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Gareth Jones: Ignore the bluster, but charities should be more ethical

04 Jun 2019 Voices

Whether the subject is investment policy or ethics, two apparently opposing viewpoints can often turn out to be complementary, says Gareth Jones.

As editor of Charity Finance, I occasionally find myself with two articles scheduled for the same issue that appear to make directly contradictory arguments.

My first reaction is usually to panic, then give some deep thought to whether they can peacefully coexist.

One possibility is that the two authors simply have differing opinions on a subject. That is OK, although it ideally ought to be flagged up to the reader via some sort of head-to-head format.

More often, though, there are layers of nuance, which mean that the two articles do actually complement each other.

I’m reminded of our March 2019 issue, when James Brooke Turner of Yoke & Co argued that foundations ought to be more willing to spend their capital, while Simon Hallett of Cambridge Associates warned that they ought to be preparing for a possible economic downturn. The reality, of course, is that foundations can commit to spending more, as long as they do so in a planned way, with appropriate stress-testing to ensure they understand what will happen if markets go south.

Back to the present, and I find myself in a similar situation. In this month's issue, Nick Moore makes a persuasive argument that charities should be more ethical. Yet we also have James Sinclair Taylor arguing that Baroness Stowell, chair of the Charity Commission, is dead wrong to say charities must “live up to expectations” and uphold “a higher standard of behaviour, conduct and integrity” above all else.

How can this be? Well, the nuance is again in the detail.

It is legitimate to ask whether the Charity Commission is going beyond its legal remit in calling for charities to focus on meeting public expectations rather than achieving public benefit. And whether the charity sector should have to work harder than other sectors. And whether it is helpful to have the regulator using national media to claim that the sector’s washing is dirty and it doesn’t want to do its chores.

But that doesn’t let charities off the hook when it comes to ethical considerations. It’s not enough to think that your charity does good by its beneficiaries and that is all that matters.

From your choice of suppliers, to the way you treat your staff, to protecting the environment, charities have a range of responsibilities to society that go beyond their direct cause. The public increasingly expects you to act on them.

Gareth Jones is editor of Charity Finance magazine

Civil Society Media's Charity Finance Week takes place in October and this year the theme is Accounts and Accountability. Find out more about the events taking place. 



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