The Daily Telegraph, charities and the EU referendum

Today’s Daily Telegraph front page reports that the Charity Commission is ‘cracking down’ on charities that are campaigning for an ‘in’ vote at the coming EU referendum. It makes the accusation that ‘donors are infuriated’. And it suggests that in order to ensure that charities operate in the interests of others, we need a register of their financial interests.

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Really? Anyone reading the Telegraph’s front page, or its editorial, might wish to bear the following in mind:

  1. The Charity Commission isn’t ‘cracking down’. It is not issuing a warning, as the website said earlier today. It is issuing guidance (guidance that NCVO and others have been asking it to issue for some time…). And it is guidance for charities that are in favour of both ‘in’ and ‘out’.
  2. The Charity Commission’s guidance is problematic. It sets the wrong tone, and will no doubt encourage charities to self-censor when they have an important contribution to make to the debate. To read more, read this blog post today published by NCVO’s policy manager, Elizabeth Chamberlain.
  3. There is no evidence, at all, that ‘donors are infuriated’. This is simply the opinion of one person, Gina Miller, a ‘transparency campaigner’ running the True and Fair Foundation, whose previous ‘research’ has been thoroughly discredited (here, here, hereherehere, here, etc.) and whose Foundation’s own accounts are rather light on detail.
  4. The True and Fair Foundation is being hypocritical. In the article Miller states ‘there is a very fine line between someone doing this as an individual and someone using the standing of the organisation for political purposes’. Gina Miller, who has raised her profile via the True and Fair Foundation and who is one of its only two trustees (the other is her husband), is actively campaigning for an ‘in’ vote at the EU referendum and recently appeared on Channel 4 News and in the Financial Times to do so. She is also happy for her own comments to be used to support a political party in the run up to an election, something charities are expressly forbidden from doing.
  5. A register of charities’ funding isn’t needed as this data is already published. Look at the Charity Commission website: detailed annual reports for most large charities list major funders. In fact, it is often a condition of statutory funding, including EU funding, that amounts are listed in annual reports. Transparency is more problematic in the case of major individual donors, particularly for think tanks.charities-and-the-EU-Telegraph-website

The Telegraph editorial concludes that charities have a long and noble history of operating in the interests of others. It implies that this is no longer the case. NCVO has argued on a number of occasions, in public, that some problems have emerged in our sector and that these need to be dealt with.

Change is underway in areas such as fundraising, while I genuinely think that many charities recognise the need to be more transparent and accountable. There is also a recognition that we can and should do more to strengthen governance to bring the whole sector up to the standards of the best.

But to imply that charities do not exist solely to benefit the public is wrong. Charities, and the people who work for them, are in it for the outcome. Many are making a difference every day. Such broad-brush accusations do nothing to foster the noble traditions of civil society that the Daily Telegraph rightly lauds.

 

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Karl Wilding Karl Wilding is chief executive of NCVO.

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