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IN CONVERSATION WITH THE CHARITY SECTOR

Ian Hempseed the Head of Charities and Social Enterprise at Hempsons, shares his views on the charity sector, governance and his greatest fear.

What’s the biggest challenge facing the charity sector?

Lack of awareness, if the sector sees itself as having a monopoly on delivering positive social and environmental impact. We have a wonderful web of social enterprises, co-operatives, community businesses, crowd-funding campaigns and ethical consumers all helping to do this. To attract their donors and volunteers charities need to understand the different motivations people have to become involved in “society” and why, to some, the non-charity model might seem more inspiring or attuned to their values.

If you were to give a charity a single piece of advice, what would it be?

Be articulate and robust. Following on from the last question, charities are competing for attention both from among themselves and outside the sector. So every trustee or senior management, if stopped in the street, should without any hesitation be able to articulate  what are their charitable activities, why and how they’re doing those and whom they are serving. To be articulate the charity needs clarity in its mission and with that clarity it can be robust and confident in asserting the positives it provides. Charities need to be capable and willing to get their strong messages out.

Do you feel regulation is going to prevent people from volunteering?

On the whole no. What will do so is if charities are complacent about the willingness of people to volunteer and cannot show how your efforts will make a positive contribution. People want to believe that they can be part of effecting change and charities need to be able to articulate that.

If you had a magic wand and could change one thing in the charity sector, what would it be?

For charity leadership to be more open to collaboration as a way of accelerating and increasing impact and to extend the scope of possible partners beyond the charity sector. There of course can be challenges but one of the hurdles can be in the mindset of the leadership which perceives barriers and risks as insurmountable when with some planning they could be managed.

How did you get involved in the charity sector?

I’m a charity lawyer but for the first 10 years of my professional life was a corporate lawyer working with the private sector. Why the conversion? Distaste at those businesses pushing the private gain without any responsibility or care for the consequences of their activities. At the time I got involved with an agency supporting co-operative businesses and saw the difference to economic activity from a values driven approach. From then on the diversity never ceases to surprise and excite.

Do you think charities are perceived differently from ten years ago?

I think we should take the sector out of its own bubble and then it is probably open to the same increase in scrutiny and challenge as other parts of our society. For charities though that can mean it is just as important for the public how a charity does something as to what is the outcome. We’re talking about caring about the values behind the action.

Which charity personality (historical or current) would you most like to meet today?

Wangari Maathai. She founded the Green Belt Movement in Kenya to tackle rural poverty and environmental degradation as interlinked issues through community led tree planting. The achievement has been massive with over 51 million trees planted in Kenya since 1977. And she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize!

How do you relax from a busy day?

Slowing down at the end of the day by extending my normal walk to the station- across the Thames on a summer evening is wonderful.

If you could have a dinner with and interrogate anyone, who would that person be?

Mahatma Gandhi would have been fun and challenging. Dress code – turn up exactly as you are.

What is your greatest fear?

 Losing a sense of wonder and the passion which flows from that.

What book do you recommend most to others?

I gave up doing so a while ago after none of the recommendations to my wife’s book club were ever finished. But here’s one I’d recommend – “The Forty days of Musa Dagh” by Franz Werfel. It is a great story of determination and resistance by a community that they could choose a different course of action. Set in the 1910s a group of Armenian villages decided they would not be compliant to the forced deportations by the Ottomans and so they took to a mountain where they defended and saved themselves from the Ottoman army to be rescued after 40 days by French warships. A great long read.