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What a Difference a Faith Makes- New Philanthropy Capital (NPC)

February 2, 2017

wadfmThis report concludes that fears that faith-based charities will proselytise, or prioritise bene­ficiaries who adhere to the same faith, are unfounded It suggests that faith-based charities should clarify their position on proselytism, despite the fact that there is “little evidence” to justify fears.

Its survey of 134 such charities found that they were generally, “incredibly inclusive”.

Just 5.4 per cent of respondents strongly agreed that they worked only with beneficiaries of the same faith, and 55 per cent strongly disagreed.

Asked about the statement “Through our activities we aim to increase the number of people who share our faith,” 23 per cent strongly disagreed, and 19 per cent strongly, agreed.

The authors emphasise, however,-that tensions can exist between a charity and some volunteers who hold its faith.

The research was carried out to shed light on a sector that NPC believes to be ill-understood by the public at large or even “actively suspicious” of faith based charities, which make up more than a quarter of all charities in Britain, and, in some areas, including overseas aid, almost half.

The authors conclude that a grounding, in faith can help char­ities to “persevere with causes others may see as hopeleless”; make them “more-resilient” to changes in the policy and funding environ­ment; enable them to engage hard­to-reach vulnerable groups; and help  them to deliver “cuturally appropriate services that con­sider a person’s spiritual needs”.

It calls for “more tackling head-on of critiques and concerns”.

The political climate has shifted from “strong prac­tical and financial support” for faith organisations, under Tony Blair, to “diminishing support” under the Coalition and Conservative govern­ments. This has “paved the way towards what some would say is a hostile attitude: for instance, ‘to­wards Muslim charities”. Its res­earch found that Muslim charities were “hyper-aware” of negative stereotypes of Muslims, and that this had led to “a situation in which Muslim charities are disengaging from each other and the wider charity sector”.

It suggests that, while faith-based charities can help to create social capital, this can also make com­munities “insular and introverted”, and that this has been linked to segregation, and the rise of extreme views.


our research identified some distinctive attributes of faith-based charities, for which a grounding in faith can:

help them stay motivated and persevere with causes others may see as hopeless;

make them more resilient to changes in the policy and funding environment;

enable them engage ‘hard to reach’ and ‘vulnerable’ groups in our society; and

allow them to deliver culturally appropriate services that consider a person’s spiritual needs.

For some faith-based charities everything they do comes from their faith. Their mission, activities and operations are all heavily influenced by their faith or, to put it another way, everything is done through a faith lens. For other charities, faith is just one dimension; it may influence the charity’s mission but its influence on the activities and operations is not so central. Finally, for certain faith-based charities, their faith dimension merely reflects the faith of their founder or the community they came from; it no longer influences their mission, activities or operations.

The children’s charity Barnardo’s was founded with Christian values but, as it grew, it wanted to ensure its doors were open to as many people as possible and it realised that coming from a religious background might not always be appropriate. The explicit role of faith in the charity changed and Barnardo’s placed itself firmly in the children’s rights sector. However, its Christian values do still resonate for certain donors and volunteers and the history of Barnardo’s is still very important to the charity.

Of all the charities that indicate they work in overseas aid, we classified 49% (5,763) as faith-based. That is the largest representation of faith-based charities working in any area.

Human rights is the sector with the second largest representation of faith-based charities: 45% of all charities that indicate they work in human rights are faith-based (1,774 charities). This is followed by poverty (39%) and housing (33%).

Education and training is the sector where the largest number of faith-based charities (over 20,000) report that they working. This means that faith-based charities represent 24% of all charities working the education and training sector. Other areas where a large number of faith-based charities work include ‘Other charitable purposes’§§ (14,769 faith-based charities) and poverty (12,601 faith-based charities).

The majority were Christian (58%).

The majority (58%) have five or fewer full-time members of staff and 30% are entirely volunteer-led.

The majority (64%) are engaged in delivering services, alongside a wide variety of activities, from research to advocacy and campaigning.

Religious activities were the largest primary area of focus (43%), followed by education and training (31%), health and well-being (26%), community development (26%) and welfare/poverty relief (24%).

They work with a wide range of beneficiaries, across the UK and internationally.

Faith-based values can influence the very culture of faith communities and many faith-based motivations for charitable work are linked to theology, religious texts and stories, which inspire action in those who believe. These stories exist across many faiths and often link the idea that, by showing kindness and love to others, you are demonstrating your love to God or Gods. It is this link that means religious organisations have a strong history of charitable engagement. Religious teaching can be incorporated into faith-based charities and bring a particular distinctiveness to their motivations, values and the type of work they do. For example, a sense of justice and helping the poor are important themes within many religions. This helps to explain why we see so many faith-based charities working in the human rights, overseas aid and poverty sectors. This link between religious texts and practice can deepen values, and provides an aspirational context to the work of faith-based charities.

