Tristan Blythe: The point of no return?

02 Apr 2024 In-depth

By Syda Productions / Adobe

The question of whether it is right to return donations, and if so under what circumstances, has been a talking point recently.

Early in March, the Charity Commission released new guidance on this topic. It tells trustees: “Your starting point should be to accept and keep a donation offered or given to your charity.”

Of course, there are donations that charities are legally required to turn down, for example if it comes from an illegal source. However, the guidance accepts that in some cases it is appropriate for a charity to choose to return a donation. However, trustees are told to check their powers around this and that there must be a thorough decision-making process (which should be recorded) behind the decision.

At the time of writing, the question of returning donations has exploded into the world of politics. There are calls from figures across the political spectrum for the Conservative party to return over £10m-worth of donations from Frank Hester after it emerged that he had made abhorrent racist remarks about Diane Abbott MP.

Despite acknowledging (after some delay) that these comments were racist, the prime minister has ruled out returning the donation as Hester has expressed “remorse”.

Of course, political parties are regulated in an entirely different way to charities. However, despite the differences, as some parties receive a great deal of funding via donations, it could be argued that are some circumstances where it is ethically right for them to return donations and they should have the same ethical debates as charities when these circumstances do arise.

According to the Guardian, a survey, commissioned by the campaign group 38 Degrees and carried out by JL Partners, found that 52% of people felt the Tories should not keep the donation. The majority (73%) said it should be passed to an anti-racism charity. Only 24% thought the money should be returned to Hester.

In addition, 60% agreed that “mainstream political parties should not accept donations from people who are found to have made racist or offensive remarks”.

These figures suggest that there is considerable reputational damage for political parties from “tainted” donations. It is not too much of a logical leap to think charities need to also consider this issue carefully for the same reason.

Tristan Blythe is editor of Charity Finance 

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