Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti and Party Politics

Shami Chakrabarti’s rapid promotion by Jeremy Corbyn to be Labour’s shadow Attorney General has implications for Liberty, the human rights organisation of which she was an inspirational leader; and for charities and other independent voluntary organisations.

Chakrabarti left Liberty in March 2016. In May, when she took on the investigation into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, she announced that she had become a member of the Labour Party. Having published the report in July, she accepted Corbyn’s nomination as a Labour Peer, announced in early August, and has now in early October joined his shadow Cabinet. She was fully within her rights to take these decisions. Although I do not know her, I have no doubt that she intends to use her new position to continue her brilliant campaigning for human rights.

Nor do I believe that she was motivated by party politics throughout her time as Director of Liberty. I assume she was highly professional, independent and dedicated to the cause. She has given Governments of all shades a hard time when necessary. Knowing this in her heart, her purpose now is no doubt to bring the same independence of spirit and commitment to the special role of the (shadow) Attorney General with its independent judicial responsibilities. All these may be facts. The problem is perceptions, which are also part of reality.

For Chakrabarti did not allow much of a purdah period after stepping down from a very high profile voluntary organisation, funded by both charitable and non charitable sources, before embracing Labour. So what are the perceptions likely to be? That she was not really free of party political bias all the time. That she was all along part of a (very) left wing part of the metropolitan elite. That this is further evidence that campaigning by allegedly independent charities or other voluntary organisations is a cover for a distinctly left wing world view with strong connections to the Labour Party, frequently antagonistic to the purposes of a Conservative Government elected by the people.

We know that these perceptions matter. They result in the CAF finding that well over 60 per cent of Conservative MPs think that charities should not campaign against Government decisions. They fertilise the threats of Ministers and set the climate for lobbying bills and anti advocacy clauses. They percolate through to the Charity Commission’s appointed Board members and their repeated failures to support the advocacy role of the sector as a valuable part of public decision-making.

Such visceral party political perceptions count for a lot more than many of us professionals would like.

Message to retiring Chief Executives of high profile charities and other independent bodies out there: when deciding how soon, and how prominently, to embrace a party political role, spare a thought for public and political perceptions – of the organisation you are leaving, and of the charity and voluntary sector. Your choice matters.


Rob Wilson’s Anti Advocacy “Principle” is Phoney

Rob Wilson MP, Minister for Civil Society, has told Third Sector magazine on 15 September, on the subject of the anti advocacy clause, that: 

“The Cabinet Office has been listening and talking and looking at what to do next, and I think that the principle that taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be used to lobby for more taxpayers’ money is a very good, strong and honourable one,” he said.

Such a “principle”, however, is phoney. If it is being dusted off as a way of saving face for Cabinet Office Ministers, who have put their original, dreadfully drafted anti-advocacy clause on hold, it deserves robust challenge.

Every day of the week, taxpayers’ money funds civil servants who advocate for the interests of their Department. It is part of their job in Whitehall to lobby for more Government attention – including resources – to pressing needs in their subject areas. It may be for an area like Northern Ireland, or Wales. It may be for Defence or security against terrorism. It may be for new sources of energy, or the needs of battered women, or tackling Modern Slavery, or even, we hope, strategic investment in a flourishing civil society. It is a very good, strong and honourable principle, and time-honoured practice, that taxpayers’ money should be used in this way as part of good government. Rob Wilson’s “principle” falls apart.

It is also perfectly reasonable and common for taxpayer-funded Departments including their Ministers to press for more resources for their own Department or Division within it as part of this process for resolving competing priorities.

If it is normal and OK for the Whitehall civil servants to lobby like this, why does it suddenly become unprincipled if Government-funded charity staff make a case for better-funded services for their beneficiaries?

It may be helpful to take an example, which I have made up (although there are also such arrangements in real life).  Suppose that Government has funded a charity to provide services to help victims enjoy a better experience of the criminal justice system. Those government-funded charity staff gather in the course of their work a great deal of cumulative knowledge and experience of how the system makes life difficult for victims of crime in different ways and how it could be improved. What sensible “principle” prevents part of discussions with Government or other policy makers being about how additional resources to relevant services might transform things for the better? And why would you not want such knowledgeable frontline workers (funded by the taxpayer) to be fully involved in making the case, or even suggesting how they themselves could make things work better if they had extra resources to do it? Wilson’s phoney principle would, as he has expressed it, stop these conversations happening. Good governance would be the loser. Such examples are legion.

We have wasted enough time already on the ill fated anti-advocacy clause, erected on the flimsy edifice of an ideological polemic by the Institute for Economic Affairs, (see my blog and slipping past over-stretched civil servants and experienced Ministers who knew better. Please, Mr Wilson, do not invent phoney “principles” in order to save face. Better just to acknowledge that someone messed up big time, leave it alone as a blind alley, and move on.

As Clint Eastwood put it, “The only good anti advocacy clause is a dead one”.




