Charity 2020 Group Governance Talk
26 September 2019
I wanted to start today by asking if anyone here remembers the wonderful Fiona Middleton.
Fiona was one of three brilliant lawyers who established the charity practice at Bates Wells – Andrew
Phillips, a visionary and serial founder; Stephen Lloyd, an innovator with a brilliant commercial mind;
and Fiona Middleton, I would say one of the finest charity lawyers ever to have practised.
Fiona died 15 years ago today. Before she died, she taught me from being her trainee onwards.
She taught me to try to stand back and look at the bigger picture, while keeping a grip on the detail.
She also taught me not always to accept an accepted state of things, especially if things as they are
are not things as they should be.
And that sets the theme for today. I don’t think that trusteeship is how trusteeship should be. And,
unfortunately, I also don’t see it changing soon.
My view is that society is in breach of the social contract for trusteeship; and that in this environment
we need new operating models.
And I am going to propose one possible new model.
If you have heard me speak on this subject before, please bear with me. I really hope we can have a
good debate in this relatively intimate setting and test my idea.
My views on this have been forged among the recent tribulations of large and complex charities, often
operating nationally and internationally but I think my concerns apply more broadly.
Benefits of trusteeship
First of all, I am hugely in favour of trusteeship. It is something I have advocated for 25 years as a
lawyer practising in this field, as a member of a firm that is a partner in Trustees Unlimited alongside
NCVO and Russam, and until recently as a member of the Trustees Unlimited board. And, of course,
as a trustee myself.
For individuals, it brings personal growth and development; it helps build strong social bonds; it helps
to develop a sense of self-worth and one’s value to society.
For society, trusteeship brings, free of charge, the skills, experience and commitment of people to
help solve some of our most pressing needs.
It also brings these skills to fundamental aspects of our lives, without which we would not even
recognise our own society – our schools, our hospitals, our churches, mosques, synagogues,
gurdwaras and temples, our theatres and other cultural institutions, our sporting and other clubs, our
Trusteeship is the warp and weft of society’s tapestry.
What more can society ask?
Well, the answer, it seems, is ‘one hell of a lot’.
Breach of the social contract
Given what trusteeship delivers for society, you would think that there would be an annual public
holiday to celebrate trustees or maybe medals given out like the Mėdaille de la Famille française,
which is given in France to mothers of large families for their service to society.
Instead, society likes to carp and criticise. It seems to enjoy feeling outraged. Whenever anything
goes wrong in a charity, we freely criticise what the trustees did or did not do.
None of us was that ‘man in the arena’ described by Theodore Roosevelt, “whose face is marred by
dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again…”
and to whom the credit must be given. We are all just unforgiving spectators, none of whom could
have done better and few of whom would even have tried.
And among the unforgivingly critical, you will find parliamentary committees the Charity Commission
and the government, whom you might expect would have the backs of trustees who make mistakes
while trying their best.
The problem with the current model
One reason I think trustees sometimes come up short is that they are often asked to perform a task
that is too great in a manner that is too burdensome.
The Charities Act 2011 tells us that the charity trustees are the people ‘having the general control and
management of the administration of a charity’. If you have ever genuinely had the general control
and management of the administration of any institution, you will know that it is a pretty full-on job. But
trustees are asked to undertake it part time.
When charities have staff, and I am really talking about those charities, we tell the trustees that they
should not get involved in day-to-day management – but that they have to ensure that this
management is undertaken properly.
How? How as part timers with a helicopter view of the charity do they get the assurance that they
need? Where do they obtain it from when even a statutory audit does not now provide sufficient
Trustees feel overburdened by regulation; by a vast array of (admittedly very good) Charity
Commission guidance that they feel they must be on top of; by the detail of what they now seem
expected to know about the inner workings of their charities; and what they are expected to know
about safeguarding, data protection, fundraising and many other issues.
This would be fine if our regulators, our government, parliamentarians, our press and, frankly, all of
us, kept our part of the bargain in the social contract for trusteeship.
But we don’t. We tell trustees they are responsible if it all goes wrong and we make them carry the
can when it does. We watch, often in self-righteous ignorance, while trustees are publicly vilified.
