Charity's boundaries grow ever more vague

Are the lines separating charities and commercial organisations becoming more blurred, asks the editor of Third Sector

What is a charity these days? The already fuzzy boundaries continue to flex and change, and two of our features this month illustrate the point well.

First, there's English Heritage, portrayed through our interview with Kate Mavor, the impressive chief executive. Essentially, the government has floated it out of the public sector so the wider world can pay for it through membership, admission charges and fundraising. You could call it big society - or just shrinking the state. But is this really what charities are for? The royal parks are next on the government's list for conversion.

We also take a look at the Consumers' Association, the charity that runs the Which? publishing stable and uses the profits to campaign and give free advice. Its charitable work looks impeccable, but its top executives are getting eye-watering bonuses for their work in its charitable arm, as we detail. How does this chime with the general ethics of charity? Being businesslike is one thing; behaving like acquisitive businessmen is another.

Another aspect of change in the charity world is tackled in our analysis of the effective altruism movement, which advocates doing the most demonstrable good with your donations. Its logic and methods are very persuasive and it adds an important dimension to the debate. But people are always going to give for emotional, illogical reasons - the guide dog will continue to attract the money at the expense of blindness cures in Africa.

This month we announce the shortlist for the Business Charity Awards - companies that have found creative ways of contributing to society and their communities. The awards night is part of Third Sector's inspiring Fundraising Week in April.


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When a property is being constructed, VAT is charged at the standard rate. But if you're a charity, health body, educational institution, housing association or finance house, the work may well fall into a category that justifies zero-rating - and you could make a massive saving

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