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NCVO accuses Commission chair of presenting a ‘partial’ message about charities

17 Jun 2019 News

NCVO’s chief executive has written the Charity Commission with concerns about its “direction of travel”, after the regulator’s chair wrote an opinion article in the Times that accused charities of not meeting public expectations. 

Following the publication of the Commission’s inquiry report into Oxfam last week, Baroness Stowell wrote in the Times: “In the eyes of the public, charity is about the highest standards of behaviour and attitude. It’s about how a charity pursues its mission, as well as about effective operations.

“Many involved in charity understand this. But over recent years, we’ve seen charities losing sight of what they stand for in pursuit of organisational advantage. We’ve seen charities engage in pressure-tactic fundraising, supposedly justified by the money that raises for the cause. We’ve seen charities that should be working together instead competing for scarce resources. And we’ve seen charities putting their reputations before their purposes in responding to failings.

Sir Stuart Etherington responded on the Times’ letter page over the weekend, saying: “Charities have been far from complacent. Many are strengthening safeguarding practices to provide a safe place for their staff, volunteers and beneficiaries. And charities have created a fundraising regulator to deal with concerns.” 

‘Partial message’ 

In a letter to Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission, Etherington says: “I am concerned that the message coming from the Commission is only a partial one. While claiming that it wants charity to thrive and inspire trust, it is only talking about how ‘charity’ has failed. 

“Of course we want charities to learn from the mistakes of others, but these broad generalisations are far from helpful. Indeed, there is a real risk that they will achieve the opposite effect: they entrench public misconceptions and erode the public’s trust.”

Stowell’s piece in the Times was the latest in a series of speeches made by its chair on the subject of public trust and the need for higher standards across the sector. 

Etherington says this has created concern among his members. 

“I am consistently hearing from my members that they are concerned about the Commission’s direction of travel, and its public messaging about charities,” he says. 

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