Charities must behave like charities if sector is to survive, chair of regulator will say

In a speech she will make tonight, Baroness Stowell, chair of the Charity Commission, will warn charities they will be complicit in the sector's decline if they don't meet public expectations

Baroness Stowell
Baroness Stowell

Being a registered charity "will need to amount to more than it does today if that status is to survive", the chair of the Charity Commission is set to say.

In a speech tonight at the Royal Society of Arts to mark the publication of the regulator’s new strategy, Baroness Stowell is expected to say that the future of charity cannot be taken for granted and that charities must "behave like charities" if the sector is to thrive in the coming years.

Stowell will say: "My conviction is that being a registered charity will need to amount to more than it does today if that status is to survive, let alone to thrive."

Stowell will warn that unless the sector takes steps to promote "what is special about charity, and to meet legitimate public expectations of charity, then we risk being complicit in its decline".

She will say: "All of us must recognise our collective responsibility as custodians of what it means to be a charity in the eyes of the public. We must all fulfil our responsibility for making the changes needed."

Stowell, who became chair of the regulator in February, will say that charities must display "the highest standard of charitable behaviour" and that "charitable aims cannot justify uncharitable means".

"We have firm evidence of near universal accord among the public on this basic expectation: that a charity, to inspire trust, must be more than an organisation with laudable aims. It must be a living example of charitable purpose, charitable attitude and charitable behaviour.

"It must behave like a charity, not just call itself a charity because of the aims it has and the work it does."

Stowell will say that these aims mean the commission "will need to offer more and amount to more" in the years ahead if it is to help maximise the benefit of charity.

"The commission cannot afford – literally or metaphorically – to see the fulfilment of our statutory functions as the totality of its mission," Stowell will say.

"We must be able to demonstrate what we stand for in ways that chime with people’s lives, concerns and interests. And to achieve this, what we stand for must be greater than simply the sum of what we do. We must be an organisation led by purpose."

She is expected to say that the regulator must improve the way it holds and displays data on charities and that she wants the commission to become a "warehouse for charity data" and a "curator of knowledge about individual charities" and the sector.

She will also says that the commission will not be taking a "deliberately adversarial approach" to the charities it regulates: "I will not measure my success in the number of public fights I pick. I will not feel stronger for having criticised charities.

"And I fully expect that, in pursuing our purpose, my team and I will be championing charitable behaviour as much as we will be required to draw attention to shortcomings or failings.

"Charities and the commission have a shared, collective responsibility for ensuring that the concept of charity survives into future generations, and to enable charities to maximise the good they do."

Peter Kellner, chair of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said that Stowell was right to demand the highest standards from charities.

"It is equally important to celebrate the range, diversity and impact of Britain’s charities," he said. "Every year they make a big difference in every community, both in what they do and how they do it.

"The British people continue to be generous because they appreciate the positive work that charities undertake.

"Indeed, we should remain proud that Britain’s charities retain a level of trust that many other national institutions can only dream of."

But Kellner added that there had been a modest decline in levels of trust and this needed to be reversed.

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