Kirsty Weakley takes a look at some of the issues charities can expect to be grappling with in the coming year.
Making predictions is a difficult and dangerous business, and if 2017 taught us anything it was that the unexpected can and will happen. That said, here are some things that charities should be aware of as 2018 gets underway.
High hopes for the Civil Society Strategy
Tracey Crouch, minister for civil society, announced that she would be developing a cross-departmental strategy for the sector. A proper consultation is due to kick off any day now.
The charity sector has long been calling for government to have a more joined-up approach, and is likely to engage strongly with the process, albeit with an element of scepticism.
Charities will want the new strategy to succeed but will have to doubt whether Crouch can push through meaningful change. Since the charities brief was moved from the Cabinet Office to the Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport there have been concerns that the cross cutting functions of the Office for Civil Society risked being lost. This grew when Crouch had civil society added to sport - already a big portfolio.
The government published a response to a comprehensive House of Lords report into charities just before Christmas, which could broadly be summed up as ‘thanks - we’ll consider this as part of the Civil Society Strategy’. And Crouch ruled out more funding on day one. So the sector will wait to see what meaningful change can be delivered.
New leadership at the Charity Commission
It’s fresh start for the sector’s regulator. Helen Stephenson joined as chief executive last year and a new chair is due to be appointed shortly.
Right at the end of last year, it was announced that Kenneth Dibble, currently the regulator’s legal director, will stand down from that role and join the regulator’s board. This prompted criticism from NCVO over the regulator’s own governance.
With rumours that former minister for civil society, Rob Wilson, is among the shortlisted candidates anticipation about who the next chair will be is extremely high.
Whoever they are the next chair will quickly need to address the issue of the regulator’s own funding model - particularly the thorny issue of large charities paying for the regulator.
A formal consultation on levy options has already been delayed a number of times and at the end of last year the Commission indicated it was still expecting to press ahead.
The Commission can expect stiff opposition from a number of sector bodies with concerns about the principle and the practicalities of their plans.
Deadline on GDPR looms
If you haven’t heard about General Data Protection Regulation, which is coming into force this spring, then where have you been?
All organisations processing data must comply with stricter rules to ensure that people understand what data is being collected about them, why and how it will be used.
After some high-profile charities were found to have breached existing data protection rules last year, the sector is particularly alert to the need to get this right, while some remain concerned that the new rules may make it harder to communicate with potential donors.
There is now plenty of advice and guidance available. The Information Commissioner’s Office recently released its guidance, the Institute of Fundraising has published a guide, and the Small Charities Coalition has released a toolkit aimed at small charities.
Governance and leadership initiatives
For the the charity sector 2017 was the year it woke up to the need to do more to support leaders, particularly volunteer trustees.
First we had the House of Lords Committee on Charities report. Then there was the Charity Commission’s research into trustees. Both carried a clear message that governance is vital, and that boards need to be more inclusive and diverse, and have better support.
Expect to see many initiatives to build on these recommendations in the coming months. A number of initiatives are already underway. A new Charity Governance Code has been launched, and Sir Stephen Bubb has announced plans for an institute at Oxford.
Difficult economic climate
Charities cannot ignore the impact the wider economy is likely to have. Continuing pressure on public finances is likely to be passed on to charities which rely on government contracts or grants.
At the same time fundraising charities may struggle to raise money from people as cost-of-living increases put pressure on disposable income.
Resolution to the sleep-in shift crisis?
Last year a dispute between the care sector and the government came to a very public head when the government insisted that workers who had been paid a flat rate to sleep over should have been paid at the minimum wage.
Care charities and other providers say that the government’s advice has changed and that the public sector, not the providers, should pay workers what they are owed.
This April, in the case Royal Mencap Society v Mrs C Tomlinson-Blake, an employment appeal tribunal upheld an employment tribunal ruling from August 2016 that Mencap’s sleep-in shift employee should have been entitled to the minimum wage throughout her shifts worked for the charity. The case has since been referred to a court of appeal, due to be heard in March 2018, so the dispute remains unresolved.
Enforcement action by HMRC was paused in July and the autumn the government launched a voluntary scheme, giving providers 12 months to conduct a self-review make arrangements to pay workers by 31 March 2019. This was heavily criticised by charities and unions as something of a fudge.
The rise of charity bots
Well not just bots, but the pace a scale of change in artificial intelligence, blockchain and virtual reality technologies means we’ve now reached the point where we will begin to see them having a tangible impact on charities.
From new ways to support beneficiaries, raise money, and changes in working practices, I hope we see charities getting to grips with emerging technology that is rapidly going mainstream and embracing the opportunities and facing up to the challenges this year.