Charities’ political activities: a force for good in public life

Evidence to House of Lords Select Committee on Charities

The Positive Role of Charities in Public Policy and Awareness


  1. I am Andrew Purkis, and am a Trustee of ActionAid International and Executive Director of a grant-giving charitable Trust. I spent my career in the charity sector as Assistant Director of NCVO, Director of the CPRE (Council for the Protection of Rural England), Secretary for Public Affairs to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Chief Executive of The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and later of the Tropical Health and Education Trust. I have also been the Chair of four UK charities and Trustee of two others. I submit this evidence in an individual capacity only.
  2. I have kept the focus on charities’ role in public policy, and tried to keep it brief. I shall be very happy to furnish more detail or references on request. We are talking here about political activity as defined by the Charity Commission: not only campaigning in the narrower sense but also insider lobbying, presentation of arguments and information, and media work, designed to influence legislators, Government or state administrative decisions and practice. All of that is how charities play their part in the polis. Charities’ political activity must not be party political in nature.
  3. Glancing even briefly at our history, we see that voluntary sector advocacy for what are now charitable causes has had a central role in what most people would regard as progressive social advances. The great agitations to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire, and then Slavery itself, set the template for many more agitations for justice and moral improvement in the years to come, with both religious and secular charities to the fore. To take a few examples, there were the movements for temperance and licensing of drinking; for animal welfare; for the rights of children and against the cultural presumption that parents could do whatever they liked with their children; for women’s rights; for equality for gay people; for the reform of prisons; for a dignified life for disabled people; for the proper recognition and support of carers; for protection of the environment and natural beauty, the creation of National Parks and green belts – and on and on. It is the official position of HMG, as articulated by the Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson, and of the Charity Commission, that this is a very important contribution of the charity sector to our national life – it’s just that the Government confuses this message with others (especially in trying to justify the anti-advocacy clause) and the Charity Commission Board has omitted to mention it at all for most of the last four years, preferring to focus on what they see as risks. It was very striking how negative and discouraging was the guidance of the Charity Commission for England and Wales on charities role in the debate about the EU Referendum, and how positive by comparison was their Scottish counterpart, basing guidance on the same law.
  4. Open your newspapers today. Many topical issues have been placed there wholly or in part by long term political activity by charities. Inequality. Tax avoidance. The Living Wage. The 0.7 per cent of GDP devoted to overseas aid. The housing crisis. Modern Slavery. Anxiety about global warming. The prevalence of domestic violence. Racial bias against ethnic minorities in many public services. Unaccompanied children stuck in Calais. Environmental consequences, and the impact on developing countries, of current subsidies to farmers. The slaughter of raptors by game keepers on grouse moors. Currently, therefore, as well as historically, it is ill-informed to seek to confine the role of charities to practical work and ignore the enormous contribution of charities’ political activity to advancing charitable causes. Virtually every civil servant working on policy and every experienced Minister, every staff member of the Charity Commission and its Chair, and surely every active member of the House of Lords, know perfectly well that this is so. Perhaps some inexperienced SPADS do not.
  5. What is it that charities bring to the process of policy making, historically and today? Here’s a rough list:
  • Bringing the voice and interests of excluded people or minorities into the policy arena, urging a place for them and making the powerful listen
  • Bringing the knowledge, experience and realities of life of users to bear on policy makers who might otherwise be ignorant of them
  • Adding to the strength of a diverse value base for public policy, and complementing or challenging the dominance of commercial or statist perspectives
  • Bringing concentrated knowledge and expertise on behalf of charitable causes to counter the lobby groups of the self-interested and powerful
  • Breaking open the “group think” that can characterise Government or commercial elites, as demonstrated in the study by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe of great blunders of British policy-making
  • Acting as a training ground for participation in public life, as in the case of so many women learning confidence and participation in the Women’s Institutes, or as more recently demonstrated for example in the work of Elsdon and his colleagues from Nottingham.
  1. I believe such contributions are demonstrable and unromanticised. But it is important to recognise the limitations also. Charities have legitimacy, but it is not the same kind of legitimacy as elected representatives of the people. Each charity focuses on its own cause, so someone else has to strike the necessary balance between competing causes, and make arduous compromises that charities may not have to make. Different charities quite often differ from or contradict each other. It’s the IEA as well as Friends of the Earth and ASH, it’s the Countryside Alliance as well as the RSPCA. How could it be otherwise, since the sector is so diverse? Some charities can have their own group think, too. So it is a good thing that public policy is not left to charities alone, but it is nevertheless a core part of the role of many charities to make the polis a more inclusive, better informed and more generously motivated place than it would otherwise be, and in that way to be a force for good in public policy.
  2. From the point of view of charities, there are major reasons why, if they stuck to practical work and service delivery alone, many of them would feel they were not benefitting their cause as effectively as they could:
  • Because excluded or marginalised people cannot obtain their rights without entering and influencing the polis
  • Because external attitudes or events threaten your objects or your beneficiaries, so you have to respond by enlisting the support of the wider public, of state agencies or Parliament itself
  • Because current laws or state practices are often part of the problem for your beneficiaries, and if you are going to do more than scratch the surface you have to try to change them, particularly because the political class may not even understand what the problems are unless you tell them
  • Because sometimes the safety and security of vulnerable communities or people can only be won by the deliberate collective decisions of society, not by practical projects alone. To which we might add, the safety and security of all of us in the age of global warming.
  1. When Trustees are reviewing the effectiveness of their charity, they should therefore ask themselves whether they have the balance right between practical work and influencing others, in order to have the best long term impact. In all the cases cited earlier in this evidence, and many others, effective pursuit of charitable objects involves political activity.
  2. Against this background, it is regrettable that there have been efforts to curtail or discourage political activity by charities in the last few years. This effort has characterised some Conservative Ministers and MPs and the publicly appointed members of the Charity Commission. I am happy to give chapter and verse if requested. The conclusion from this evidence is that political activity in pursuit of charitable objectives is not only a right, more or less grudgingly acknowledged, but a public good. The political activity of charities is a positive gift to the polis. Without the contribution of civil society, the Man in Whitehall does not necessarily know best. The Minister and the elected representatives of the people do not necessarily know best. The SPAD certainly does not know best. They – and society collectively – need the diverse, sometimes even conflicting experience, knowledge, values and passion of the charity sector to be part of the collective decision making process, if society is to progress and public policy to be as inclusive and sound as it can be.





