Charity Commission Strategy – a note on upholding public trust

There is much to welcome in the Charity Commission for England and Wales’ new statement of strategic intent.

Not least for its recognition of the sector as a ‘vital source for social good’ and its commitment to ‘championing charitable behaviour.’

The statement also reaffirms the Commission’s role in highlighting those rare occasions when practice falls short of the high standards that are rightly expected of the charities.

Both of these things are key.   

I believe that it is by correctly weighing and balancing these two commitments that the Commission will make most progress toward its stated aim of restoring and maintaining public trust.

I say this because, on the one hand, a robust regulator is necessary and welcomed.

But on the other, public pronouncements about poor practice need to be placed within a broader statistical context in order illuminate the reality of the vast majority of charitable activity.  

Failure to do so (which has sadly been the case in the recent past) risks stripping the figures in question of any meaningful descriptive validity.

For example, if the Commission tells us that serious incident reporting has increased by 25%, but does not highlight that this still represents complaints against less than 1% of all registered charities, then as a sector we are risking a number of unintended and perverse consequences.

Because while publicising the tiny minority of poor practice may increase public trust in the regulator’s ability to identify sub-optimal behaviour (which is certainly no bad thing) a failure to highlight comparative context may be simultaneously eroding public confidence in the 150,000+ charities to whom the critique does not apply.

One might ask then, whether this creates a vicious cycle.

Does partial reporting have a deleterious impact on public trust ... thereby increasing the need for the Commission to be seen to clamp down ... which in turn drives even more partial reporting ... which further reduces public trust ... which increases the need for the Commission to be seen to clamp down … and so on  … and so on .... 

Pleasingly, this new strategy hints at an acknowledgment of the dangers of this feedback loop.

It points toward an approach which weighs more consciously the vital role of positive story-telling and context in upholding public support.

In doing so, the Commission sets a positive tone for its ongoing engagement with the sector, one predicated on a mutual recognition on both the value of charitable activity and the attendant responsibilities that come along with it.

We at ACF look forward to continuing our positive and productive relationship with the Commission over the coming strategic period.


Keiran Goddard
Director of External Affairs, ACF

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