And we ask them to do it with no reward except their own satisfaction in having tried to do some good.
We have collectively breached the social contract.
At the same time, we pretend that the people who are actually running the charity, the paid senior
executives, are not in fact responsible – are not acting as trustees. That is dishonest.
A new model of governance
I think this governance model, in this regulatory and social environment, is unfair on trustees. And this
set me thinking about what other models there might be. My suggestion is what I am calling ‘Assured
It recognises that the people ‘having the general control and management of the administration of the
charity’ are those who are actually running it – the senior staff, often with ‘director’ in their job title. It
then calls those people the trustees.
Alongside those executive trustees there would be a non-executive chair, normally recruited
externally, and another non-executive ‘senior independent trustee’. These would be much more
closely engaged in the work of the charity than most trustees, taking on the significant responsibilities
and time commitment that society now expects. They would be like the chair and non-executive
directors of a large commercial company. They could also be paid but of course need not be.
Essentially, this would be a unitary board but one with more executives than non-executives on it.
What, I hear you ask, about the voluntary principle?
I could answer that the voluntary principle was a fundamental term of the social contract that has
already been breached by society and that trustees are therefore entitled to repudiate the contract.
I could answer by asking you whether, if you were setting up a business to deliver anything as
complex as the operations of many of our charities, and you wanted to do it in the best way possible,
would your first though be, “Let’s get some volunteers to pop in every now and then and run it”?
But I am a believer in the voluntary principle. So, in the ‘assured unitary governance’ model, the thing
that would give assurance and maintain the voluntary principle would be an entirely unpaid ‘assurance
The members of this board would actually be, or be incorporated within, the membership of the
charity. They would not be trustees and would not have trustee responsibilities. In large part, however,
they would perform the functions that most trustees of large, complex charities currently perform:
They would be deeply informed about the work of the charity through the provision of
board papers and through observing the charity’s operations
They would meet up to four times a year
They would review and comment on strategy, policies and budgets
They would provide support and guidance to the executive
They would bring to that support the particular skills and experience they have
And they would be chosen with care, just like trustees.
But, unlike charity trustees, they would not be the decision-makers.
They would, however, have some serious powers that would enable them to give to the public the
necessary assurance while stopping short of turning them into trustees. Those powers would include:
Appointing and removing the trustees
Approving the remuneration of the executive trustees and any paid non-executive
Receiving annual reports and accounts
Providing advice and support to the trustees
Approving constitutional changes
So, under this model, those who currently run large, complex charities would continue to run them, but
would have the added regulatory burden, as well as the authority and the regulatory certainty, of being
charity trustees. Those people who do not actually run such charities on a day-to-day basis, but are
currently being held to account for doing so as trustees, would be able to provide some of the
oversight and assurance that the word ‘trustee’ signifies. But they would no longer be held to
unreasonably high standards by regulators and the public in respect of a task that they cannot
reasonably be expected to perform.
I make no claim that this model would lead to better-governed charities. What I do say is that it would
I’m interested to know what you think about it.
10 Queen Street Place
London EC4R 1BE
Charity 2020 Seminar – September 2015 – Measuring impact – impossible dream (1)
A New Approach To Fundraising Regulation
by Stephen Dunmore delivered on 5 September 2016
The Cross-party Review (the Etherington Review) of fundraising regulation was published in September 2015. Chapter 5 of the Review set out the criteria for and recommendations about what a new regulatory regime should seek to achieve, what it should do, how it should be structured and the rules to be put in place to achieve those objectives.
This was followed by the report of the Parliamentary Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC), published on 25 January, which emphasised the role of Trustees in protecting the values and reputation of the charities they are responsible for, as well as cooperating with the Regulator and the Commission in making strengthened arrangements work effectively to protect the interests of the public.
Subsequently, the Charity Commission issued new guidance for charities’ trustees about fundraising from the public (CC 20). The guidance emphasized that trustees have ultimate responsibility for fundraising and must provide effective oversight, focusing on donor care and ensuring that their charity complies with the law and follows best practice.
