Too many charities feel they need to exaggerate the information they give to supporters in order to raise more money, a Conservative peer has claimed.
Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham yesterday, Lord Lucas of Crudwell and Dingwall singled out the child protection charity the NSPCC for particular criticism, saying it did not value truth and often gave out incomplete information to the public in order to make a problem appear worse than it was.
The NSPCC said it was "baffled" by the comments and did not know what research Lucas was referring to. It said everything the charity said was backed up by evidence.
At the event, which examined the role of charities in a digital future, Lucas remarked that using artificial intelligence to process the large amounts of data generated by charities’ work and research would allow them to be more transparent.
"It would ease the problem charities have of feeling they have to exaggerate in order to raise money," he said.
He said it would also help to prevent situations such as the collapse of Kids Company, where a key issue, he said, had been information about what was really going on not getting to anyone outside the charity.
Lucas added that it would also curb "abusive practices such as chugging", arguing that better information processing would make charities more aware of people’s dislike of street fundraising.
He said: "It would help with charities that have lost their way, a bit like the NSPCC, which no longer, to my mind, value truth.
"They have a habit of putting out press releases three months before they put out research, which means that no one is in a position to question them when they use extremely dubious definitions of what child abuse is."
He said that in such instances the charity would publish the research three months later, once the debate had died down, and the full document would show that the full picture was less serious than the initial press release had suggested. He did not specify any particular report or piece of research.
Lucas said this was tantamount to "imposing a view on donors" rather than communicating with them.
He told Third Sector: "The NSPCC has a really important position and it ought to be up to having really lively debates about the reality of what’s happening. If it's doing that sort of research, it should be immediately available in enormous detail.
"I’m not saying they’re a bad charity, but they’re allowing themselves to be compromised.
"It’s a challenge for any big charity, but some of them manage it better than others. I personally value a charity that I can rely on to be truthful even when that doesn’t necessarily support its fundraising aims."
Lucas said people expected political parties and other organisations to lie, but there was a particular expectation on charities to be truthful.
"Charities that occupy really important, established positions should care about truth and should be very strict on themselves in terms of bending it to win an argument," he said.
"I think it’s very important that charities step back from that, because being seen to be truthful is more important that the gain you get from the next big headline."
He said he had brought up the issue with the NSPCC, but it had not recognised that it was bad practice and had not responded to him.
An NSPCC spokesperson said: "We're baffled by Lord Lucas's reported remarks and have no idea what research he is referring to.
"We would have thought it rather obvious that the reason we talk about the NSPCC's work in the media is to raise awareness of our cause and encourage support in the fight for every childhood. Everything we say is backed up by evidence.
"We are transparent about our work and we publish information on how the public's money is spent on our website."