Andrew Purkis,

September 2016.


Should “Philanthropy” belong to the Rich?

In the UK, “Philanthropy” is now commonly used to refer to charitable giving by very rich individuals.

It originally meant love of humanity, particularly as expressed in practical ways. In North America, the word is still used to refer to the whole field of charitable endeavour, not just giving by the rich. And even in the UK the adjective philanthropic is sometimes used in a broader sense roughly synonymous with “charitable”, as in “philanthropic organisations” or “philanthropic endeavours”. But when people talk in the UK about philanthropy or a philanthropist, they will ususally have in mind the Rowntrees, the Carnegies, the Cadbury’s and their modern wealthy successors. They will be excluding the giving of time and excluding the massed ranks of donors to charity.

For example, the Charities Aid Foundation “Future of Philanthropy” series of publications “looks at the attitudes to giving of 5,795 wealthy individuals worldwide – making it the largest ever survey into global philanthropic attitudes”. And when Rhodri Davies of CAF produced his very interesting historical survey “Public Good by Private Means – How Philanthropy Shapes Britain” last year he omitted altogether, for example, the very important rise of collective philanthropy by millions of people filling in their direct debits – since philanthropy is seen as the domain of the wealthy individual. Sensing that this is how the word will be understood, New Philanthropy Capital goes out of its way on its website to state that although it began life primarily focused on wealthy donors, it now serves a wide variety of funders, charities and social enterprises, shaking off the more restrictive connotations of the P word. Others such as “The Centre for Philanthropy and Charity Giving” get round the issue by yoking philanthropy and charity giving firmly together and avoiding the need to explain the difference between them.

A case can be made for the UK usage of philanthropy as the domain of wealthy individuals (with the twist that what were once individual philanthropic bequests are now often run as Foundations by not-so-wealthy voluntary sector professionals). It is very difficult to raise the overall level of charitable giving in the UK, and increasingly difficult and expensive to recruit large numbers of new donors. For some kinds of large project – a new university building, a church with a small congregation needing refurbishment – raising the money from lots of small donors is not an option. In many circumstances, a good deployment of finite fundraising effort may include trying to get more out of very wealthy individuals, especially in an era of increasing inequality and strapped public sector budgets. A small industry of personal bankers, advisers and specialist fundraisers feeds off the philanthropy of the wealthy, and those cultivating rich individuals have a different job from those of mass marketeers. They need a language to define their area of operations, and “philanthropy” suits them. More important, the warm glow of the P word, with its associations of love for humankind and centuries of admiration for famously generous individuals, is an attractive magnet for today’s wealthy individuals. If they give on the grand scale, they will be rewarded with the cachet of a fine historical tradition, the special status and respect due to the philanthropist. For all these reasons, why should we not just go with the UK usage of philanthropy as generous giving of money by the wealthy?

If we do, we should be aware of possible downsides.

One is that it can lead to some confusion and imprecision if the word is used in different ways on different sides of the Atlantic, and even on this side of the Atlantic; and when there is no clear definition of where generous donations end and philanthropy begins. Still, a sector permanently accustomed to imprecision over the meaning of “charity”,”civil society”, “voluntary sector”, “third sector” and the like can certainly live with one more vague word.

More significant, we are withholding the warm cachet of philanthropy from all those who are not wealthy individuals. Volunteering is excluded. Really big bucks get you into the Pantheon, but not the proportionately larger share of income given by poorer donors. Perhaps charities particularly concerned with the struggle to eliminate poverty, and the injustices associated with growing inequality, will not be the only ones slightly uncomfortable with the appropriation of the P word to entice, cajole and reward the most wealthy?

Do we want to edge equally or more significant aspects of charitable giving out of the philanthropic limelight? Collective philanthropy may be even greater in scale than the rich individual variety. As a rough proxy for much giving by wealthy philanthropists, dead and alive, UK Charitable Trusts and Foundations give out approximately £3 billion per year, a figure inflated by the monster £950 million of spending on charitable activities by The Wellcome Trust. By comparison, according to the NCVO Almanack, donors giving £100 or more per month in 2011/12 contributed £3.7 billion (still about £3 billion if donations of over £1 million are excluded)  and those giving between £25 and £100 per month contributed £3.53 billion (out of a total of £9.3 billion of charity giving that year). The proportion of households making donations in a planned and “pre-committed” way such as direct debits and standing orders rose from 36 per cent in 1983 to 63 per cent in 2008. The share of total donations made in this pre-committed or planned way reached 46 per cent in 2008. Most of this massive, purposeful giving is largely excluded from the narrower definition of philanthropy as a matter for wealthy individuals. The leaving of legacies by those who are not very wealthy is also excluded: £2.2 billion is left to charities in wills every year, at an average value of £18,000.