What was proposed
A principal recommendations of Sir Stuart Etherington’s Review was the creation of a new approach to fundraising regulation based on a ‘three lines of defence’ model: trustees, a new, independent fundraising regulator funded via a levy, and the relevant charity statutory regulators across the UK – the Charity Commission in England and Wales, the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland (CCNI) and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR).
The Review concluded that the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) was under-resourced and lacking independence, both because of its membership structure and it reliance on the Institute of Fundraising (IoF), to secure changes to the Code of Fundraising Practice. The Review therefore proposed the establishment of a new body, the Fundraising Regulator, responsible for the independent, ‘voluntary’ regulation of all types of fundraising by UK based charities and for complaints about fundraising in the UK. Funded by a levy on the industry, it would take over the regulatory role of the FRSB and also the Code from the IoF, as well as the Rule Books on Door-to-door and Street Collections from the Public Fundraising Association (PFRA).
The Review also recommended that the Fundraising Regulator should have a convening role, to bring relevant regulators and industry bodies together to ensure that regulation takes place in the context of wider issues and trends.
In the new system, the Charity Commission and other statutory regulators would act as a ‘backstop’ in cases where there are regulatory concerns that are within their remit and powers, for example where there is evidence that, in addition to breaches of fundraising rules, there are wider concerns about a breach of trustee duties. The Government has taken reserve powers in the Charities Bill to introduce statutory regulation, should the new, voluntary system prove unsuccessful.
Governance and purpose
The Fundraising Regulator is a company limited by guarantee without a share capital, governed by a non-executive Board of Directors drawn from inside and outside the fundraising sector, including members with extensive experience of regulation, codes of practice and the charitable sector. The Directors are responsible for the overall control and strategic direction of the company. The Board is chaired by Lord Grade.
Our purpose is to ensure that fundraising is respectful, open, honest and accountable to the public. We will:
- Set and promote standards of fundraising practice (the Code of Fundraising Practice and associated Rule Books) in the charitable sector across the UK, in consultation with the public, fundraising stakeholders and legislators.
- Investigate cases where fundraising practices have led to significant public concern.
- Adjudicate complaints from the public about fundraising practice, where these cannot be resolved by the charities themselves.
- Operate a Fundraising Preference Service to enable individuals to manage their contact with charities.
- Where poor fundraising practice is judged to have taken place, recommend best practice guidance and take proportionate remedial action.
As a values-base regulator, we aim to –
- Protect the public, donors and potential donors, not least those who are vulnerable, from unacceptable fundraising practices.
- Sustain and enhance public confidence in the charitable sector.
- Support the sector to understand and carry out its responsibilities in engaging with the public, creating a positive donor experience.
- Act independently, transparently, fairly and proportionately.
A regulator, statutory or otherwise, cannot operate effectively without the confidence of the sector it regulates. Nonetheless, our first accountability is to donors and the public.
Setting up the Regulator
The Fundraising Regulator began work with a Chair and Chief Executive in early January. Our set-up funding, totalling £624K and covering the period January to August 2016, was provided by 45 of the 50 charities with the largest expenditure on fundraising. Five charities declined to cooperate.
In the set-up period, we have –
- Registered as a company limited by guarantee.
- Put in place robust governance arrangements (Board, Standards Committee and Adjudication Committee) and financial systems.
- Recruited staff (sixteen staff out of a provisional complement of nineteen are in post) and developed our HR policies.
- Negotiated transition from the FRSB, including two staff members and intellectual property.
- Developed our strategic capability, including a business plan and budget, performance monitoring, risk management and a communications plan.
- Developed appropriate IT systems, a website and a published complaints process.
- Published proposals for a Fundraising Preference Service (FPS), arising from the report of the FPS Working Group.
- Published proposals for a levy to meet our annual running costs
- Published proposals for a registration system for charities and fundraising agencies, through which they demonstrate a commitment to best practice.
- Signed a MOU with the Charity Commission.
