Why we've lost faith in charities

The Oxfam scandal is just the latest in a long-line of controversies to dog the third sector.

by Oliver Bennett
Credit: Martin Rowson
Credit: Martin Rowson

The hubbub in the north London offices of fundraising agency Listen is soothing, like the sound of breaking waves. Beneath industrial-style lights and inspirational posters - 'Start with a friendly hello' - a multitude of voices make calls on behalf of various charities, including Phil Waldon, who is working on the Friends of the Earth account. Phil's halfway through a three-and-a-half hour shift, in which he aspires to sign at least three people up to a donation. 'We don't get people to give - we allow them to.' And he's off, headsetting away to a woman in Wales, who's sweet but unconvinced. Phil clicks a button: 'Soft no.' What's a 'hard no'? 'Swearing. Slamming the phone down.'

It's another working day, but as Listen's managing director Tony Charalambides says, 'We all know charities are having a hard time.' For there has been a series of third-sector whammies. There's been the crash and burn of Kids Company, and other charity busts: BeatBullying and the British Association for Adoption and Fostering. Chuggers - 'charity muggers' - have had their activities curtailed by over 100 local authorities. Charity heads have been hauled over the coals for large salaries. A YouGov/Oxfam survey warned that Band Aid stereotypes of Africa are seen as 'depressing, manipulative and hopeless'. Even the charity shops which have been popping up all over the country's high streets are becoming less popular.

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