It is not just the scale, but the type, of giving that counts. The collective philanthropy of many non-wealthy donors can provide a more reliable core of income on which charities can build long term plans. It is usually more constant and faithful than the giving of an individual philanthropist or Trust, and with fewer strings attached. Independence and legitimacy can be enhanced by abundant numbers of supporters. With these features, it has changed the face of the charity sector, of much service delivery  and even of politics since the 1970s.

For example, the cumulative voluntary income of international aid and development charities in the top 500 charities rose from under £100 million in 1976 to £1.3 billion in 2008. The voluntary income of medical and health charities rose from £300 million to £1.4 billion in the same period. The income of today’s 9 leading environmental and conservation groups rose from just over £1 million in 1980 to over £600 million by 2005, while membership of environmental organisations went up from about 750,000 in 1971 to 7 million by 2008. There are many other examples in different subject areas. The salient factor in all this has been the explosion of typically comfortably off, but not rich, people making a conscious commitment to support such organisations regularly as a way of loving humankind and influencing the world around them for the better – a manifestation of philanthropy in the original meaning of the word.

Matthew Hilton and his colleagues from Birmingham University have some fascinating insights into this phenomenon in books such as “The Politics of Expertise” (Oxford, 2013). They suggest that “Individually, citizens have increasingly come to place their trust in bodies of experts better positioned than themselves to make cases based on their values, interests and beliefs.” They have delegated this task to expert NGOs as their “agents”, pitting “their” experts representing their values and concerns against those of other kinds of lobbies and interests. “Members of the public”, they conclude, “have also personalised and privatized politics and acknowledged too that their everyday concerns are better articulated by those with the resources to understand them comprehensively. This is neither depoliticization or re-politicization. It is, instead, the transformation of politics and the re-orientation of state-society relations in an era of technocratic expertise.” This collective philanthropy – where I choose to ally myself with many other supporters of a charity with whose aims I associate myself – has helped transform the agenda of public debate and political action, and diversified participation and inclusion in our democratic life as well as our delivery of services. Should not this kind of transformative change –  and there are other examples in the wider field of charitable giving of time and money – be part of the history of philanthropy, alongside what rich individuals have done?

So next time you read or hear a reference to “philanthropy”, ask yourself if what is meant is the individual giving of the rich, or the broader North American meaning; and, if it is the former, remember how much volunteering and collective philanthropy, as a transformative expression of love for humanity, is being excluded from the warm glow of the P word.

Paying Trustees: Is NPC Thinking Straight?

New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) have published a report (“It Starts from the Top”) about how to improve charity governance. The two most eye-catching recommendations are that it should be easier for Trustees to be paid, and that it should be up to each charity to decide if paid staff should be members of the Board alongside volunteers. They suggest that the requirements of SORP should be extended to include mandatory reporting of key governance activities like Board evaluation and Trustee appraisals, and also mandatory reporting on impact. Are they thinking straight?

It is a punchy discussion paper with some good ideas to debate. I particularly liked the emphasis on Boards not getting preoccupied with avoiding trouble, and having a positive hunger to improve impact. This is timely in the context of much finger-wagging aimed at Trustees. Other welcome suggestions are that Boards should fish in non-traditional ponds for diverse new recruits, and that employers should be encouraged to permit more employee volunteering, regarding being a Trustee as good for development of their staff’s skills, experience and confidence. We can all applaud the idea of more awards recognising good contributions to governance and the wider access to good practice, using new technology more creatively. So far, so good.

NPC are also careful to say that their suggestions are for discussion, that their more ambitious proposals might be piloted and evaluated before wider implementation, and that they are sensitive to the problem of appearing to add disproportionate burdens to smaller charities. They stress rightly that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to improving governance in such a large, diverse sector.

The eye-catching recommendations, however, are poorly supported and skimpily argued, despite the fact that NPC is fully aware that they are controversial.  Making it easier to pay Trustees would have had no impact on the recent controversies that are referenced at the start and end of the report. The rationale used is that it would increase diversity, thereby improving impact in the longer run. They do not produce research or evidence to back up this claim. They say that such payments must not be made to wealthy Trustees, but without defining a limit or considering the pitfalls of means-testing. They do not explore the potential and limits of what can be done to improve diversity without paying Trustees.

More seriously, they do not acknowledge the key arguments against more widespread payment of Trustees, so their presentation of the issue is unbalanced. The key argument is that paying Trustees will, cumulatively and over time, destroy the public (including donor) perception that charity trustees are in it for the public benefit and not for their own gain;  and that volunteer effort, freely given for love, is the animating force of charity: therefore, paying Trustees should be exceptional. NPC say that such decisions should be left to the individual charity, but this misses the point about the cumulative and collective consequences for the sector. At a time when public trust and confidence is under some threat from media attacks, it seems odd to omit this consideration altogether. Is it possible that a one-eyed pre-occupation with “driving impact” has obscured it from NPC’s view?

Next up is the suggestion that some paid staff should more often be Board members, with each charity deciding for itself. The advantage is summarised thus: “as with commercial companies, it ties key people into the governance of the organisation, meaning that they become party to major decisions and share responsibility for success with the Board”. I must say that I am unaware of a significant problem of cases where the Chief Executive of a charity is not party to major decisions and does not share (or indeed feel principal) responsibility for its success or failure. Is there evidence that such cases are at all common? The argument against is summarised as making it easier for Boards to dislodge an inadequate CEO, but that is not the main argument. The main argument is the same one NPC missed before, namely that Trustees should in general be seen to be acting without personal financial gain, and this is messed up if paid staff become Trustees too. Perceptions and possibly actual decisions are also affected if Trustees deciding the budget for pay and working conditions include key beneficiaries from such policies. Think of the larger Housing Associations, the least recognisable as charities: is this what NPC is edging towards for the future of the wider sector?