Perhaps most important, we have put considerable time and effort into building relationships with the charitable sector – individual charities and representative bodies – through meetings, seminars and presentations, and with a range of stakeholder organisations, including the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), Charity Commission, OSCR, CCNI, the Direct Marketing Association, the IoF and the Commission on the Donor Experience.
We have also ‘brokered’ our geographical coverage across the UK. We will regulate charities in England and Wales. Scotland has opted for a co-regulatory arrangement, whereby we regulate the fundraising in Scotland of charities based in England/Wales and an Independent Panel linked to OSCR regulates the fundraising of charities based in Scotland, albeit with a single Code of Fundraising Practice. Arrangements for Northern Ireland will be determined in the autumn.
In early July, we took over responsibility for fundraising regulation, complaints handling and adjudications from the FRSB, inheriting the Code of Fundraising Practice from the IOF and the Rule Books on Street and Door-to-door collections from the PFRA.
Since our launch in early July, we have handled 143 complaints and over 200 enquiries from the public. 51 complaints have been about non-fundraising issues and we have redirected them as appropriate; 48 complaints have been referred back to the charities concerned, to be resolved within 28 days. The remaining complaints are either being investigated (wider public interest) by our own staff or are pending allocation.
Complaints include a range of issues – doorstep fundraising, addressed mail, cash collections, fundraising behaviour, misleading fundraising, data protection breaches, frequency of contact and approaches to vulnerable people.
We are also investigating a case, revealed by The Sun, of alleged fundraising malpractice in Bristol; this involves a fundraising agency (Neet Feet) and eight client charities. Our Adjudication Committee will adjudicate on all cases where we carry out an investigation.
The Code of Fundraising Practice is central to our consideration of complaints and public interest cases. The Standards Committee will be the keeper of the Code. We will be proactive in amending the Code, in consultation with the sector and the fundraising community, and have already identified several priority areas where changes will need to be made to reflect new circumstances and issues. The current PFRA Rule Books and the Code of Fundraising Practice will be merged into a single document and be cross-referred to guidance for trustees contained in CC 20 in England and Wales. We plan to launch a major consultation in the new year on Code development and changes.
In addition to producing reports with recommendations for charities to amend their practices, the Fundraising Regulator will have an appropriate range of sanctions to use if necessary. These may include ‘naming and shaming’, cease and desist orders, requirements for training and clearance of future fundraising campaigns.
The expectation is that all charities wishing to demonstrate their compliance with the Code and be badged accordingly will, from September, register with the Fundraising Regulator for payment of a nominal fee.
We will also implement the proposals for a Fundraising Preference Service (FPS), so that members of the public can register if they no longer want to be contacted by charities for fundraising purposes. Organisations spending over £100k on fundraising would have a responsibility to check their contacts against a list of those individuals who have opted out before seeking to fundraise from them by telephone, email, mail or SMS/MMS. Our aim is to have the FPS up and running by March 2017.
It is clear that the majority of larger and medium-sized charities have failed and in many cases are still failing to observe the requirements of data protection legislation in relation to data sharing and selling and establishing unambiguous donor consent, although a number of large and some smaller charities have now led the way in taking vigorous steps to address the problem and implement a change in culture.
We will work closely with the ICO, the Charity Commission and the Institute of Fundraising to ensure that guidance for charities in this critical area is consistent, clear and well-publicised. The forthcoming report of the NCVO’s Working Group On How To Secure Donors’ Consent, which will be passed to the Fundraising Regulator, will provide an opportunity to reinforce these messages and showcase some examples of good practice.
In Scotland, we will continue to discuss with OSCR and the Independent Panel the operational details of the co-regulatory system, to ensure that it works seamlessly for donors and cross-border charities.
A key task from September onwards is to roll out the levy. Just over 2000 charities, based on the volume of their fundraising expenditure declared to the Charity Commission, and all fundraising agencies are being asked to contribute, to meet our annual running costs of c. £2.1m to £2.4m (as indicated in the Etherington Review).
21 May 2018 Caroline Mason CBE Chief Executive Esmee Fairbairn Foundation
The future for charities can’t be guaranteed if today’s challenges are not met
Chair of the Charity Commission, Baroness Stowell, outlines why charities need to change to fulfill their much needed potential in a speech at Charity 2020.
