This week we’re supporting #CharityIs a new campaign from Charity Bank aimed at raising the profile of the work Britain’s charities do and challenging some of the negative press aimed our way. Our CEO Monty Moncrieff discusses charities from an LGBT perspective.
The #CharityIs campaign is presenting some intriguing statistics such as 78% of UK adults have used the services of a charity in the last year. Over half of us have volunteered, and some 9.3 million have received counselling or emotional support. For starters we can see that one thing #CharityIs is impressive!
Some of the media discussion about charities right now worries me on many levels. There’s the fallout from the likes of Kids Company and the aggressive fundraising alleged against some outsourced companies on behalf of the major large charities that impacts on us all. Misleading reports risk tainting public perception of how charities really make and spend their money. These stories are mainly about the big players in our field, but they affect charities of all sizes. For those of us running small and specialist charities we face not just the backlash of this but also a set of additional challenges threatening our survival, and already causing our demise.
At London Friend we’re a charity working to improve the health and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people. We’ve been going since 1972 making us the oldest in our sector. For many years we’ve been helping LGBT people coming out or exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity. We’re a specialist charity working with an often marginalised group who tell us they choose us because they don’t feel safe or understood discussing these issues in mainstream services. All our staff or volunteers identify as LGBT and our service users see this as a sign of confidence their needs will be met.
We’ve done a lot of work thinking about our sustainability. We have a lean operating model, mainly investing in staff who support over 100 volunteers to work with our clients. A few years ago we added the LGBT drug and alcohol project Antidote to our range of services, which has meant we now work with some of the most current health issues affecting our communities. And with help from Charity Bank we managed to buy our building when faced with eviction from the local authority, cutting our costs and growing a capital asset. Our hard work was recognised in the National Diversity Awards in 2014 as LGBT Community Organisation of the Year.
LGBT charities have developed from within our own communities: LGBT people coming together to support ourselves when others didn’t. LGBT charities do some amazing work: understanding the complex nature of same-sex domestic abuse; advocating for victims of LGBT hate crime or sexual assault; supporting young LGBT people whose family support has broken down after coming out; and harnessing the drive of gay & bisexual men living with HIV to prevent further transmission among their peers. With legislative protections our lives have become easier but when things go wrong there’s still a demand for this specialist support: when we asked whether our Antidote clients would have felt comfortable in mainstream drug and alcohol services only 12% said yes.
As LGBT charities our future is not just subject to these negative perceptions of charity as a whole that pervade parts of the media, and we’re not just fighting with everyone else for a share of ever-decreasing funds. Our starting point in the funding bunfight is already at a disadvantage: the overall funding for our sector amounts to just 0.04% of all voluntary sector income – 4p in every £100. Even with the most conservative estimates of how many LGBT people there are in society (and current guesses start at about 3% and head upwards) this is a massive under-investment in LGBT people’s needs.
The threat to our survival is already here. This year alone we’ve seen the sudden closure of one major LGBT mental health organisation, Pace, stating it was no longer financially viable for the charity to continue: “The financial climate is very difficult for small charities, especially those delivering services at a local level with continuing cuts to local authority budgets” reads a statement on their website. The Guardian has reported that the national LGBT domestic violence service Broken Rainbow faces an uncertain future, and London’s long-standing Mosaic Youth is likely to see funding stopped from April as their local authority struggles to find £54 million of savings.
Mosaic’s case highlights another difficulty for specialist services: the council is tendering for one single youth service which will need to work with everyone. For young LGBT people this is especially problematic. Whilst they explore their identities they often don’t wish to disclose this outside of specialist LGBT projects for fear of further ostracism within their wider communities. LGBT services provide vital protection for people fearful of others’ reactions. In our last service user feedback survey 100% of our clients said it was important or very important to have a specialist LGBT service. 100%! Every single respondent to our survey.
I have every sympathy with local authority commissioners here: they are being asked to work miracles with an ever decreasing pot of money. I don’t blame them for wanting to manage fewer contracts as their own teams shrink too. But LGBT and other specialist services will suffer here, along with our service users.
#CharityIs many things; in our LGBT communities it’s the ability to engage with marginalised people, the ability to mobilise huge numbers of volunteers to support their peers, and the ability to create safe spaces where our populations can thrive. But if we’re not careful we might also soon be extinct.
Chief Executive, London Friend
You can support London Friend’s work through a regular or one-off donation: click here for more information or text LDNF15 £10 to 70070 to donate £10 through Just Text Giving.