The suggestion that charities should have to report on such governance activities as Board evaluation, Trustee appraisal, role descriptions of Trustees and induction of new Trustees is an interesting one to ventilate. This is certainly good practice for the kind of model Board that NPC has in mind, driving for impact. But should it be a general requirement, supposing the Charity Commission ever had the resources to monitor and police it effectively? NPC have themselves done work recently showing that one in five charities include the advancement of religion in their objects – a huge part of the sector. Do they expect the average Parochial Church Council or equivalents in other denominations and faiths to be compulsorily reporting on these governance activities as part of “driving for impact”? And for how many modest or local charities would such concepts be operable? The volunteer Trustee ethos may rear its head yet again here: more sophisticated, larger organisations and volunteers may feel no qualms about performance appraisals, role descriptions and the like for their volunteer Trustees, but many others will no doubt feel them to be uncomfortable or inappropriate? Where would NPC draw the line on compulsory reporting?

Compulsory reporting on impact via SORP is also interesting but problematical. There is already a requirement to report on public benefit. If the Charity Commission were ever to have the resources, would it not be more productive to beef up the requirements for public benefit reporting rather than load more issues into SORP? And which charities do not, in their Annual Reports, and other reports to the regulator, report on impact, however imperfectly? Selecting compulsory measures of impact on which charities must report would be the devil of a job, because there are so many different kinds of measures, of variable relevance depending on the nature of a charity’s objectives and chosen strategies. And again we come back to the point that the Charity Commission is skint.

OK, a concise discussion document has its place. It is stimulating to be  provoked. There are some good ideas in the mix. On the other hand, the more far-reaching and contentious the proposal, the more it deserves a degree of careful exploration and argumentation. That is missing here. Perhaps NPC’s next contribution on the subject will be equally bold but less skimpy?




Public Trust in Charities? Let’s not play the hypochondriac with a dodgy thermometer.

Make no mistake:  public trust and confidence in charities matter. They enjoy privileged status, including over £5 billion in tax relief in England and Wales in the year to March 2016. From the public come our donors and volunteers. As many sensible people have warned, that cannot be taken for granted.

On the other hand, perhaps the fact that we are so frightened of losing that trust sometimes causes us to become unhinged when trying to test it and talk about it.

The public is enormous and amorphous, so it is extraordinarily difficult to pronounce reliably on the state of mind of such a diverse mass, especially on the basis of a sample of 1000 plus deeper exploration in tiny focus groups. We have all learned from the General Election how the most sophisticated pollsters can get it wrong.

I enter the caveat that I am not a statistician, understand little about statistical methods and know nothing about how different statistical bodies are authenticated. So if there were a sample of 1000 or so people a bit like me in those respects, findings about a shift in our trust in statistics or our opinions about how well statistical bodies are regulated would not be worth very much. And at least I know what the word “statistic” means.

Not so with trust and confidence in charities. Many members of the public do not know what a charity is. For example, one in five of all charities includes the advancement of religion as its charitable objective, but how many of the public know that churches and  other religious bodies are charities when they reply? How many are thinking about universities, or academy schools, or arts and sports organisations? If they don’t know what is included in the charity sector, on what are they basing their views on whether to trust it? A small number of household names described as charities which they have seen in advertisements or read about in the newspapers?

It is a consistent finding that, in general, those who are close to charities and know them from personal experience are substantially more likely to express trust and confidence than those who do not, so part of the findings about trust and confidence ( not all) is a measure of how ignorant the respondents are about what charities actually are and do.

There is a striking example in the  latest research by Populus for the Charity Commission, published in June 2016. Unaided,  only 32 per cent of the sample said that they or their close families or friends had ever benefited from or used the services of a charity. But when a short list of typical charities and charitable services was provided, the percentage rose to 94 per cent! That is a gaping knowledge deficit, affecting our interpretation of expressions of trust and confidence based on such a sample. Over half of the Populus sample agreed that they knew very little about how charities are run and managed, so their views on how ethical, effective or trustworthy charities are must be seen in that light. Three quarters of the sample told Populus that they were more likely to trust a charity if they had heard of it. Well, yes. So what does it  actually mean when a minority one third of the sample say their confidence in charities has declined when many of them don’t know what a charity is and may not have heard of more than a handful of charities (as they understand them to be) at all? And, in most cases, vastly underestimate the real number and contribution of local charities?

Now note that in the Commission’s 2014 research the figure equivalent to that 32 per cent (those thinking they or their friends had been affected in some way by a charity) was 40 per cent. So that means that the number of the public in 2016 saying that they or anyone they know had ever received any benefit from a charity tumbled by 8 per cent in two years. But wait a minute, the figure in 2012 was 34 per cent, so the level of perception of charitable activity rose by 6 per cent in 2014, then fell by 8 per cent in 2016?   Is it not likely that our thermometer is subject to a significant  margin of meaningless fluctuation?

