Don't be afraid to quit if you feel you can't achieve your mission, says Paula Sussex

The Charity Commission chief executive tells an NPC conference that charity trustees should always consider whether they are making a difference

Paula Sussex
Paula Sussex

Charity trustees who think they are not ultimately going to be able to achieve their mission, or who feel they have already done so, should not be afraid to call it a day, the chief executive of the Charity Commission told a conference yesterday.

Paula Sussex was speaking at an event organised by the think tank NPC on the subject of impact and change.

She said charities should consider whether they were making a difference. "It might be that as a trustee you consider your mission is done," she said. Other charities might feel that their mission realistically could not be completed or that it would be best completed by another charity, she said. In such cases, she told the conference, "it’s OK to call it a day".

Sussex said that in one of her first meetings as a trustee of the homelessness charity Crisis, on whose board she served from 2004 to 2010, she asked: "How do we know that any of this is working?" She said her fellow trustees’ reaction to her focus on impact was to "look at me in that ‘she’s grown a second head’ way".

She noted that the NPC's Manifesto 2015, which was published last month, said the commission should "require charity trustees to report on mission and impact". Sussex pointed out that since 2008 the commission’s public benefit requirement had asked trustees to report each year on how they had carried out their charities’ purposes. However, a recent survey by the commission of a sample of 220 charities found that in 2012 only 27 per cent complied fully with this. A new report based on a survey covering 2013 is due to be published shortly.

The commission was itself working to better understand its own impact, and for individual staff to consider what the regulator’s work achieved, said Sussex. "It’s very important for us as civil servants to ask how we are making a difference," she said.

Dan Corry, chief executive of NPC, said some charities "aren’t achieving what they should, and will be struggling to make a difference".

He said: "If a charity is failing, it must be brave enough to think seriously about quitting, or maybe merging with another one. It helps no one to carry on regardless, sucking up money and time."

In his final speech as chief executive of the commission, Sussex’s predecessor Sam Younger spoke about impact and the duplication of charities. He said: "I think we should be bolder in saying that not all of the charities the commission registers end up making an impact. So I would urge anyone who wants to help others to ask what difference they would really make by setting up a brand new organisation."

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