Ewan Aitken: Remember good work of charities

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One of the great privileges of my job is hearing every day about real lives being transformed; like the dad who said “I’ve remembered why I love my daughter” after working with our family mediation team or the woman who been unemployed for several years who told me “I know I can work again because you’ve built a community around me who believe that too”.

In every story I know the change I hear of happens not because of what Cyrenians did for others but because Cyrenians journeyed with others as they made the life changes they wanted for themselves.

In every story I see the evidence that what we do works.

In every story I am reminded just how important it is that how Cyrenians works as an organisation is not just effective but is also professional, transparent, accountable and of the highest standard. If it’s not, we won’t be able to raise the money and train the staff to keep doing what we do so others can do things for themselves.

The stories about Cyrenians’ work as a charity move me and, I hope, move others. Sadly, there have been stories in the news for all the wrong reasons lately about some charities. Accusations of charities using “aggressive” fundraising, of bad management, of misuse of funds, make our ability as a charity to reach out to others for support much more difficult. Trust in the idea of charity is eroded when these stories come out.

Charitable activity enhances not simply the lives of those we serve but all of us. The King James Bible used it to mean “love” when referring to a biblical understanding of the three greatest things of the human condition, along with “faith and hope”. It’s an embodiment of “living in kindness”, as the Dalai Lama would say, or of the humanist belief that we can “use empathy and compassion to make the world a better place for everyone”. Which means when the idea of charity gets tainted, when trust is lost in those whose work is charitable because of the actions of a few, we enter potentially dangerous territory. It becomes not just a critique of an organisation but how we feel about ourselves, our neighbour and our life in community.

Those of us claiming the name charity need to be professional and accountable in how we use the money we are given. But it’s not just about the money. It’s about the trust. For it is trust, even more than money, that really makes the world go round.

Ewan Aitken is chief executive of poverty charity Cyrenians