The government and the public expect “more humility and accountability” from charities, according to Charity Commission chair Baroness Stowell.
Speaking at the regulator’s annual public meeting, Stowell said that charities should also acknowledge that they have not always met public expectations “as well as they might”.
She told the event that the Covid-19 crisis has “exposed” the need for charities to command public trust, which she called the sector’s “main challenge”.
‘Greater transparency and accountability’
In her speech, which was streamed live on YouTube, Stowell said: “Charities need to tell people that they understand and respect that they have expectations in return for their support. And they need to signal now that they haven’t always done this as well as they might in the past and that this is going to change.
“Whether they are launching new fundraising appeals, calling for government support, or [calling for] more favourable tax regimes post Covid-19, charities should commit to greater transparency and accountability in return for the financial support they receive.”
She added: “People will be more supportive of charities which recognise that they don’t have a right to public or taxpayer support, but rather a responsibility to uphold the special status charity holds in the public mind.”
Stowell also told the audience that charities needed to dispel any concerns about their motives, although she did not say what these concerns were.
She said: “For people to get behind and support a charity, whether it’s a pop-up charity or an established well-known name, they need to believe the motives of those involved are truly what they say they are.”
She added: “That is why being clear about the standards people expect of charity – humility, decency, dignity, commitment, accountability – and ensuring they are met is so important to the future of the sector.”
Response to the Kruger Review
Stowell hinted at support for some of the proposals in the review of the charity sector commissioned by the prime minister over the summer, including allowing some small organisations to register as charities with minimal initial checks.
Stowell said: “Last week Danny Kruger MP published a range of proposals to strengthen what he describes as the social covenant as part of the government’s levelling-up agenda. He suggested a form of probationary registration period for new entrants on to the register.
“That is an idea worth serious consideration if the register is to be truly plural and more easily accessible to new people who are great standard-bearers for what charity means.”
DSC: Charity Commission is working outside its remit
In a blog responding to Stowell's speech, Jay Kennedy, director of policy and research at the Directory of Social Change, criticised the Commission's approach.
He said: "It’s now beyond obvious that the leadership of the Commission either doesn’t really understand or doesn’t accept the very law and regulation it is charged with explaining and enforcing.
"It doesn’t recognise the boundaries of the Commission’s own statutorily-defined remit and seems determined to stretch that remit in every direction possible, regardless of what charity law says."