I am delighted to be here with you, and to be following in the footsteps of so many diverse and eminent previous speakers on this platform – scientists, philanthropists, authors, and several of my fellow peers.
The theme for this forum, this series of events – Charity 2020 – invites us to look ahead, to the future.
And so I would like to use this opportunity to take stock of the role charity plays in our society, and to consider what place it could, and should inhabit, in the years ahead.
I will of course explain my own and the Charity Commission’s perspective on those questions, on the challenges and opportunities facing charity.
But my hope is for this to be a conversation, and exchange of ideas, and so I hope to hear from you later – your questions, thoughts, challenges and so forth. And that we can have a good discussion.
Before we think about our future we have to understand our present.
And when looking at the role of charity today, there’s reason to be optimistic. Measured by certain statistical ‘vital signs’ the sector is in good health.
There are 168,000 charities on the Commission’s register over all. Just under 5,000 new charities joined the register last year.
Together, registered charities attracted over £77 billion in income over the past year.
And they are overseen by 700,000 trustees of registered charities, most of whom are volunteers, many of whom serve more than one charity. Beyond that, over 11 million people in England and Wales volunteer at least once a month for charitable causes.
Charities are both present at the micro level, embedded in local communities and often largely under the radar, doing important work well: running village halls, supporting schools, hospitals, improving the places in which we live and work.
And at the other end of the spectrum in terms of size and visibility, charities are making an ever more crucial contribution to our national life.
Charities are providing essential, literally vital services: emergency response work, support for people in crisis, life-changing and life-saving health and social support.
And charities also curate much of what makes life worth living:
The arts and culture, care for the natural environment and wildlife, the preservation of our national heritage for future generations, and so on.
Not to mention of course the work charities based in England and Wales do to support and promote the interests of people in need around the world.
Across the board, charities are doing work and offering services that the public and private sectors either cannot or will not.
And we know, from the Commission’s own research, that the public care deeply about charity, that they are invested in the idea, and want it to succeed. And people continue to support charitable endeavour generously.
So at a first, perhaps superficial glance, all might be well and fine for the charitable sector.
And so it is tempting, perhaps, for those involved in charity to carry on with ‘business as usual’. Certainly ‘business as usual’ challenges, such as matching resources to demand, can feel overwhelming enough. I know that’s a challenge many charities face, and share with the Commission.
But a focus on short-sighted fire-fighting today risks complacency about charities’ place in society tomorrow. And that would be a mistake.
Because while the sector is by some measures in sound health, there are clouds on the horizon, warning signals if you like.
These signs tell us that, at best, charities as institutions are not meeting their potential, and, at worst, that charities’ place as the primary vehicles of philanthropy and social change in our country is being challenged.
Now, as the regulator of charities, my responsibility is protecting the public interest in what charity creates by way of benefit to society, and the reputation of charity – not to protect individual charities from public scrutiny.
So what are those signs that worry me?
First, and most important, there is evidence of a growing gap between public expectations of charity, of what charity is and means on the one hand, and the attitude and behaviour the public see in some charities as institutions on the other.
Last year, the Commission undertook extensive research into public expectations of charity, and into levels of public trust in charity.
That research found that the public no longer give charities the benefit of the doubt just because they are charities. There is no premium, in terms of public trust, on being a charity. In fact our research tells us that charities are no more trusted than the average person in the street.
By drilling further down into why people feel the way they do about charity, we found that people from different backgrounds shared some fundamental expectations of charity, regardless of their preferences for the type of charity they supported.
Fundamentally, all people expect charities to be driven by purpose, to live their values and hold themselves to high standards of ethical behaviour and attitude, and to be prudent, and transparent in their stewardship of money.
These expectations are surprisingly unanimously held. People of different backgrounds and world views may support very different causes, but they agree on the basic standards of behaviour and attitude they associate with charity, and with being charitable.
And the research suggests that, too often, people see evidence that charities as organisations are disappointing them. Not meeting their hopes. Making them feel deflated, and perhaps a little cynical.
