A charity’s ultimate aim should be not to exist

Chief executive of St Michael's Hospice Tony Collins.
Chief executive of St Michael's Hospice Tony Collins.

With so many charities looking to the public for help funding their work, the Chief Executive of Saint Michael’s Hospice Tony Collins explains why it is important the charities themselves think smarter.

In a time when charities are crying out for money with ever greater persistence I have both an expectation and perhaps a hope that the donors, the general public, will become even more thoughtful and deliberate in their giving both of their time and their money.

Saint Michael's Hospice

Saint Michael's Hospice

Over the last decade or so charities have become much more effective in explaining the need for their existence and the difference they make. This has come about largely because those funding the charities have asked the questions, ‘Why do you exist?’ And ‘What difference do you make?’

Indiscriminate giving is rapidly disappearing.

We cannot give our hard earned money to them all so we have to choose. Those choices are being made more and more carefully.

One question increasingly being asked of charities is, ‘what are you doing to remove the need you are meeting?’

Charities exist because there are needs to be met.

They should never be driven by profit and should never be driven by power and perhaps more importantly charities should never be propped up by a resistance to change and challenge.

The primary and maybe even the sole driver of each charity must be need. There should be no distraction by status or potential income, it must stay focussed on need. That need exists because there are gaps in provision from the other sectors. Usually because there is no profit in it to attract the corporate sector and more usually because the public sector cannot afford to meet the full need with its increasingly limited resources. Either way charities are about plugging gaps. For me it stands to reason therefore that as well as plugging the gap it remains the responsibility of the charity plugging the gap to work also on eradicating the gap in the first place.

Let me give you an example of Saint Michael’s, a fully independent hospice serving the communities of Harrogate and District with the provision of specialist end of life care services. Why? Because there is a gap in provision. Saint Michael’s is able to provide these services in very different ways to those provided elsewhere We are able to focus more specialist resources in more concentrated areas and we make a very significant and positive difference to our patients. Why is there a gap? Because there isn’t any profit in it for the private sector and the public sector do not have at their disposal the funds to provide the same level of services. As well as providing services that meet these needs it is also our responsibility to see how we can eradicate the gaps in the first place. It is the responsibility of Saint Michael’s to campaign for greater funding, to educate and share expertise with fellow healthcare and social care professionals in end of life care and to work as closely and as collaboratively with the public sectors as we can – blurring the distinction between the sectors in the name of the patient. Patients are not interested in where the service has come from they are interested in that quality of the service. Surely the ultimate measure of success in meeting this responsibility is removing the need for our existence.

Like any organisation from any sector there is always the danger of seeking to exist for existence sake. We should applaud, support and encourage every charity seeking to exist to meet a need. In Harrogate and District there are hundreds of charities at work plugging gaps and making a difference. How wonderful to see such a positive response from society and such generosity from the funding public but how disappointing that there are so many gaps that need to be plugged in the first place. Perhaps we should also be a little more challenging in asking the question, ‘what are you doing to remove the need you are meeting?’.

The reality is that for many charities, should we ever succeed in removing the need then there is usually another level of need we would want to address but have not been able to. That has been the role of charities from the very beginning. It is the pioneering work of charities that have played a key role in improving standards of childcare, advancing care and cure for disease, improving standards of end of life care and so much more. All of this has been achieved through campaigning, education and collaboration working alongside and hand in hand with meeting the need in the first place. That does not mean that there is nothing left to do but only by taking on the responsibility for eradicating the original need have these and many other areas progressed so remarkably over the years.

So if we want that progress to continue, if we want better care, more cure, a fairer and more just society then we all need to keep challenging charities to work towards the goal of not needing to exist.