We have to talk about fluffy

I like Charity Bank’s new #CharityIs campaign which seeks to counteract the recent negative press with some positive messages about charities. It runs from 14th to 20th March and I urge you to participate. My contribution to this week is an ‘is not’: #CharityIs NOT FLUFFY.

I am often involved in introducing business people to their local charities or the charity sector as a whole. I am always amazed by the persistent myths that people hold about charities: that they are amateur, inefficient, homespun or well-meaning and worthy. A term that is often used – especially when the arts are involved - is ‘fluffy’.

When people think ‘fluffy’ they mean that a charity is a ‘nice to have’ rather than fundamental to society. Calling charities ‘fluffy’ does them a gross disservice. ‘Fluffy’ means soft or superficial. It suggests charities offer tea and sympathy rather than effecting change. I think it is used as a shorthand for things that cannot easily be measured or monetised. But just because things like promoting wellbeing and creating a sense of community are not easy to measure or put a cash value on does not make them ‘fluffy’.

There really is nothing ‘fluffy’ about operating a crisis support service 24/7 to ensure women fleeing domestic abuse have somewhere safe to go. Nor when trying to find a hostel bed for a homeless person who is still drinking. Nor when supporting a family when their loved one is diagnosed with dementia. And neither is it ‘fluffy’ to run a modern day charity which is all about balancing competing demands, resource allocation, financial sustainability and demonstrating impact.

Charities are an important part of society. Here are just some of Charity Bank’s findings:

  • 78% of UK adults have used charity services in the last year
  • 800k people are employed in the UK voluntary sector
  • 3m UK adults received emotional support or counselling from a charity.

So when we talk about what a charity is, how about ditching ‘fluffy’ and talking about how complex and vital charities are?