The National Council for Voluntary Organisations dropped plans to produce a checklist for charities on the EU referendum because it was too difficult to make accurate predictions, according to Sir Stuart Etherington, its chief executive.
Speaking at the Association of Charitable Organisations' annual conference in London on Friday, Etherington said the umbrella body had planned to produce guidance detailing what the impact would be for charities if Britain either left or remained in the European Union, helping charities to decide if and how to campaign.
He said the NCVO had decided the organisation would not itself take a view on whether the UK should leave the EU, but that it was a part of its job to advise charities on what issues they should be considering ahead of the referendum later this month.
He said: "It is very difficult to quantify the impact of in or out – we looked quite closely at this because our original intention was to produce a checklist, almost a balance sheet of the impact of in or out, but you really can’t do it."
Those campaigning to either leave or remain in the EU were locked in a "seesaw debate" with each other, unable to agree what the impact of either outcome would be for the wider economy, he said, making it even more difficult to narrow focus down to the charity sector.
"How would you balance the loss of structural funds such as the regional development fund, which is a key benefit to the voluntary sector, with what other argue will be money we’d save on not being EU members, which might be diverted into those programs?" he said.
"How would you place a monetary value on the potential reduction on the regulatory environment, such as employment regulation, especially when the sector itself will be divided about that anyway?"
His comments came the day after Asheem Singh, interim chief executive of the charity leaders body Acevo, wrote to Michael Gove, the justice secretary, and the former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, demanding the official campaign group Vote Leave guarantee to replace the loss of £200m a year to the UK economy which, he said, leaving the EU would entail.
When asked about the Acevo letter, Etherington said: "I would say it would be extremely difficult for either camp to really quantify with any degree of security what he impact of either would be."
But, he said: "Asking one side to do that seems to me to be wrong if you’re not asking the other side to ask what the cost to staying in are to charities."
Paul Palmer, professor of voluntary sector management at Cass Business School, said the school had also tried to produce a pros and cons list of either result but concluded it was "methodologically impossible".