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, Director of Public Policy and Volunteering, leads NCVO's volunteering, policy, research and campaigning work in the UK and internationally. With lead responsibility for shaping the external environment for the voluntary sector, he blogs about the big issues facing voluntary organisations.

3 Responses to The Daily Telegraph, charities and the EU referendum

  1. Inspired Youth says:

    Gina Miller has been fighting the corrupt City, investment and pension industry since 2009. Her True and Fair Campaign is awesome – she has managed to work on three EU laws that will benefit 500 million people across Europe so they know what they are paying and make companies have a duty of care. Pensioners everywhere will benefit because of her. She has also built a True and Fair Calculator that is free. She has launched, run and sold five businesses and has fought bullies wherever she has found them. All of this with her own money.

    She is a true modern day suffragette who mentors young women like me. I have heard her speak at several events now where she talks to inspire disadvantaged young people. Her story is incredible and makes me think I can do anything. I really want to work in the charity sector as I know she has been involved with charities since she was 14 years old. The fact she is talking about things that are wrong in the charity world means they need fixing – can’t you guys see that? Haven’t you been reading the press over the last few years? – people are not happy with you!

    • Karl Wilding Karl Wilding says:

      Dear Inspired Youth
      Ms Miller may well have done good things to fight corruption in the city. If so, then that is to be celebrated. Its not an area I know anything about though, so I can’t assess whether you are right.

      I do know quite a bit about charities and charity analysis though. I also have evidence. As such I can comment on charities and justify my analysis. Based on my experience I stand 100% by the comments that I’ve made. It is now down to Ms Miller to rebut my analysis with evidence, rather than encouraging emotional responses that are irrelevant to the point in question.

      If Ms Miller has done good things in other walks of life, then good. But that doesn’t justify making unevidenced, damaging statements about charities, where I have yet to see any evidence that she has any expertise.

      Because Ms Miller tells you something is wrong it doesn’t therefore mean that it is wrong. Just because someone ignores an inconvenient truth doesn’t mean that the truth doesn’t still exist. I’m afraid you need to talk to other people who disagree with Ms Miller so that you arrive at a balanced view. Not everyone agrees that she is right – look at Pesh Framjee’s analysis of why the first T&F report is so poor. Ask why the newspaper that reported it subsequently corrected the story.

      I’m very glad for you that you are receiving support and that you want to work for a charity: the best job in the world, in my opinion. And you’re right that in some charities, things have gone wrong, and that some people are not happy. The proposals made by the T&F will damage charities and reduce the good that they do.

      So join us in trying to fix that, by proposing solutions that will strengthen charities and the difference that they make.

  2. John Webster says:

    I am also passionate about improving the performance of charities, especially in the area of governance (incidentally, in the interests of good governance I would be interested in seeing when the current trustees of the True and Fair Foundation intend to stand down and invite open applications for new trustees?).

    However, back to the main theme, I suppose that in some ways I could be seen as one of the ‘guys who does see that some things are wrong in the charity world’ but to balance this I would hate to imagine a world without charities.

    As I say, I’m fine with trying to improve things but you could say the same about any sector – public, private or the third sector. There are always things that could be improved but the way to go about this is through careful and accurate analysis and through an open and honest discussion with individual charities or representatives of the sector. Instead Ms Miller’s analysis has been shown to be inaccurate and misleading and has been conducted through the media. This has caused unjustified reputational damage and used up scare resources in the charity sector in rebutting these inaccurate reports.

    As a result, I have to question what Ms Miller is trying to achieve in issuing these reports because at the moment, there is no evidence that these reports have resulted in positive change, either in individual charities or across the sector. In fact, the opposite could be said.

    I’m not interested in trying to undermine some of the ‘good work’ that Ms Miller has delivered elsewhere but I’m afraid that the two reports recently issued on the charity sector are at best misguided and at worst a deliberate campaign to undermine the sector. As I said before, everything may not be perfect but I’d hate to imagine a world without charities so you have to be careful what you wish for.