What a difference a faith makes
From a report by New Philanthropy Capital
New Philanthropy Capital published a report in November 2016 entitled, 'What a difference a faith makes: Insights on faith-based charities'.
What were the key findings?
Faith-based charities make up more than a quarter of the voluntary sector in Great Britain and faith-based charities in England and Wales have a combined income of £16bn. The current number of faith-based charities in Britain is partly a reflection of the strong historical links between faith and charity in our society, but it is also a reflection of our current multicultural and multi-faith society. Faith is deeply embedded in the charity sector.
Despite making up a significant part of the sector in terms of numbers and size, relatively little is known about faith-based charities as a group. During our research, we realised that most faith-based charities do not think of themselves as a group or a sub-sector of the voluntary sector. Instead they tend to define themselves by the services they provide, as a non faith-based charity would. In many ways, faith-based and non faith-based charities are very similar: size, location and area of work are as likely to influence a charity’s circumstances as faith is. Yet, faith can still have a strong influence on an organisation and its work. Our research has identified distinctive attributes that faith can bring to a charity, meaning they have the potential to make a greater impact.
1. Faith-based charities are resilient
We found that faith-based charities have distinct assets—such as volunteers, physical spaces and networks—combined with their ability to fundraise from within their faith. This can make them particularly resilient to change, be that in funding or service delivery.
2. Faith-based charities have unique reach
Many faith-based organisations have been a part of their local community for a long time and are trusted by members of the wider community as well as those they directly help. This trusted position in a community can make faith-based charities uniquely placed to reach groups that are considered ‘hard to reach’.
Faith-based charities have the knowledge to offer culturally appropriate services that reflect and incorporate faith values and spiritual needs. This can mean that certain groups are more comfortable with accessing their services. As our society becomes increasingly multicultural, and there is a wider range of needs to understand and address, the ability to deliver appropriate services is more important than ever.
3. Faith-based charities persevere
We also found that faith-based charities can be particularly motivated to help the most vulnerable in our society, for example sex workers with drug dependencies and mental health problems. Many faith-based charities feel they persevere and continue to help the most vulnerable, even when others have given up.
These distinctive characteristics can make faith-based charities more effective but they do face challenges. Some of these challenges are the same as those that non faith-based charities face, such as funding. But some are particular to faith-based charities and to specific faiths.
4. Faith-based charities face unique challenges
Concerns around proselytising can cause problems for faith-based charities, with beneficiaries and funders. Although some faith-based charities may want to share their faith, they do not see this as a means to convert. Instead it is often seen as a way to increase understanding and grow faith in those who already belong to that faith. However, proselytising is still a concern. Faith-based charities should be aware of this and, if necessary, should spend time considering and clarifying their position on this issue.
Our research also found sometimes there is a perception that faith-based charities are only there to help those of their own faith. This can cause problems for faith-based charities as beneficiaries may not seek them out and funders may not want to fund them. We found that this perception is generally unfounded. Although some faith-based charities may work with just those of their faith, the majority work with everyone, regardless of religion.
5. Faith is poorly understood
A challenge for all faith-based charities is the lack of understanding of faith. Among the wider public, the public and private sectors, and the voluntary sector, misunderstanding around faith values and a lack of awareness of different beliefs can cause problems. Low religious literacy can exacerbate the challenges highlighted above.
The report then goes on to make some recommendations regarding; more collaboration for greater impact, having greater awareness of the changing role of faith in our society and being able to understand and articulate the impact of the work of faith charities.
They conclude that more research is needed in this area, particularly around the nature and role of non-Christian faith-based charities and that faith-based charities are an important part of the voluntary sector and wider society. They can reach groups other charities cannot; they are resilient to changes in funding and policy; and their values motivate them to help those who are most in need. Ultimately though, it is not about whether a charity is faith-based or non faith-based, what matters is the impact they are having on the lives of those they seek to help.
Download the full report here.
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