities?
No matter how great the need in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, it is nothing as to the devastating situation of basic want in East Africa. A small donation is all it takes to save a child’s life – £20 will feed a severely malnourished child for two weeks. Remarkable huh?
Visit the DEC appeal and give. Please.