Charities should consider publishing a register of interests setting out any political affiliations of senior staff and trustees, according to draft guidance from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.
Last summer, the NCVO announced it would set up a working group to publish a code of good practice for lobbying and campaigning by charities. This came in response to the publication of the lobbying bill, the controversial piece of legislation that tightened the rules about campaigning, and which became law at the start of this year.
The umbrella body has today published a draft called Upholding Charities’ Independence and Reputation, and is inviting comments or suggestions from the sector.
The draft code looks at how charities should deal with the implications of staff or trustees having a personal involvement in politics. It says charities might wish to publish a register of interests that includes the party political ties of senior staff and trustees.
"Anyone is entitled to be an active member of a political party or organisation," it says. "However, there are some roles within charities – including at the level of trustee boards – where an individual’s party political engagement may risk compromising perceptions of the organisation’s impartiality."
In order to manage such risks, it says, charities should require their trustees and senior staff to declare any party political activity undertaken in a personal capacity, such as membership of a political party or attempts to be nominated as a candidate for election.
Another suggestion is that charities publish details of all meetings held with ministers, parliamentarians’ special advisers and senior civil servants as part of their campaigning activities.
The code says charities should "adhere to high standards of transparency and political neutrality" in all their activities, campaigning in particular, and that individuals working within them should "adhere to high ethical standards".
It says: "We believe that the priority should be to increase the public’s understanding of their role, by consistently and reliably exemplifying high standards of transparency and openness in all activities, including campaigning."
It suggests six high-level principles guiding charities’ campaigning work, drawn from various existing guidelines including the principles of conduct in public life, drawn up by Lord Nolan in 1995.
The six principles are: accountability, political neutrality, impartiality, objectivity, transparency and integrity.
It makes recommendations for charities’ annual reports and the use of social media by staff.
In a blog on the NCVO website, Elizabeth Chamberlain, policy manager at the umbrella body, says the guidance is not just relevant to campaigning, but is also relevant to the way charities combat or avoid concern about chief executive pay, responsible investment or how they use their money.
"Over the past 18 months, charities have been subject to increasing scrutiny on behalf of the media, politicians and the general public," she says. "This has sometimes led to strong criticism about what we do, how we do it, or how much money we spend it doing it."