A snap general election – what should charities be doing?

In a political world where leaks are routine, Theresa May’s announcement of an election campaign seems to have caught everyone by surprise. Charities will not have made detailed plans for an election, so it’s worth thinking about what we should be doing to make sure we’re part of the debate.

What happens next?

The first hurdle to cross will be to call an election under the procedure set out in the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. Labour’s announcement that they will be voting for a motion to call an early election means it should be a formality to get the two thirds of MPs required to satisfy the requirements of the Act, avoiding the need for a formal vote of no confidence and a 14 day period in which another party could seek to form an alternative government.

Parliament will dissolve 25 days before the nominated election date, but this can be amended by statutory instrument, as was done in 2015 to allow a longer campaign. We’ll have to wait to see when the campaign begins in earnest, but in practice it has already begun.

How can charities prepare?

The first thing for charities to do is refamiliarise themselves with Charity Commission election campaigning guidance (PDF, 606KB) to ensure they are compliant with charity law surrounding campaigning during elections and the Lobbying Act (PDF, 114KB).

Much has been made of the effect of the Lobbying Act on charity campaigning during elections and you should make sure you are familiar with the law, but remember that most charities are unlikely to meet the definition of controlled expenditure if they campaign on a cross-party basis on the substance of policies.

The dynamics of a snap election are going to be very different than normal, when we have a rough timescale even if we don’t know the exact date. Candidate engagement is going to be much harder, not least because a significant proportion of those who will be standing on 8 June will not have been selected yet, and a major hustings plan will be more difficult to co-ordinate.


One of the key milestones of any campaign is the publication of party manifestos. When an election date is known, parties will be working on the policy contained in those manifestos for a year or more beforehand. Obviously that detailed work can’t be completed before June, so expect shorter Brexit-focused manifestos that draw a lot on 2015 policies.

The parties’ policy gurus will already be thinking about what goes in, so finding out quickly who to submit recommendations to will be important for charities that want their voice to be heard in the campaign and in the next parliament. One word of caution, approval for new radical ideas is going to be much harder to achieve in such a short timescale, so aside from the obvious need to influence policies around Brexit, I would focus on encouraging parties to reaffirm existing commitments.

What will we be doing?

For our part, we’ll be making the case for the voluntary sector and volunteering to help solve many of the country’s problems. We know that volunteering can be an amazing route to improving skills and making new connections, changing people’s lives and bonding communities closer together. We know that voluntary organisations can run high-quality, efficient public services, for example, but that they’re often excluded from doing so. And most pressingly on the policy front, we’ll be highlighting the important role that the sector has to play in shaping Brexit policies. We want to make sure that Brexit doesn’t mean weakening or removing important safeguards for people and the environment. Charities must be involved in advising on and scrutinising proposals at every step of the way.

NCVO’s chief executive, Sir Stuart Etherington, has already called for European nationals in the UK to be allowed to stay. Charities will need visa arrangements that work for sectors such as social care and medical research, which depend on the involvement of staff who’ve moved here from around Europe. And charities must be involved in designing replacements – better targeted, more coherent ones – for EU programmes in areas such as employment and skills training.

It’s going to be a much busier couple of months for charity campaigners than we were expecting, but as always an election provides an excellent opportunity to make the case for the changes we want to see, and to make sure that the voice of charities is heard loud and clear.

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Chris Walker Chris is NCVO’s public affairs manager, focusing on parliamentary work. He started his career working for several MPs in Parliament, and has also worked in public affairs and policy roles for the Federation of Small Businesses.

10 Responses to A snap general election – what should charities be doing?

  1. John McNeill says:

    NCVO has made the mistake of taking sides in this one issue general election and in so doing it is not siding with he poorer people of this country. Its choice of issues has no factual base and is said in the interests of middle class charity workers.

    • Chris Walker Chris Walker says:

      Hi John,

      Whatever side of the debate you were on pre-referendum, it’s clear as you say that Brexit will be key to this election, so it’s important for charities to look to influence the approach of parties on the opportunities and challenges that Brexit provides.

      We’ve been talking to charities of all sizes from across the country, representing a diverse range of policy areas, since last year’s vote, so I hope we’ve built up a pretty good picture of the issues charities feel are the most important for their beneficiaries as we plan for what Britain looks like after Brexit. And we’ll of course continue to listen to feedback, if anyone does want to get in touch.