The same suspicion arises when we consider the nfpSynergy monitoring of public trust and confidence since 2003. Noting an apparently puzzling drop from 66 per cent in 2013 to 56 per cent in 2014,  Joy Dobbs who did a judicious overview of such research for NCVO pointed out that there had been “a number of fluctuations in this measure of levels of trust since it was first collected”. On 26 August 2015 Third Sector carried the alarming news that “Public trust in charities is at lowest level since 2007” at 53 per cent, using nfpSynergy data collected before the Olive Cooke affair. Confusingly, on 6 July 2016, after the Olive Cooke affair, and just after the Charity Commission published its 2016 research suggesting a significant fall in trust and confidence, Third Sector carried the cheering news that according to nfpSynergy public trust was returning.  55 per cent of people trusted charities quite a lot or a great deal, compared with 48 per cent 6 months’ before, and in the 55 to 64 age group confidence had shot up by 16 per cent! The worst ever result had been 2007, when trust and confidence tanked at 42 per cent. (Crickey, what on earth was going on in 2007?) But it rose to an all time high of 70 per cent in January 2010.

I attribute this result to my period of office as a Board Member of the Charity Commission, which I left in 2010, after which confidence has never been the same again.

Only joking. Seriously, though, I am a great admirer of much of the work of nfpSynergy and its thought provoking insights on many different subjects, and I do not have their statistical expertise, but is this thermometer reliable enough?

And when OSCR produced similar figures for Scotland showing trust and confidence at only 61 per cent in 2011, 68 per cent in 2014 and 64 per cent in 2016, three points ahead of 2011 despite the UK media stories, should we be racking our brains trying to explain why things were worse in 2011, and what improvements can explain the rise in 2014, or is it the thermometer challenge again?

Let us return to what is regarded as the authoritative Populus research for the Charity Commission with which I began. We already noted a suspiciously hard-to-explain tumble in numbers reporting that they had been helped by or used a charity. I don’t myself take seriously the reported 5 per cent fall since 2014 in members of the public who had heard of the Charity Commission. Nor, when only 50 per cent of the sample had even heard of the Charity Commission, and over half admit they know nothing about the running or operation of charities, can one place much weight on the finding that 60 per cent of the sample believe that charities are well regulated. When they are asked which charities they trust the most, and the least, it is notable that some of the same big names come up in a slightly different order on both lists. Why? Surely because there is such a small pool of charities that many people have heard of (and know are charities) at all.

Despite all these thermometer problems, one must give the benefit of the doubt to the core finding that the measure of public trust and confidence that had remained stable for some years at 6.7 fell to 5.7 in 2016, even though the measure for other sectors remained stable. Note that 67 per cent of the sample said that their trust and confidence had remained the same (or, for 6 per cent,  increased), but 33 per cent, or 359 individuals, said it had decreased. Of that minority of 359, 65 per cent (some 236 people) attributed their decreased trust and confidence to hostile media stories about charities or how charities spend their money. 21 per cent of the minority, ie 75 people (out of a total 1089), said their trust had decreased because they don’t trust charities (sic) or, slightly more meaningfully, that they didn’t know what they did with their money, while a further 18 per cent of the minority (64 people) blamed pressurizing fundraising techniques, which again may often have been picked up from or reinforced by media stories. A fair summary seems to be that a one third minority of the sample, many of whom know little about charities or what they are, have principally remembered and been troubled by.hostile stories in the media, whilst the overall trust and confidence of the two thirds majority, who tend on average to know more about charities, was apparently unaffected, even though they may have been equally troubled by media coverage of particular cases.

It has been argued that the media stories were reflecting what people were thinking about charities anyway, but in that case I am not entirely clear why previous trust and confidence measures were higher.

There have been important, realistic recommendations on the way ahead by the likes of Karl Wilding of the NCVO, Sarah Atkinson of the Charity Commission, and Joe Saxton of nfpSynergy, sometimes in the context of such published research  (even if the research itself is uneven). Good. We should all put our backs into the excellent efforts being made to improve the performance and governance of the sector, to explain what charities actually are and communicate their messages better. Let us do it above all for the long term good of our beneficiaries, for the inherent importance of transparency, accountability, respect for donors as human beings (not ATM machines), and a responsible awareness that we enjoy great privileges because of a long term implied bargain of mutual benefit between the sector and the public.  But that does not require putting unrealistic weight on fluctuating thermometer readings of what “the public” is thinking.



Party of Government or Social Movement? Labour must decide

(Letter published in The Guardian, 31 July 2016)

Owen Jones believes that there is a “false dichotomy” between Labour as a social movement and as a party of government (Mass membership alone doesn’t make a social movement, 28 July). But there are stubborn differences.

Social movements – for example the feminist movement, or the environmental movement, or youth movements, or movements of LGBT people – usually have ambitions which are not limited to any one political party and seek supporters from all parties and none. Why would one want credit unions, or food banks, or tenants’ movements (all instances cited by Jones) to be party political in their identity rather than working across party lines?

Moreover, social movements, like the “campaigning organisations” which Jeremy Corbyn uses as a description of his party, are responsible to their own members alone and may take decades to secure their goals (if they ever do), as different governments come and go. By contrast, a party of government must show that it can govern on behalf of the whole people, not just its own members, and can make the necessary arduous compromises that every government must make in order to reconcile competing interests and views. It therefore requires skills and temperaments that are different from social movements’, and cannot afford to wait for many years and decades in the wilderness as social movements may do.

