Acevo has called on the government to carry out more consultation with the voluntary sector before introducing any policies that could affect charities’ ability to campaign.
In a report published today, the charity chief executives body also calls on Theresa May, the Prime Minister, to reaffirm the government’s commitment to the Compact, the agreement that sets out how the public and voluntary sectors should behave towards each other.
The report, Speaking Frankly, Acting Boldly, sets out the factors that it says have had a "chilling effect" on charities’ campaigning activities.
These include what it calls "ambiguous" actions by the Charity Commission, such as its stance on a tweet from Oxfam in 2014 about the government’s austerity measures, new rules introduced by the government under the lobbying act and the so-called anti-advocacy clause, which was redrafted but stills places restrictions on the use of grant funds from government sources.
"In order to return clarity there needs to be greater consultation and transparency around policy proposals which could impact on charitable advocacy and campaigning," the report says.
"Too often decisions which have implications for charitable campaigning are being made behind closed doors and announced without proper consultation, as was the case with the anti-advocacy clause."
The report calls on the commission to "publicly restate its commitment to the principles and guidance outlined in CC9", the regulator’s guidance on charity campaigning.
This would inspire confidence among charity leaders in their campaigning activities, the report says.
"We need this confidence reinstated if we are to ensure a vocal charity sector," it says.
The report details several notable campaigning successes, from the abolition of slavery to the introduction of a 5p charge on single-use carrier bags, and sets out the role of charity in each case.
It says there has been no whole-government commitment to the Compact, which was first drawn up in 1998, since David Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010 and urges Theresa May to reaffirm the government’s support for it.
"In order to demonstrate her commitment to the campaigning of the voluntary sector, the Prime Minister should re-sign the Compact," it says.
"By restating her support for charity campaigning, she could reassure the sector that it is right for them to speak out. If this happens, then charities seeking to challenge the terms of government grants containing excessively restrictive clauses would have a much stronger base on which to engage with ministers and civil servants."
The report calls on the charity sector to be "unapologetically bold and vocal in defending the necessity of non-partisan political campaigning in achieving public benefit".
It calls for the creation of a publicly available repository of charity campaigning cases studies, which would highlight the role charities have had in achieving reform.
This would help to prepare charities for any further attacks on their campaigning abilities, the report says.
"Charity campaigning is a hugely valuable resource, which does much for our society," it says.
"The contributions made to our civic consciousness by the voice of charity are too important to lose, especially at a time of unprecedented political disengagement.
"The charity sector must now use its expert skills to defend its own right to campaign so that civil society can continue to shape the social, health and environmental landscapes for the betterment of the people and causes they support."