Only one in six trustees think Charity Commission campaigning advice is clear

Just one in six charity trustees think advice from the Charity Commission around their campaigning is clear, a survey has revealed.

Two in five charities believe it is “open to interpretation”, while a similar proportion say they are unfamiliar with this aspect of the Charity Commission’s regulation.

Meanwhile, one in 16 believe the regulator’s advice is “not at all clear”.

In addition, under three in ten trustees think that the Charity Commission’s formal guidance and public commentary around campaigning are at odds with each other.

Just one in ten trustees believe the regulator’s formal guidance and public commentary on campaigning match up.

Four in five trustees say they are unaware of Charity Commission advice calling for charities to have a policy in place on campaigns and political activity.

Three in ten trustees say they do have such a policy in place, although half say they do not.

Among those with a campaigning policy in place more than a quarter say it is “liberating” compared to one in six who think it is restrictive.

Trustees also believe the regulator’s stance on campaigning has worsened over the last decade.

More than a third said Charity Commission’s attitude to their campaigning has been less positive over the last year, compared to less than one in ten who believed it was more positive. Almost three in five do not have an opinion on the regulator’s campaigning stance.

Also, almost nine in ten charities said they had never sought legal advice or reached out to the regulator or other organisations to clarify campaigning rules, the survey by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation found.

A Charity Commission spokesperson said the regulator has discussed the survey’s findings with the Foundation and “will bear them in mind in our work”.

“Our chair has been very clear that charities can campaign, including on controversial subjects, as long as it is in their charity’s best interest and in line with its purposes. Our guidance – both CC9 and our 5-minute guide on campaigning – is crystal clear on this too,” added the spokesperson.

“Our own user testing and consultation has returned positive feedback on our guidance, such as our recent guidance on social media. We encourage all charity trustees to use our guidance as a resource to help them fulfil their duties in line with the law.”

Charity campaigners concerns

A separate survey of charity campaigners published in March this year by the Foundation found that seven in ten believe politicians “have become more hostile to campaigning” over the last year.

According to its survey of trustees of campaigning charities, three in ten say they have faced criticism or backlash from politicians.

One trustee told the foundation that a "lack of high-profile politicians reiterating charities' right to campaign [is an issue]”.

“Unfortunately, even if the regulator reiterates this message, we need some right-wing MPs onside about campaigning (and free speech) to state the importance of this principle in opposition to the MPs who state the opposite,” they said, adding that a “Charity Commission press release clarifying the issues will never get the same airtime as a reactionary MP, so we need MP reactions which support campaigning too”.

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