Jeremy Corbyn is undoubtedly a fine supporter of social movements, on picket lines and at evening meetings and demonstrations for decades, never erring from the movements’ goals, enduring in the wilderness, rarely deflected by other people’s views and interests. The question is whether he can also be an effective leader of a party of government, with its very different requirements.
Andrew Purkis

Pope on Politics and Charity

Pope Francis has said that “The Church must get involved in greater politics, because – and I quote Paul VI – politics is one of the highest forms of charity”.

This constitutes an authoritative affirmation that political activity is a not just legitimate but exalted part of charity. It is part and parcel of finding effective ways of expressing love of each and every neighbour (caritas) and of humanity.

The Pope was speaking at a Judges’ Summit on Human Trafficking and Organized Crime on Friday 3rd June 2016. He said that forced labour, prostitution, organ trafficking, and other modern forms of slavery must be seen by all regious and political leaders as “real crimes against humanity”.

This was an area where the Church should do more poltitics, not less, the Pope said.

The Church was fortunate to have allies in this fight at the UN, he said, and the unanimous ratification of the new Sustainable Development Goals – which included the target of eradicating slavery and trafficking – meant that every country had the “moral imperative” of joining the fight.

The Pope urged his audience of Judges to return to their home countries to raise awareness of slavery, use their powers to rescue slaves, and prosecute slavemasters. To achieve this, they must be careful to hold on to their freedom from governments and organised crime, he warned. (SOURCE: Church Times, 10 June 2016).

This is a very significant statement, not only about the scourge of modern forms of slavery, but about the nature of charity. It puts into perspective the sentiments of part of the UK’s political class that are hostile to charitable advocacy and recent statements from the Cabinet Office describing charitable lobbying as the antithesis of good causes.


Helping Trustees to Oversee Fundraising

The Charity Commission’s new guidance to Trustees on oversight of fundraising from the public, CC20, is, on a first reading, a helpful, sensible document – but if you read it by itself it is lopsided. I write from the perspective that the key audience is larger charities with staff including fundraising Departments.

It is useful above all because it empowers Trustees to engage with their staff on how fundraising methods can affect the reputation and long term success of the charity. The Charity Commission says that Trustees ought to be asking questions and establishing the correct Codes and processes of reporting and monitoring in line with that particular charity’s values. This will help overcome anxieties that perhaps such questioning might be seen as crossing the line between the governance role of Trustees and the management role of staff. And this time, the relevant issues have been identified through conscientious consultation of the sector and others. So the contents are not confined to the legal position: for example, Trustees are warned not to become “over involved” in fundraising operations.

Similarly, the guidance encourages Trustees and fundraisers to talk to each other and other staff about how to integrate fundraising operations in the wider ethos and strategic purposes of the charity. This is vital, because the professional separateness of the fundraisers can be a major obstacle to such integration. This separateness is not necessarily mitigated by appointing a Board member or two who think their job is to understand and bat for fundraising while other members concentrate on mission and policy. The fundraising teams need to feel that the whole Board owns and backs the fundraising effort as part of the mission, not that half or more of them hold their noses or start yawning when fundraising is on the agenda.

When Ken Burnett was Chair of ActionAid, he arranged for three empty chairs to be prominent at every Board meeting. They were for core constituents who were not physically present but who should constantly be borne in mind as if they were. One represented the movements and communities of dispossed and marginalised people who drive ActionAid’s mission. A second was for the staff of the charity spread across the globe. And the third was for the donors, on whose commitment the whole organisation relied. This was typical of his view that our donor relationships are crucial, to be cared for, respected and nourished. Donors are not ATM machines, purely instruments of the charity’s wider purposes. That is the kind of issue that every good charity needs to debate and discuss as a core part of its strategy processes.CC20 is right to state that fundraisers must know what is expected of them, in terms of method and ethos as well as the amount to be raised.

Just as diplomats try to prevent the last war rather than the one coming along the tracks, however, so CC20 focuses primarily on the sort of issues that have caught the headlines over the last year or so: the aggressive practices of contracted agencies, the high costs extracted by some professional fundraising bodies and direct mail firms, the damage caused by disproportionate fundraising investment in relation to returns, issues of unjustifiable individual gain and tax avoidance. And a good thing too. But a wider, real life context is missing. When Trustees are considering their responsibilities in relation to fundraising strategy, they must think about the crucial independence that substantial funding from the public underpins. They must think about what sort of funding is unrestricted, and available for flexible and core purposes, as opposed to restricted. They must consider whether alternative funding is available from the state or corporate sectors or grant-giving trusts, or not. Unlike the Trustees of Kids’ Company, they must attend constantly to long term solvency, to risk of sudden contraction, to a sustainable balance of funding. The appropriate targets and risk management for different kinds of fundraising from the public have to be integrated with these weighty responsibilities, on which the Commission is so insistent in other contexts. There is virtually no mention of them in CC20.

