The Charity Employees Benevolent Fund is to close through lack of income. The fund, operating since 2009 to provide assistance to current and former charity staff facing financial hardship, will be wound down after it has met its current financial obligations.
The charity sector has, ironically, been a latecomer in establishing a benevolent fund for its employees. The Bankers' Benevolent Fund, recently renamed the Bank Workers' Charity, was founded in 1883, and the Solicitors' Benevolent Association was set up in 1858.
The charity sector has an estimated 650,000 employees. Given the current economic conditions, it is perhaps not surprising that the Fund has seen applications for assistance triple in the past year alone.
Indeed, it has suffered the same fate of many charities, namely an increase in demand for its service at a time when income is failing to keep pace or is actually falling.
In a statement published by the Fund's trustees today, the blame was clearly laid at the door of charities themselves. While the NSPCC, New Philanthropy Capital and Victim Support were publicly thanked for their regular financial support for the Fund, many other charities did not contribute.
CEBF invited charities that employed staff to make regular payments based on the size of their workforce.
Michael Lake, Chairman of the CEBF Advisory Council commented: "I and the members of the Advisory Council believe that the sector has a collective moral responsibility to assist its own people in difficulty and I regret that there has not been a stronger commitment from individual charities to support CEBF in its commendable work."
Why did charities fail to support the Fund in sufficient numbers? Some might have felt that they could not be seen to be diverting money to look after employees facing hardship, especially at a time when many donors were themselves struggling to make donations.
Indeed, that question was posed in 2007: "can you imagine the public's reaction to fundraisers fundraising for fundraisers?"
Yet donors will be aware that charities as responsible employers pay public liability insurance, meet health and safety requirements for their staff and volunteers, and some pay pension contributions.
Perhaps other charities felt that the Fund should be supported primarily by the larger charities. The sector after all is dominated by very small charities, with many of the 160,000 charities in England and Wales having an annual turnover of £10,000 or less, according to the Charity Commission. In contrast, Oxfam raised £385.5m last year, up by £18m on the previous year.
But CEBF was careful to make the Fund appropriate to all charities that employed staff by asking for contributions based solely on the number of staff they employed.
So, the Fund is now closed to new applicants and expects to close in September. Its trustees have made one final bid to any "philanthropic organisation" that could take it on as an operating charity.
The closure of the Charity Employees Benevolent Fund is a poor reflection on the charity sector as a whole. Charity staff are arguably even more likely to face financial difficulties than staff in some other commercial sectors, but their safety net has now gone.
Charity might begin at home, but it has left the building.
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