Few articles in recent months have generated as many heated calls and emails to Third Sector as the restructuring at the Alzheimer’s Society.
The society, like many charities, wants to win more public sector contracts and the Department of Health’s publication last year of the first-ever National Dementia Strategy for England makes now a good time to act.
It seemed sensible for the society, which currently gets about 35 per cent of its income from statutory sources, to review its national structure to show funders it is modern and accountable.
The strategy seems fine, but it looks as if something might be amiss with the execution.
The main complaint is about the society’s decision to merge 240 local branches into 49 regional centres. Its leaders says the malcontents simply don’t like change, and in some cases that might be right. But disillusionment and discontent appear to run deep.
Stalwarts from the frontline, such as Ernie Thompson, who helped to found the Sunderland branch more than 20 years ago, and Roger Newman, who was awarded an MBE for his work helping Alzheimer’s sufferers, say they feel sad and angry about events and don’t feel they belong to the new structure. Ernie and others have even set up rival dementia charities to restore a local flavour to fundraising.
Amidst all this Neil Hunt, the charity’s chief executive, has left at short notice without having a new position to go to. The charity declines to talk in detail about reasons for his departure.
It’s ironic that a charity trying to become more accountable has so little to say about Hunt’s departure. But the departure of many loyal volunteers, who feel so alienated by what’s happening that they are turning their backs on the new structure, is a matter that can’t be ignored.