More than half of public want fewer charities, research finds

Stephen Lloyd, senior partner Bates Wells and Braithwaite

More than half of public want fewer charities, research finds18

Governance | Vibeka Mair | 18 May 2012

More than half of the public think there are too many charities and want the sector to be rationalised, research carried out for the Charities Act review has shown.

The findings, from research conducted online among 1,004 people, were presented by charity lawyer Stephen Lloyd yesterday at the Charity Law Conference.

Lloyd, a senior partner at Bates Wells and Braithwaite who has been appointed as the expert lawyer to advise Lord Hodgson on his review of the Charities Act 2006, said their report on the review was expected to be finished by the end of July, and would be “short and pithy”.

He also gave some exclusive findings from evidence gathering from the public as part of review. He said 52.5 per cent of the public thought there were too many charities and that the sector should be rationalised.

During the panel debate, Directory of Social Change CEO Debra Allcock-Tyler challenged Lloyd on this finding.

“This question was asked so badly,” she complained. “The question started with “Some people think there are too many charities…” - this is a leading question. Even a basic numpty or an A-level student would know this.”

Periodic re-registration of charities

According to the research, the next most popular change to the charity sector among the public would be a periodic review of re-registration of charity status.

But Lloyd said this would involve costs at time when the Charity Commission’s budget was being cut:

“In real terms the income of the Charity Commission is being cut by 50 per cent,” said Lloyd. “But it is dealing with expanding responsibilities.”

Lloyd noted that many charities such as student unions, which were formerly exempt, were becoming registered charities and mooted whether the threshold for registration would have to be raised.

He also said that exempt charity status, which had been dwindling, was expanding again with the arrival of academies.

Saying that there was a “black hole” in Charity Commission finances, Lloyd also warned that if the jurisdiction of the Charity Tribunal is expanded, the Charity Commission could spend all its money on just fighting cases at the Tribunal:

“The Charity Commission has had to pay a lot of legal fees in recent cases at the Tribunal,” Lloyd warned. “It will be a major cost if more cases go to the Tribunal.”

The charity law review will look at the range of Charity Commission decisions which are appealable to the Charity Tribunal.

The panel at the conference, which also comprised Rosamund McCarthy, Christine Rigby and Lindsay Driscoll from law firm Bates Wells and Braithwaite as well as Debra Allcock Tyler, all expressed concern around funding of the Charity Commission.

Charities ombudsman

Elsewhere, Driscoll said a charities ombudsman was needed, saying that the Charity Commission got many calls from the public on complaints about service delivery from charities:

“But it’s outside the Charity Commission’s jurisdiction,” she said. “A charities ombudsman and a charity conciliation service is needed.”

Lloyd said many members of the public did believe that the Charity Commission could intervene in issues around service delivery by charities.

Allcock-Tyler also queried whether Lord Hodgson was committed to asking the sector what they thought as part of his charity law review, noting that the DSC was not approached about it.

Elena Joseph
Head of New Projects
Workplace Giving UK
21 May 2012

I was a fundraiser for over 12 years, talking to members of the public about donating to charity via their pay, one of the reasons that many employees didn't choose to donate was that they simply felt overwhelmed with the choice of charities they might donate to.

Their perception (wrong or right) was that there were "too many charities doing the same thing"

Often they stated a cause they wished to donate to rather than a specific charity but were then bewildered by the number of charities working in that cause sector.

I am not sure why the question was posed in the first place but I am not surprised by the outcome.

The only comparison I can make from a personal perspective is the supermarket shelves, sometimes there is so much choice that I choose nothing at all!

I also have friends who have commented on the number of charities set up in memory of people, whilst I understand the motivation behind these types of charities, it does seem to add to the general and overwhelming feeling that there are too many charities.

Tod Norman
tnp Ltd
18 May 2012

Whew! That hit a nerve! The venom in these replies is intelligent, witty, and absolute! Let's take a breath.

There two serious points that it might be worthwhile.

1. Why did he ask the question? Where is he going with this line of enquiry? what argument is he trying to build ? What are his motives and goals - and if he were to achieve them, what would be the strategic effect on the sector? And why did he leak this particular 'fact'?

2. As poor as the question is, we know there is a 'truth' in the finding. And we need to understand it to address it. Beyond they're simple desire for 'simplicity in an ever more complex world' they have an engagement with what we do, ambition that we succeed in delivering on our missions and a belief that duplication and overlap exist and waste resource slows down our ability to deliver on the cause. From here, there are tens of different opportunities arising - for marketing/communications, fundraising, HR/training, even service delivery- not forgetting a strategy for rebuttal if we disagree with Mr. Ward's conclusions and recommendations.

18 May 2012

I suspect the public wants fewer plumbers, electricians and taxi firms too. But since setting up a charity is an entrepreneurial activity like setting up a profit making company they'll have to lump it.

