Regulation with Rosie: Charging for advice

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on charging for advice and information.

Our sector is well represented among 'expert' organisations, those whose knowledge or services in an area make them among the leaders in their field. They are the first port of call for people who seek 'gold standard' information in a particular area: details of a child protection policy, for instance, the most or up-to-date statistics on disability and employment.

We probably think it's quite right that the Government and academics should pay for this information. But what about other charities?

A trustee I know was baffled when she approached an organisation to get best practice information for her own charity and was told she was very welcome, but it would cost her. Her view of the expert organisation was severely shaken.

There's no right or wrong answer to this dilemma. If a charity is set up to raise awareness about an issue and to provide a service to its beneficiaries, it must strike a balance between generating funds to run these services and increasing public awareness by sharing policy and other information. However, research and policy cost money to produce, and charities are perfectly entitled to charge for them.

Some may automatically charge for anything they can and put the money to effective use. But this may mean that similar, more impoverished charities do without their best practice policy or the statistics that might have helped their funding bid. Should large charities use their resources to help spread best practice to smaller ones?

Charities are responsible for their beneficiaries, not for the survival of other charities, and getting the balance right will always be a matter of judgement. We can't live off fresh air and goodwill, but making a considered judgement, rather than a default one, and being able to explain it, goes a long way to keeping the goodwill going.

- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

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