Editorial: Brilliant idea, but Comic Relief has been shaken

Whether the charity likes it or not, the investment affair had a bad effect on its image, writes editor Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

Comic Relief was one of the best fundraising moves of the 20th century and has raised nearly £1bn so far, much of it probably from people who aren't normally in the habit of giving to charity. It is a huge force for good.

It also occupies a much-envied place among charities in that its income is virtually guaranteed by its link with the BBC. It sometimes gives the impression that it and its methods are somehow untouchable and any criticism is usually shrugged off.

In the case of Panorama's exposure of the sin stocks in its investment portfolio, it fought all the way, but in the end it had a review and changed its policy. Was it really worth spending thousands in legal fees to resist something that proved undeniable? Kevin Cahill, the chief executive, says the whole episode shook him, but Comic Relief is now moving on and aiming at even higher targets. Cahill has told his story to Tim Smedley in this issue.

The charitable impulse has often been rooted in religion: most religions have always been charities, and many charities doing social and humanitarian work have an overtly religious approach. But times have been changing, and our columnist Peter Stanford recently suggested that religious charities, though numerous, increasingly hide their light under a bushel. In this edition, he looks at the question in more detail and finds, among other things, that the former Archbishop of Canterbury agrees with him. Is this apparent loss of nerve to do with the removal in the Charities Act 2006 of the presumption of public benefit for religion? Or is it just to do with the decline of religion in mainstream society? Stanford reports in this issue.

The media are often accused of being nothing but negative, so take a look at our feature on the latest Charity Pulse. It's full of good news about improving morale among charity staff now that the economy is looking up, but also has some subtle messages in the detail.

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