‘Your starting point is to accept donations,’ Commission tells charities in new guidance

04 Mar 2024 News

Orlando Fraser, chair of the Charity Commission

Charity Commission

The Charity Commission has told trustees that their “starting point” is to accept donations offered to their organisations and not to let “personal motives” influence their decisions.

Published today, its guidance says trustees can decide to refuse or return a donation “where this would be in your charity’s best interests”.

It says the Commission may look into trustees’ decisions if they cannot show they acted within their powers, complied with their duties and governing document, considered relevant factors and ignored irrelevant ones, and reached a “reasonable decision in the best interests of [their] charity”.

The guidance says trustees can consider the “extent of any potential conflict between the donation and your charity’s purposes” and “your donors and other stakeholders’ views”.

But it says trustees must “not allow yours or others’ personal motives, opinions, or interests to affect your decision” to accept or refuse a donation.

It says charities must refuse some donations, such as those from illegal sources such as terrorist organisations or that come with illegal conditions.

Chair: ‘We will not generally get involved’

Commission chair Orlando Fraser said: “When charities are offered a donation, the law is clear that their starting point should be to accept unless there is very good reason not to. 

“I hope this guidance will empower trustees to feel able to make the choice that’s right for them when faced with a tough decision.

“It has been designed to offer clarity and support as they navigate what can be tricky territory.

“As a proportionate regulator, we will not generally get involved though may do so if trustees cannot evidence sound judgement and a considered process for their decision.

“Our new strategy commits to playing our part in securing greater philanthropic giving across England and Wales, and the clarity this guidance delivers is an important early contribution to that mission.”

Last year, Fraser said the Commission may intervene if trustees demonstrate “personal squeamishness” around sources of philanthropic funding.

CIoF: Guidance ‘provides clarity’

Claire Stanley, director of policy and communications at the Chartered Institute of Fundraising, said the Commission’s guidance “provides clarity and practical advice that will support trustees and fundraisers alike”.

“We are also pleased to see the Commission’s strategy confirms their commitment to encourage philanthropy,” she said.

“At a time when charity finances are under pressure, support from the regulator to cultivate a culture of giving is crucial in ensuring charities of all sizes can keep providing communities across the country with vital support during challenging economic times.

“We look forward to working with the Commission on how to achieve this and welcome opportunities to facilitate further dialogue between them and our members so collectively we can realise this shared goal.”

A blog on the Commission’s previous guidance had said: “Charities are more than just a sum of their balance sheet and services they provide to a community.

“They belong to the public, and exist for the betterment of society, so it is right that they are considering what the public, their beneficiaries and volunteers think and feel about sensitive issues when making decisions about money.”

Meanwhile, the Fundraising Regulator said it would link the Commission’s donations advice in its own guidance and new Code of Fundraising Practice.

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