|Some charities may die that others will live|
Saturday, January 19, 2013
I once talked with a the leader of a medium-sized national charity. We talked about her many challenges and some of the possible solutions. I was very familiar with both. And half way through the conversation I had a thought. Will this charity actually be around in a couple of years?
I have been mulling over that conversation for some time now. What strikes me as odd is not the question that crossed my mind that day. I thought it. I’m sure she was also thinking it, but we didn’t discuss it. Nor was it that I was shocked by the situation they were in. Their problems were not unique. I’ve seen worse situations. What was odd was how I accepted the fact they may fail.
All of us in this sector have been waging a war to try and pull all the charities we can into the modern age. There have been many victories. There is now more information and training materials for charities online than ever before. A tactic, a plan, a template – they’re all just one search away. Charity associations and governments have also been providing good, high-quality resources. New, exciting research has begun flowing on everything from our HR problems to new ideas like social finance. In short, we’ve done everything we can and more to help charities be the best they can be.
But we have not won the war. At least not the way in which we define victory. All our efforts have blinded us to the real story about the revolution we are living through, and that is casualties. We’ve all been thinking that we will be able to bring with us every charity into the new age, even some that we have to bring kicking and screaming. But that’s just not going to happen.
Every struggle in history has always created both winners and losers. The Industrial Revolution was a great liberator of ideas, capital and commerce. But it was also a time of incredible turmoil, transition and turbulence. The more recent Service Economy has been a sleeker, gentler version of change, but it, too, has produced casualties. Mom and pop stores have fallen to the big box outlets. Book and music stores have gone online. Big charities have become bigger. What did Darwin teach us about Nature? The survival of the fittest is the law of all living things. Those that are strong enough to survive change flourish, those that are too weak to manage change, die off. And so, the world goes on a bit stronger and better.
The bottom line is that the major changes we are seeing in the charity world will kill many of the charities we know and love.
That may be a shock to some who have always thought that we “will be able to bring them with us”. Many, I suspect, will point to all the resources that are available and the help that consultants like me are providing as proof that none shall fall. All will get to the promised land. They must.
I wish this were true. But when I look around me I see charities struggling. Some of them won’t be able to make it. They will try. They will work hard. At the end of the day, they will simply not survive. Some will fail because they couldn’t adapt. Others because they couldn’t see the changes that were happening around them. And many, I think, from the competition that is making raising money from a donation or a grant harder and harder each day.
How many will not survive? It’s anyone’s guess. A small minority perhaps. No one knows for sure. But it will happen.
Like me, in that story that started this article, we need to accept this. Let us not be as blissfully optimistic about the challenges that face us. Let us not try and assure ourselves and others that there will be no casualties. This change that we are all grappling with be hard, messy and gritty.
I will be sad when charities die. But I will know that for every one that passes another will take its place somewhere down the road. I’m confident that while the players may change our work will go on. So, in one sense, we will win the war of change that is upon us. The spirit of charity will continue.