Compact in action: Independence from the state

A new report finds charities do not believe the Compact is useful in protecting their autonomy.

A report on voluntary sector independence reveals that charities are making little use of the Compact to repel threats to their autonomy.

Sources of Strength, published by the Baring Foundation, analyses what is threatening charities' independence and the mechanisms they have at their disposal to respond. It is based on the views of organisations that applied to Barings' Strengthening the Voluntary Sector grants programme, which was relaunched in 2006 to support initiatives that help to improve charities' independence from the state.

The headline findings focused on how many charities underestimate their level of dependency on the state until funding is withdrawn (Third Sector, 21 February).

Although this caused concern, the report went on to highlight the strategies that charities follow to retain their sovereignty. The most popular of the 14 options listed was improving their professional skills; the least popular was making better use of the Compact. The report says that the lack of regard for the Compact suggests that an overwhelming number of charities do not believe it is a useful tool to repel external threats to their independence.

"Just 7 per cent said they could make better use of the Compact in negotiating with government funders, although the breadth of the Compact's scope means it was probably highly relevant to many of the problems reported by organisations," the report says.

However, it cites the introduction of Compact Plus and the appointment of John Stoker as Compact Commissioner as developments that might make a difference.

Cathy Pharoah, director of research consultancy Third Sector Prospect, which conducted the research, says: "Charities don't realise how much use they could make of the Compact."

Do charities ignore the Compact because they think it's ineffective?

"That didn't come through in the research," says Pharoah. "What did come through was that they don't have time to think about developing strategies.

"In their busy day-to-day schedules, organisations don't pay enough attention to tackling things in a strategic way. They are fire-fighting most of the time."

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