Regulator unveils new strategy; calls for higher standard of conduct among charities

The Charity Commission has announced its new strategic direction, which will require higher standards of conduct among charities to avoid the sector becoming 'complicit in its decline'.

In a speech delivered yesterday, Baroness Stowell said charities and the regulator need to meet public expectations if the ‘concept of charity is to survive’ and maximise its positive impact in society.

Stowell said charities need to demonstrate charitable behaviour and attitude across all areas of their work, as part of the regulator’s new strategy.

“I truly believe that unless all of us involved in charity – that means all charities, and the Commission as regulator, take steps now to promote what is special about charity, and to meet legitimate public expectations of charity, then we risk being complicit in its decline,” she said.

“All of us must recognise our collective responsibility as custodians of what it means to be a charity in the eyes of the public. We must all fulfil our responsibility for making the changes needed.”

Stowell pointed to research that shows the majority of people, regardless of their background or wider views on charity, agree that charities should display high standards of conduct.

“We have firm evidence of near universal accord among the public on this basic expectation: that a charity, to inspire trust, must be more than an organisation with laudable aims. It must be a living example of charitable purpose, charitable attitude, and charitable behaviour. It must behave like a charity, not just call itself a charity because of the aims it has and the work it does.”

In turn, Stowell said the regulator will seek to change some of its processes to “offer more, and amount to more in the years ahead” so that it can help to maximise the benefit of charity.

“We must now steer a new course, if we are to do our duty by the public we serve. The Commission cannot afford – literally or metaphorically – to see the fulfilment of our statutory functions as the totality of its mission.

“We must be able to demonstrate what we stand for in ways that chime with people’s lives, concerns and interests, and to achieve this, what we stand for must be greater than simply the sum of what we do. We must be an organisation led by purpose.”

The Commission’s new strategy will set out five core strategic objectives for the regulator:

• holding charities to account
• dealing with wrongdoing and harm
• informing public choice
• giving charities the understanding and tools they need to succeed
• keeping charity relevant for today’s world

On informing public choice, Stowell said the Commission will need to improve the way it holds and displays data on charities.

“I’m not convinced that the way we gather, hold, and report information about charities is as purposeful and useful as it should be. Working with others, I want us to become less of a warehouse for charity data, and more of a curator of knowledge about individual charities, and about the sector. If we do that well, we are handing the public power, and in turn giving them some confidence in charity more widely.”

Furhermore, Stowell has committed to working constructively with charities to ensure the Commission’s positive purpose can be fulfilled.

“I am clear that we can only achieve our purpose if we have the right relationship with the charities we regulate. I see no benefit in a deliberately adversarial approach.

"I will not measure my success in the number of public fights I pick. I will not feel stronger for having criticised charities. And I fully expect that, in pursuing our purpose, my team and I will be championing charitable behaviour, as much as we will be required to draw attention to shortcomings or failings. […]. Charities and the Commission have a shared, collective responsibility for ensuring that the concept of Charity survives into future generations, and to enable charities to maximise the good they do.”

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