      • Abdi Ibrahim says:

        I think the only support we can offer government in Brexit issue is ideas that hep them improve negotiation so that we can come up with the best posdible results.

    • Mary says:

      1)Whatever Theresa May (and perhaps you) may wish, a general election is NOT just about ONE issue. You appear to be choosing issues yourself by implying this. I think charities should be representing their vulnerable participants across all areas NOT just those around Brexit. This is NOT a re-referendum though some will make it so.
      2)I believe the opinion expressed above “We want to make sure that Brexit doesn’t mean weakening or removing important safeguards for people and the environment”. IS in the interest of the poorer people of this country.
      3) You forget that charity workers who read this are in touch with the needs of their participants -who, yes, are often poorer than them, but nonetheless are able to represent their best interests in an unselfish and professional way. It is quite “uncharitable” of you to suggest that a middle class charity worker would be self interested.That has not been my experience. Indeed in many many small charities the charity workers are pretty poor themselves! I was one such worker who survived years of lack of funds and decreasing hours.
      4)What I think you mean to imply is that you are for Brexit and you think the writer is against? The article does not say that at all. However, as a clearly pro-Brexiter surely you can see that there are different types of Brexit and it is legitimate for charities to do what they can to ensure that the needs of their participants are taken into account in upcoming negotiations?

  2. Dot Tooting says:

    Oh dear…this is the reason that charities are looked at suspiciously.The dislike that the country feels for “politicians” was made apparent in the last vote…have we learned nothing at all ? Charities should not get involved in politics lest we are tarred with the same brush!…and if we are and the donations go down…do we blame the public…the politicians and their acolytes did….it does none of us any favours!

    • Chris Walker Chris Walker says:

      Hi Dot,

      Charities absolutely need to be neutral from a party political point of view, as set out in the guidance mentioned above. However, we think it’s important that charities are able to use their expertise to inform policy debate, and elections are an important opportunity to ensure that the issues that matter to charities are discussed.

      The role of charities in campaigning is well established in charity law, and its value is recognised across the political spectrum. Charities like all good campaigners must adopt a cross-party approach and focus on the substance of policy, but if we want to influence policy we can’t afford to stay silent during election campaigns.


    • Mary says:

      I think when you set up a charity it is to change the world for the better, to convince people that some issue or cause is important, it is to protect those weaker than ourselves or in temporary need of our humanity. Politics is essentially about the same thing at its best -standing up for what you believe and trying to realise that vision. The difficulty is they all have different visions and interests -and that is pecisely where people with your knowledge can keep them informed and help them to stear the ship in a direction that serves not just the elite but the people your charity serves too. It is important that people of conscience (which generally people in charities are) hold politicians to account. If you take yourself out of that process for fear of “dirtying yourself” you fail your duty to inform and advocate and change the world. You weaken your reputation as a charity as you were not prepared to stand and be counted. Cannot understand your view at all – except if you are anti democratic or wish to encourage a complacent electorate. Personally, I feel it is our duty to empower our participants to speak up for what they believe and what they need. Your attitude, in my opinion, does charities no favours. Puts chatities in their own ivory towers. Opens us up to the same kind of criticism as politicians who, by the way are not all bad and when they support charities which many do, should be given credit. We are too quick to criticise other people trying to do their duty. If we go down this road it leads to losing our democracy and hopefully you’d say more than oh dear to that.

  3. John echlin says:

    I think you are going up the wrong tree on Britex; we are not going to leave. The election will be won by an amalgamation of M Ps who don’t do Brexit, and will call another referendum when many of the leavers will change their minds and realise the problems of trying to leave are far too complicated. Europe will be furious,they want us out along with the exit fee and now they won’t get it, and a troublesome partner will remain!!
    Just carry on as before.

  4. Nick Maurice says:

    There are all party parliamentary groups representing a very large number of social/medical issues many of which are being tackled by charitable organisations. If these charities are not able to make representation to these APPGs on behalf of the people affected through these issues, it calls into question the purpose and function of the APPGs.

  5. Dani Glazzard says:

    Useful and quick article thanks.