Hello again Friday philanthro-fans. We’re back on weekly rations again, so here’s your serving of stories for the last seven days, including a couple of pretty worrying stories from the UK about threats to the independence and advocacy of charities.
I’m not sure I’ll say “enjoy” this week – more like “digest”:
1) At number one, both in terms of importance and level of depression it induces, is the news that food bank provide the Trussell Trust revealed this week that it had been threatened with closure by the government last year if it continued to campaign against government policy. The Trust made the claims during an evidence sessions for the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector, and they were subsequently picked up by the Independent. If there is even a grain of truth in this story (and I suspect it is far more than a grain), it is very worrying indeed.
2) Second is another worrying story in the Guardian about alcohol firms using corporate philanthropy to buy political influence. The article is based on a report from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine which identifies charities that have received funding from the drinks industry. The question of charities taking money whose source seems to conflict with their case is a thorny one, and something I have considered on this blog before. To my mind, the crucial question is whether the charity’s acceptance of the moneydoes actually confer unwarranted legitimacy on the donor; and it is not clear from the article that this is the case. The report cited seems to assume that influence is an automatic consequence of giving the donations (although I haven’t read the report itself, so I can’t be sure), which I think is wrong unless there is further evidence that a company’s donations had a material effect on its political dealings. In any case, this a weighty and important issue for charities.
3) At number three is another charity campaigning story, with the news that Oxfam has caused a stir among backbench Tory MPs with a tweet it sent out criticising the effect of government policy on poverty in the UK. The tweet, a mock movie poster talking of a “perfect storm” caused by “zero hours contracts, high prices, benefit cuts, unemployment and childcare costs” was obviously designed to cause controversy, and was – to my mind – a bit unsubtle. However, the furious response from some MPs (mostly the usual suspects, it has to be said), accusing Oxfam of “left-wing bias” was indicative of the ongoing challenges facing charities when they try to challenge government policy. As CAF’s recent Future World Giving report highlighted, the UK is in danger of finding itself on the wrong side of a global trend towards restricting the rights of civil society organisations to speak out, which is something we should all be concerned about.
4) At number four: apparently there is now an ideological war between social investment and philanthropy! The FT carries a story (a rather thin one, it has to be said) claiming that philanthropists and impact investors are increasingly divided over the right way to address social problems. I think this is definitely a debate that needs to be had, and as impact investing becomes more prominent, the question of its relationship to traditional philanthropy will become more pressing. I’m not sure that we need to invent a “war” at this stage though!
5) And finally… well, there was only ever going to be one “and finally” story this week, after the news that two lucky donors (one male, one female) will get the chance to die in the next Game of Thrones book. As part of a fundraising campaign for the Santa Fe Wild Wolf Sanctuary (a cause that GoT fans will know relates well to the series), author George R. R. Martin offered a range of prizes for those who make significant donations, This included the chance, for the bargain price of a $20,000 donation, to appear in the next GoT novel as a character and suffer one of the series’ trademark grisly ends. Apparently one of the prizes (perhaps unsurprisingly the male one…) was snaffled within 10 minutes of being announced.
Well, winner is coming, after all… (I’m sorry).