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Tough times put 200 jobs at risk at Christian Aid

01 October 2019


Gordon Brown makes a speech during an event to launch Christian Aid Week at Church House in Westminster, London, in May

Gordon Brown makes a speech during an event to launch Christian Aid Week at Church House in Westminster, London, in May

A CONSULTATION that could result in 200 redundancies is set to begin at Christian Aid this month.

The aid agency has highlighted a “tough environment for unrestricted fundraising” as one of the reasons for a global restructuring, under which it will exit from 11 countries, seven of which have national Christian Aid offices.

In 2018, according to its annual report, Christian Aid employed 922 people, 479 based in the UK, Ireland, or Spain. This was down from 931 in 2017.

In recent years, the charity has become increasingly reliant on institutional funding, from sources such as the United Nations and the Department for International Development (DFID). Most of this money is earmarked for specific projects, putting a strain on core costs, including staffing, which are still funded by donations.

In July, the charity’s chief executive, Amanda Mukwashi, said that the senior leadership and trustees had “made the difficult decision to exit from some countries, and instead in some cases work regionally to have greater impact. . .

“All this will be done while reducing Christian Aid’s unrestricted spend of £47 million down to £40 million over the next 12 months. This will, unfortunately, require that up to 200 staff are at risk of redundancy, in a process that will begin with a formal consultation by early October.”

The 2018 annual report showed an increase in income — up 22 per cent to £117.9 million on 2017. But donations from the public remained flat, having fallen by almost £5 million in the previous five years to £54.7 million. Funding from institutions in grants and contracts has increased by 44 per cent over the past five years, to £62.5 million. 

It now accounts for 53 per cent of the charity’s income, up from 42 per cent five years ago. In the past year alone, it has grown by 63 per cent. Sources include the UN World Food Programme, European Commission, and the Department for International Development.

While donations tend to be unrestricted — free to be spent as the charity chooses — most of institutional funding is restricted, and must be spent on projects agreed by the donor. Thus operating costs — covering such items as fundraising and staffing — must be supported by donations. There is also the danger of a tension between the charity’s priorities and those of the institutional donors.

In 2018, 96 per cent of Christian Aid’s funding from institutional grants was restricted. The charity’s annual report also noted that institutional grants funds were in deficit to the tune of £5.4 million, up from £1.9 million the previous year, meaning that grants to partners had been approved against various projects that the trustees expected to be funded by institutional donors, but the criteria for recognition of income had not been met.

The report highlighted “diversifying our institutional funders and building relationships with a range of government and private donors” as a priority. It also spoke of “a political narrative that is hostile towards international development spend” and increased competition for funds.

The countries from which Christian Aid will withdraw are: Angola, Egypt, Zambia, Mali, South Africa, Ghana, the Philippines, Nepal, Bolivia, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Work in Latin America will be managed as a regional programme from an office in Brazil, and work in the Middle East as a regional programme from London.

The work in these countries includes political advocacy — for example, campaigning for action against illegal mining in South Africa — and disaster recovery, such as in Nepal (News, 8 May 2015) and the Philippines (News, 14 November 2014). Work in Guatemala, and El Salvador has included projects to tackle violence against vulnerable groups.

Ms Mukwashi states: “The transition plan — to a Christian Aid fit for the future — is based on us planning to do a few key things well, supported by systems and structures that are streamlined and efficient.”

In his foreword to the 2018 annual report, the charity’s chair, Dr Rowan Williams, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke of a year that had been “unprecendentedly difficult” for the sector: “Grave failures in safeguarding and accountability have wounded the public’s trust, provoked anger at the organisations involved and have understandably led to pressure for tighter regulation.” But the report also noted that, unlike other aid agencies, Christian Aid had seen “few” direct debit cancellations following negative news stories about the sector that year (News, 16 February 2018).

The July announcement spoke of plans including “being more effective in church relationships in Britain” and a reduction in regional offices.

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