It is this very entrepreneurial spirit that gives this sector its creativity and energy.

Jay Kennedy
head of policy
Directory of Social Change
18 May 2012

Dear Bob,

Debra hasn't been correctly quoted here. She was saying that an A level student would have been better able to write a sound survey question...

Vibeka Mair
18 May 2012
Response to [Jay Kennedy]

Sorry. My mistake. I've amended the quote to reflect this.

Mike Wade
Director of Fundraising and Communications
18 May 2012

I can't believe they are spending (whose?) money on researching this stuff! This is exactly the same message as we were hearing when I started out in charity fundraising in 1987. We decided then it was irrelevant as it still is now, 25 years later. It's like if you ask a donor "should we spend less money on sending you mailings and spend more on the programme instead?" Of course they will say yes. You will then plan to spend a tiny percentage more on programme but find that you have no money left as all of your donors have cancelled, because you have "failed to say thank you, to show them that you appreciate their donations and how you have spent their money".

Francesca Quint
Radcliffe Chambers
18 May 2012

It's an interesating subject but I somehow suspect the 'public' who were asked the question were expressing exasperation at a time of austerity at the number of requests for money they receive from charities and were mostly not focusing on what charities do for the community. Would they have agreed if the question had suggested that the Charity Commission or HMRC or some other official body should reject applications for registration merely because a 'sufficient' number of similar charities already existed?

Richard Piper
Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children's Charity
18 May 2012

It's not an interesting question. Are there too many flowers in Bulgaria, too many bricks in Birmingham, too many oxygen molecules in the ocean, too many charities in the UK? Who knows? Too many against what criteria?

A better question, as Karl implies, might be 'Is there enough charitable activity in the UK (or 'the world') to solve the problems that our society faces?'

No one knows the answer to that, either, but asking that question leads to a more interesting line of discussion.

Jonathan Sillett
18 May 2012

Is the public really the best placed stakeholder to judge the 'correct' number of charities for a healthy society? Who cares what they think?

Catherine Clark
Head of Communications, Marketing & Development
Royal School of Church Music
18 May 2012
Response to [Jonathan Sillett]

'Fewer', please, not 'less' and what a total waste of a few minutes of my life that was. What conceivable purpose did this poll have; whose ox was it intended to gore? There is only one Royal School of Church Music, one Red Cross, one 'support our local hospital/nursery/cancer support group/youth sports club' charity... what is supposed to replace these? Who will do their work?

If charities don't raise funds, they fold. Leave it to the public's wallets to sort us out, not public opinion, which I also kind of want to put in quotes. Good grief.

Karl Wilding
Head of Policy, Research & Foresight
18 May 2012
Response to [Jonathan Sillett]

I think public understanding of 'the sector' isnt great (cf individual charities) and as such I dont think we should be making policy based upon that perception.

But we absolutely should care what we think - whilst I might not agree with their perception, we have to make sure its informed by at least some evidence!

Karl Wilding
Head of Policy
18 May 2012

Regardless of whether the wording of the question was leading - and looking what Deborah responded too, it looks like it may have been - the question is the wrong one in the first place.

One might argue that given the scale of the social problems facing this country there are not rnough charities - or probably more appropriately, there is not enough philanthropic capital. I dont think anyone is complaining that there are too many outcomes - in fact, the opposite.

There is of course a question of whether our philanthropic resource is too fragmented - and whether we are gifting billions of drops into millions of buckets (to quote Steve Goldberg). But follow this line of argument and we find the public equally unhappy with large charities and 'Tescoisation'.

I would imagine that those questioned are entirely happy with a cull - as long as it isnt the PTA for the children's school, or the etc etc.

Bottom line - we're not doing a good enough job, as a sector, explaining that the sector is an ecosystem; that viewing the sector through the simple lens of the market is a road to nowhere; and that the freedom to associate and, in some cases, benefit from tax breaks in return for benefiting society, is a fundamental right.

Hilary Barnard
Principal Consultant
18 May 2012
Response to [Karl Wilding]

Karl makes some very good points re this much discussed subject.
The more important issue is what support does the ecosystem of the third sector need to survive and deliver effectively to the sector's beneficiaries.

18 May 2012

What right does Ms Allcock Tyler have to call A-Level students "basic numpties"?

Barney Mynott
18 May 2012

How many charities should there be?

Karl Wilding
Head of Policy, Research & Foresight
18 May 2012
Response to [Barney Mynott]

Barney - I think Douglas Adams has the answer to your question :-)

18 May 2012

I don't know about wanting fewer charities, but I would certainly appreciate fewer gramatical errors in your headlines.

Tania Mason
Group editor
Civil Society Media
18 May 2012
Response to [Wynbert]

Whoops! Fair point Wynbert, I consider myself corrected. (And have changed the headline accordingly).



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