Principally this is because they see charities behaving in ways that don’t reflect the feelings and attitudes they bring when they undertake acts of charity.
They see organisations often more focused on growth and expansion, and therefore on protecting their corporate reputations, than on the interests of the people they are supposed to be helping. That was at the heart of much of the outrage that we saw around the fundraising scandal, and latterly the revelations of exploitation by charity workers abroad.
What upset people so much about what they read and heard was not just that abuses or wrongdoing happened in the name of charity – that was bad, of course.
But what is worse, in the eyes of the public we serve, is when those who are running charities do not acknowledge why such problems represent a betrayal of the meaning of charity. When they try to justify them by reference to the charity’s noble purpose, or seek to put them in some sort of context to the greater good they achieve; present abuses as collateral damage to be accepted and expected as they undertake their charitable work. That self-serving attitude frustrates, indeed infuriates.
Because while it’s bad enough when we see the same from other parts of society – business, perhaps, or politics – people expect better from charity.
We, and the people who conducted our research last year, are not the only ones to recognise and worry about the frustrations caused by the unmet expectations of charity.
The work of the inquiry into the future of Civil Society, led by Julia Unwin, concluded that, civil society organisations, and I quote, have “lost their connection with the people they are there to serve” and “become too focused on protecting reputations and income streams”.
Her report concluded that “Civil society is not yet fit for this purpose.”
And there are other, more subtle challenges to charity as we know it: the growing role of informal philanthropic effort, supported and aided by technology and fundraising platforms.
The growing phenomenon of purpose-led businesses: profit-making businesses that employ people, provide services or make products – but do so with a higher aim, a bigger idea or mission in mind.
These developments should serve to remind all those involved in charity that they don’t have an immutable monopoly on doing good.
I am convinced that, if they are to continue to thrive, and retain their place at the heart of our society, charities will need to demonstrate that they are more than organisations that have good aims.
Charities will need to show that they amount to more – that they are driven, relentlessly, by a charitable mission and purpose, and demonstrating charitable behaviour and attitude in everything they do and the way they do it.
Charities needs to be distinctive, special, and – I’ll say it – better – than other types of institutions and parts of society if they are to survive, into the long term, as the vehicles of our better natures.
They need to be living, breathing examples of the charitable spirit, of charitable endeavour.
Now, let me be clear, I am not suggesting that all charities are failing to live up to public expectations.
There are examples of charities operating in ways that are true to what we instinctively associate with charity.
Take the merger between Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now, which took effect from April. The two former charities made the difficult decision to merge their operations not because it was convenient for anyone involved in either charity. And not because it was a last resort borne of financial imperatives. Both were financially stable. But because the merger was the right thing to do for the beneficiaries of both charities, and because it was right in principle.
A great example of the charitable spirit, rather than corporate expediency, guiding decisions in charities. I applaud that. It’s exactly what the wider public expect and want to see.
Or there’s a large household name charity that has willingly and knowingly risked a short-term hit in its income because of a new, better approach to fundraising which means donors are treated with more respect and humanity.
I want charities to offer more, many more such examples of charitable purpose and attitude. And to shout them for the rooftops for all to see and hear.
Because what really strikes me as I look ahead, is not so much that charity faces challenges, but that it has enormous potential.
Potential to be an even stronger force for good in our society.
Potential, indeed to help provide answers to the very obvious divisions and disruptions in our society that some believe pose a threat to our very democracy.
Divisions based on class, geography and world view, and divisions that are fuelled by changes to the way in which we live, work and communicate. Alongside this, our country is not alone in facing profound systemic challenges – notably in protecting our natural environments, and our planet as a whole.
Together, these developments make for a sense of collective uncertainty and anxiety. Because the social and economic certainties that once bound us, or perhaps created the comfortable illusion of unity, are weakening.
And that’s where shared public expectations of charity come in again.
Again, it’s enormously powerful to know that people who share little in common – not class, not politics, not faith, not tastes, personal circumstances or aspirations – they still agree on what charity really means.
