Women’s charity Eaves announced last Friday that it was closing. It was one of the largest specialist organisations helping victims of violence against women, it pioneered services for trafficked women, and constantly campaigned for women. The charity sector is much worse off now that it has shut its doors. Trustees have been working with other organisations to try to ensure that services are handed over and clients still have somewhere to go. Even if this is handled excellently, the sector has lost Eaves’ institutional knowledge.
I’ve been interested in the domestic violence sector since working on NPC’s violence against women report, Hard knock life, in 2007. One issue I have written about extensively is the vulnerability of the domestic violence sector. It’s a sector that attracts limited funding from the public, and so is reliant on local authority funding—often in one or two contracts. Eaves is just the highest profile in a trend that has been affecting the sector for a while. Local authority money is either drying up, or is increasingly going to lower cost services—contracts are not paying for specialist knowledge about how to help people leave a cycle of abuse and domestic violence charities don’t fundraise enough money to subsidise their services, as is the case in other sectors.
But closures are not just happening in domestic violence. Eaves is only the latest in a series of organisations that have closed or merged recently. The attention being paid to Kids Company is overshadowing the fact that BAAF has closed and transferred services to Coram, the Children Rights Alliance for England has merged with Just for Kids Law, and Only Connect has been acquired by Catch 22. All of these may end up as better, stronger charities, but I know the impetus behind the mergers has been a lack of money.
You have to be an optimist to work in the charity sector—otherwise the challenge of raising money and working with people in difficult situations would be too much. But we need to make sure we are realistic about what is happening. Boards need to be aiming for the best case scenario, but preparing for the worst case. Right now, that means thinking through who you are going to work with to take your services over if you run out of money. This planning is more likely to be successful if done in advance. It is easier to find an organisation to take over your services if you have held back some funds to support this, rather than run on until you are completely out of money.
The loss of Eaves is bad for those who relied on its services, and its loss will be felt across the domestic violence sector too. It should also be a reminder to all charities that you can’t be complacent—even the big names can go.