Moreover, the blog accompanying the new guidance is entitled “How trustees can restore donor trust”. There is evident fondness for the formulation that “the buck stops with you (the Trustee)”. Overall, yes, in the sense that a Secretary of State is formally responsible for poor operational practice in a large Government Department. In reality, though, where all operational and management responsibilities are delegated, as in virtually all large charities, the buck for management and operational failures stops with the Chief Executive or relevant Department Head, and sometimes they have to be dismissed – by the Chief Executive or in the case of the Chief Executive, by the Board. Many of the failures of the last few years were principally failures of delegated management. Others were failures of regulation, because Trustees and staff, focused on the mission of their particular charity, need a robust framework of rules and enforcement by the regulator. The buck stops with them, too. After all, it is the regulators, not Trustees of individual charities, that are principally responsible for the cumulative and collective effects of particular fundraising practices on the public and on the reputation of the sector as a whole. And it is precisely because the reasons for trying to grow and maintain funding from the public are often so compelling that the regulatory framework needs to be so strong. Helpful as the guidance of CC20 is, it is unrealistic to expect the Trustees of individual charities to take too much of the strain.

Nor let us forget that Trustees, unlike CC20, cannot afford to look at the risks of fundraising in isolation from all the other risks on the risk register. Often, it will be other sorts of risk that are rightly the priority for Board attention. There are plenty of them. The key is to integrate fundraising risks that may have received inadequate attention in the big picture of Trustee responsibilities, not displace all the others.

Let us recognise also that while Trustees and staff of large charities certainly do need to restore donor trust where it has taken a knock (though Mark Flannagan, CEO of Beating Bowel Cancer cautioned on 7 June at an Association of Chairs gathering that there is not much evidence of a big dent in donations despite the furore in the media), the trust between Trustees and staff may need to be restored, the trust between fundraisers and other parts of the charity may need to be restored, and of course the trust between the regulator and both the public/Parliament and the sector needs to be restored.

Trustees have a major responsibility to play their part, assisted by CC20, but in a context where others also have key responsibilities, not in a lopsided, legalistic world where it is all down to them.Trustees should be encouraged to focus on what only Trustees can do.  If there is no realistic, balanced attribution of responsibility, many people who would make very good Trustees may decide over time to spend more time with their families.


Salute to the Irrepressible Bubb

Sir Stephen Bubb has just announced he will shortly step down as Chief Executive of ACEVO, the Association of Charity Chief Executives, after 15 years. He is not retiring and will head up an important project, but he will not be a key sector leader in the same way. My main feeling, slightly unexpected, is that I shall miss him. A lot of others in the sector will, too. Why?

I don’t know Steve well, but we have had very infrequent, amicable dealings for roughly 30 years. I have always found him warm, energetic, with a zest for life and for what he is doing, and he laughs a lot. That’s part of it.

He hurls himself into projects and opportunities heart and soul. That has a downside. He doesn’t often do nuance. He doesn’t do intellectually fastidious detachment from the enthusiasms of the sector: he embodies them. I think he was sometimes uncritically, perhaps dangerously, enthusiastic about the potential of charities as contractors to deliver public services, whereas NCVO had a more balanced view of the pros and cons. Did he encourage some politicians in their essentially instrumental view of the sector as a service provider? He was sometimes aggressively defiant in the face of criticisms of charities, when others felt it would be wiser to admit faults and the need to do better. Many is the time when those with the best interests of the sector at heart have rolled their eyeballs and shaken their heads at the next Bubb “naif” or “simplistic” public statement. The noise of teeth grinding in Government circles, in the Charity Commission, the NCVO and worldly wise politicians has been almost audible over the years – sometimes with good reason from their perspective.

But the uncomplicated nature of his commitment also has a massive upside, in tune with the unfastidious enthusiasm of many charities themselves. That is why he has been such a popular leader for so many ACEVO members. That is also why he built up ACEVO into a much more potent organisation than it used to be before his arrival. If anyone thought Steve’s strong advocacy of the sector’s service delivery role meant that he took an instrumental view of their purpose, they should be disabused when they heard his sometimes lone voice protesting passionately against any attack on charities’ right to campaign. And his vociferous, lone contributions to debate cannot be seen in isolation. There were plenty of charity people willing to apologise and commit to change: perhaps his defiant defensiveness was a useful foil and additional element in the chemistry?

For example, when Eric Pickles first launched the noxious anti-advocacy clause relating to his Department’s grants, NCVO chose the inside track and worked hard behind the scenes to challenge the move. Steve went public and denounced Pickles in immoderate language on the front page of The Times. The usual tut-tutting ensued from the worldly wise. But in hindsight I am grateful to Steve for his demarche. It complemented the inside track taken by others. It signalled to the sector itself and to wider public opinion that this was not something to be taken lying down, that a key sector leader was willing to denounce it publicly, loudly.  Sometimes you need both approaches. When the inside track did not work, the NCVO lion is now roaring as loudly as ACEVO.

Like most formidable leaders, there is more to Steve than you might assume. When I was working for the Archbishop of Canterbury, he turned up with, of all people, the Anglican Bishop of Rangoon in Burma, with whom he had a significant contact. Steve is intuitively closer to the huge religious part of our sector than some other sector leaders. Was this part of his motivation in getting so close, and so supportively, to many Muslim charities in recent years, and helping to give them voice?

Bubb is a lovely name, with apt associations with bubbles. Steve Bubb is forever coming up with bubbling ideas for future initiatives. Kick him in the teeth: he comes back with more. And our sector is reliant on that sort of indomitable, bubbling energy. If you condemn, tut-tut, poor cold water, he just bubbles back as before. Like bubbles, like the charity sector itself, whatever the rough edges and lack of nuance or political calculation, he is irrepressible. That, above all, is why we are going to miss him as one of the sector’s leaders.