Again, I stress, this does not imply cosy agreement on what causes are important, or should be resourced. There is lots of healthy debate about that, and I hope and expect that to continue in a plural society.
But I believe the consensus on the meaning of charity is something we as a society must harness.
We need to see and be reminded that the charitable instinct, charitable endeavour, is at work in our society, and we need the institutions that are most associated with that instinct to be examples, role models, leaders. Not infallible, of course, not places where mistakes never happen. Certainly not bland, controversy-free organisations that aim always to please everyone.
But organisations that demonstrate that they are striving, always, to be examples of that charitable attitude and behaviour.
That’s what I see when I look to the future of charity, ahead to 2020, and to 2023, the lifespan of our current strategy.
That strategy has at its heart a clear purpose for the Charity Commission as regulator.
We exist to ensure charity can thrive and inspire trust so that people can improve lives and strengthen society.
That purpose informs and drives everything that we are doing from now on.
So fundamentally we see our job as being to help ensure charity continues to ‘dial up the good’ in our society.
We are not in opposition to charities, and we certainly can’t confine our work to cracking the whip when charities have made mistakes.
We serve the public interest, and we believe we share, with the charities we regulate, both a collective responsibility and a collective prize: to maximise the benefit of charity to the public by serving the public better.
The Charity Commission strategy document sets out the ways in which we intend to meet our share of the responsibility.
I would invite you to take a look at that document – it is deliberately concise and high level.
I hope you’d see that each of our 5 strategic priorities set out in that text are in some relationship not just to the charities we regulate but the public we serve.
For example, one of our priorities for the years ahead is to ensure that the public are informed – and by informed also read empowered – in their choices about the charities on our register.
The work that will sit behind that aim will of course involve charities, and consultation with charities.
But the intention is to empower people.
Another of our priorities is to help keep charity relevant for today’s world, and that means doing what we’re doing here today in rather more scientific detail – looking ahead, and making sure charity is preparing for the challenges and opportunities that they are and will face in serving the public good.
And one of our express strategic priorities is to hold charities to account for the behaviours attitudes and ideas the public associate with charity.
This, again, to stress, doesn’t just mean telling charities off when they’ve failed.
It will also mean highlighting examples of excellence.
And it may mean speaking out when others in society create conditions that mean charities operate in a way that is at odds with what the public associate with or expect of charity.
Let me give you one example: we recently published a concluding report on the Garden Bridge, the aborted project to build a pedestrian bridge across the river Thames in London.
Our regulatory conclusion set out in the report, is that the trustees of the charity set up to deliver the project met their legal duties and complied with the legal and regulatory framework, by and large.
In the past, that question, as to the trustees’ decision making, would have been all we focused on.
But we felt that serving the public interest in charity required us to do more.
Because here we had a multi-million pound charity set up to deliver a project that did not materialise.
In the eyes of the public it was at the very least a regrettable failure. Their money had been wasted.
And so our report looked beyond the actions of the trustees at the circumstances under which the charity was tasked with delivering the project, and at its relationship with others, including public bodies.
And we drew some hard lessons that will have made uncomfortable reading for many involved in some way in the project, beyond the confines of the registered charity.
Our intention was to help avoid charity being implicated in a similar public failure again in future.
It was a conscious decision to express our conclusions in this way. We knew not everyone would welcome this shift in our approach.
But it was the right thing to do for the public we serve.
Expect to see more such interventions from the Charity Commission in the years ahead.
So to summarise.
When I look to the future for charities in the years and decades ahead, I want to see a sector that is not just managing to deliver their worthy services in the face of increasing challenges.
I want to see organisations and people that inspire and give hope. To work in ways that make all members of our society, regardless of their circumstances, feel invested in it, empowered to make changes and confident that their charitable endeavours are matched, exceeded even, by the attitude and behaviour that the charities on our register display.
To achieve this future requires nothing short of cultural upheaval in the sector, and it’s requiring us as regulator to do our work in new and very different, difficult ways.
But the prize, if we achieve this, is so great. It’s the prize of strengthening our society, our communities, our way of life, our democracy.
No other sector or grouping in society have this potential. Charities do.
I want them to meet it.