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"Don't give to hospital charities?"

The recent spat between the Charity Commission and the Department of Health over who owns the assets of some hospital charities highlights the peculiar no man’s land in which state controlled charities live, as well as seriously undermining their case for support.

Most UK hospitals have operated charities for years – indeed, some were built with charitable funds. Today, some just “bank and thank” – receiving donations rather than doing any serious fundraising (with some notable exceptions of course). This is slowly changing as hospital trusts recognise the value of charitable giving at a time when they face cuts in their funding. Or do they?

The irony is that the DoH, by now instructing hospitals to include their charities’ assets on their balance sheets, is essentially saying that these are state funds, not charitable ones. Great own goal DoH! You have just undermined your charities’ main case for support – to be additional, independent funders of things the state cannot or will not fund – not just another line in the NHS balance sheet. This blows a gaping hole in the appeals of all wholly controlled hospital charities. Let’s hope the Charity Commission wins this particular battle.

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The wider issue though is the way in which NHS trusts treat their charitable arm as just another department, to be regulated and stifled with its peculiar brand of bureaucracy, civil service caution and lack of imagination. I’ve witnessed this many times and it’s a killer. Charities not allowed to fundraise. No investment in key activities. No asking for legacies so as not to upset. Slow decision making and missed opportunities. Appointing insiders to fundraise, because “anyone can do it” – and then wondering why the funds do not flow in…

Until the NHS – and other state bodies – give their charities the authority to operate effectively as independent bodies and free them from the culture of the state, they will continue to under perform and to deter donations from those who are ready and willing to give.

For more on hospital fundraising, see http://www.wgconsulting.co.uk/our-clients/hospital-fundraising

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