Letter: Charities: the"contract culture",ethics and raising funds

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From Mr Hywel Griffiths

Sir: Polly Toynbee is absolutely right; charities do not need a contracting role. Those that have accepted it have slipped out of the charity world and into mini-quango land.

Unfortunately, many smaller charities which have allowed themselves to be sucked in to contracting have been driven to do so because there has been a failure to recognise the problem of how charities are to be funded in a democratic society. Most of the models from the past were created by people with independent means, or with powerful friends. The question we need to answer in today's society is how does a group of individuals with an idea to create a public benefit find support when they have neither of these advantages?

It is extremely difficult to raise funds for an innovative scheme which does not fit into anybody else's agenda. Although a charity might not be looking for a government contract to provide a service, it will, nonetheless, be affected by the fall-out from the contract culture. Many charitable trusts are inclined to play safe in the administration of their funds and to go along with current national policies.

Another problem is that most administrators of charitable funds give high priority to outcomes and base their assessment heavily upon what they regard as the intrinsic strengths of project design. Thus, much more attention is paid to the status of the sponsoring agency and the quality of the business plan than to the quality of the people who will implement it.

Against such a background, is it reasonable to expect that the Lottery Charities Board will break the mould and find ways of funding radical alternatives? I doubt it. It is much harder work looking for winning outsiders than putting your money on the favourites, and the risks are greater.

Yours faithfully,