Faith-based charities can sometimes place “excess trust” in individuals, but do not represent a disproportionate amount of the regulator's workload, a Charity Commission representative said yesterday.
Nick Donaldson, head of faith charities engagement, was speaking at a session titled Places of Worship in 2020: Key Governance Challenges, at Civil Society Media’s Faith Week.
Donaldson said that Commission regulated a charity sector worth £79bn from 2018 to 2019, and noted that one of the 13 charitable purposes is the advancement of religion.
Of the 169,000 charities registered with the regulator, around 35,500 state that they undertake religious activities.
Donaldson said there needs to be a strong culture around safeguarding at faith-based organisations, noting that a “small minority” have had issues in governance.
Donaldson was asked if there were any inherent aspects of religious charities that might make them vulnerable to governance risks.
He said that there is not a higher proportion of cases among these charities, but that there are “a few factors that might raise the risk”.
For example, he said, they are often volunteer-led, so might not have as much resource and professional expertise. There is also a possibility of “excess trust” being placed in individuals, because trust might be considered a key part of religious expression. This excess trust might be placed in the organisation's safeguarding or finances.
Faith-based organisations can also be very “inclusive” organisations which can mean additional safeguarding vulnerabilities, and relationships outside of the place of worship can flourish where they might not outside of other charities.
Donaldson said the passion for a cause which is “well channelled” can be immensely effective. Nonetheless, he warned that conflict at trustee level can be exacerbated by this, and result in disputes “in a small minority of cases”.
Although many charities have struggled through the pandemic, Donaldson noted that the Commission had not seen large numbers of closures from faith-based organisations, and suggested they seemed to be “resilient”. This may be because they have a very dedicated base of supporters.
'Faith is not a get out of jail free card'
David Ludlow and Gordon Reid from the charities team at Moore Barlow were speaking in another session about facing the future with confidence, where they emphasised the importance of good governance.
Reid said that good governance “needs to be at the heart of every single charity”, and reminded attendees that it is not a bureaucratic detail.
He noted that “everything must be in line with governing document” and that charities should keep day-to-day operating policies up-to-date, and review them regularly.
Reid added that trustees should take training regularly and keep up to date “because things do evolve”.
He said “flexibility” has been the “watchword” for the Charity Commission during Covid-19, but reminded attendees that everything still needs to be recorded and reviewed.
“Make sure there is no disconnect between what you do and what you say you do,” he said.
Ludlow spoke about the current challenges, which are largely Covid-19 related. He noted that the furlough scheme, which “on many levels has been very successful”, is winding down, and that when it ends “organisations are going to focus on redundancies”.
He also said that faith-based organisations have “a number of specific issues”, and stressed that employees “must overcome bias within their organisations”.
Faith is not a “get out of jail free card”, he concluded.
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