THE BLOG

If Charities Are to Thrive in 2016 Listening to Supporters Will Be Vital

07/01/2016 16:49 GMT | Updated 07/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Who would think that plastic carrier bags could yield millions for charity? Or cupcakes? Or washing machines?

In 2015 charities were put under greater scrutiny - and attack - than in recent memory. Under such circumstances it would be easy to be gloomy, even to fear that charities are facing an existential threat.

Let's not beat around the bush, charities have a trust problem. Our research shows levels of trust fell sharply between 2014 and 2015. And all of us in the charitable sector need to address it, and make sure the reality of how we deal with donors and beneficiaries lives up to the expectations people have of us.

But there is reason to believe that if we listen to those we work with and for, there are huge opportunities opening up for charities to make a positive difference, and raise the funds that allow us to do so

Underneath the headlines, there was plenty for charities to be cheerful about last year, which we can build on in 2016.

One of them came in the form of plastic bags. Government's move to reduce the harm done to the environment by plastic carrier bags has also had a positive knock on effect for charities - with supermarkets heeding the call to give the proceeds of the 5p-a-time plastic bag levy to charity. Thanks to the combined power of supermarkets supporting civil society, a piece of public policy about rubbish and the environment turns into a potential £1 billion fund making a big impact for myriad good causes.

While Britons in their droves become obsessed with cakes and bread thanks to the modern craze for reality game shows on TV, so that enthusiasm is directed into charity cake sales - an age old fundraiser given new life by Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood and their war on soggy bottoms.

At the same time disruptive technology is opening up entirely new ways to donate. The concept of the blockchain, the computer code that underpins crypto currencies like the Bitcoin, could open up many new avenues for charities. That could be a highly transparent way of tracking transactions or "branding" money to show its philanthropic purpose. Or it could be using the surplus processing power of sophisticated household appliances in the "internet of things" to participate in the financial system and generate its own money to give away. Science fiction maybe, but based firmly in currently available technology already being taken seriously by many of our leading financial institutions.

And #GivingTuesday, an idea hatched in New York that we helped to bring to Britain - harnessing the collective power of charity supporters to get across a message to millions. For one day, on December 1, celebrating and promoting the great work of charities dominated the nation's conversation on social media, with everyone from sports stars and entertainers to politicians getting involved.

As the pace of change in the early 21st century only accelerates, I have no doubt that 2016 will open up new opportunities like this. Crucially it will be important that we maintain the essence of charity which drives people to give their time, their money and their voice to causes they care about. Whether that is through the work of professional organisations with the scale and structure to affect major change, or small community groups of volunteers hoping to make a difference in their community.

Whatever the technology, civil society thrives when it remains close to the people it serves and whose support make its work possible. That is what sets us apart from government, from business, from the public sector - the ability to bring people together to support a cause bigger than themselves; to make a difference and to make the world a better place.

Charities have a huge amount to be proud of and. as we start the new year, let's not lose sight of the importance of celebrating our great achievements and success stories. With that in mind, the Charity Awards 2016 - sponsored by CAF - is now open for entries.