Concern for the most marginalised and forgotten in society is central in many faith traditions. Many faiths have a strong tradition of fighting injustice, inequality and poverty. It is common for faith-based charities to say they work with those who are ‘hard to love’, meaning those living on the margins of our society such as people with drug dependency, sex workers and refugees. This focus on vulnerable people—and a resulting willingness to help everyone with no criteria—is reflected in the work of many faith-based groups, such as those running shelters and outreach services for the homeless, sex workers or asylum seekers. Many faith-based charities are very traditional in their reach and areas they choose to work in and have been set up to alleviate an immediate need among the most vulnerable—this is very much connected to their core faith values and is seen across faiths.

For many faith-based organisations sharing one’s faith and proselytism are not the same. Proselytism is often viewed as negative and coercive whereas sharing faith is seen as a way to increase understanding of faith and help beneficiaries with spiritual needs.

local authorities and commissioners may be wary of recruiting a faith-based organisation to deliver a service because they believe that, as a faith group, they will want to share their faith with service users. These fears are in part based on: the fact that the advancement of religion is a valid charitable objective; and the long history of proselytising and conversion in Christianity. However, research has found that there is little evidence to justify fears of proselytism and that local authorities can benefit greatly from including faith-based groups in service delivery

Fears of proselytism and conversion from faith-based charities can be even more damaging for those faiths that do not believe in or practice conversion. Judaism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Hinduism do not engage in proselytism, but poor religious literacy can leave people with a fear that all faiths aim to convert. When services are offered by charities of these faiths and the services are open to all, there should be very little worry that these charities aim to convert.

For some faiths, religious buildings function as places for the community to gather, as well as places of worship. Faith-based charities with a strong connection to their faith may find that they have buildings more readily available to them and that delivering a service out of the building works well for intended beneficiaries and volunteers, as well as making good financial sense. Being able to run a community group out of the local church for free or for a nominal fee, for example, can save a lot of money and time. Churches, mosques, temples, gurdwaras, meeting houses and synagogues can all play important roles in supporting the community and charitable activity.

The tradition of giving in many religions comes from the belief that ultimately everything a person has is a gift from God so it is only right to share this. It is easier to give something away if it was not yours to begin with. Our qualitative research and other literature highlighted that religious beliefs and faith values can have an impact on giving, even if the people do not consider themselves active in their faith, potentially giving faith-based charities more donors than those they may traditionally find at places of worship.

Faith has also been shown to affect the causes that donors give to. CAF’s annual UK Giving research has shown that giving to religious and faith-based causes has attracted the highest average donation in the last three years of the survey. Some causes are of particular interest to faith communities. For example, orphan sponsorship is a common area for giving amongst Muslim donors, as it is directly referenced in the Qu’ran. Other issues such as feeding (through foodbanks or food parcels), WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) and homelessness are popular causes for Muslims as they are spoken about in scripture.

Our qualitative research suggested that faith-based donors like to give to causes where they can see their money having an effect quickly. Recently there have been reactions against charities with high administration and operations costs. Within the Muslim community this has led to more people giving to smaller charities where they believe the administrative costs are low and more funds reach beneficiaries—for example, giving to convoys that take food and goods to Syria has grown. Administrative costs for these charities are low and donors like seeing their gift having a more immediate effect—although this does not necessarily mean that these charities are creating more impact.

Faith-based charities will access donors in different ways. Some actively raise funds from within places of worship. For example, CAFOD works with churches at different times of the year (for example, during Lent), perhaps showcasing some of their work after a service and sending money collected from a congregation directly to CAFOD. Khalsa Aid, a Sikh-inspired overseas aid charity, began by fundraising from a gurdwara after a disaster. Others will fundraise from their wider faith community, drawing on trust and awareness of their work, and perhaps having a local faith leader as a volunteer or trustee.

For some charities, the result of this is a fairly predictable stream of unrestricted donation income, with access to a source of potential funding for needs that arise. This can help charities to remain responsive to local needs and direct their resources where they believe it is most required.

The legitimacy of faith-based charities can be challenged by issues affecting the religion itself. For example, the Catholic Church’s attitude to homosexuality has impacted on Catholic adoption agencies. In a society where gay couples can legally marry, the Catholic Church’s attitude can be seen by some as outdated, even practising Catholics. Negative representation in the press has caused some Catholic adoption agencies to formally split with the Church and to significantly downplay their connection to Catholicism. However, the Catholic Church’s reputation has changed recently since Pope Francis became the Church’s leader, creating what has been called ‘the Pope Francis effect’. The Pope’s liberal reputation and practical, less academic, background has been said to have positively affected the perception of the Catholic Church globally. It is situations like this that offer a glimpse into the changing and multifaceted attitudes to faith in our society and the complex interaction between faith values and culture within faith-based charities.

The report is online here

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