EDITORIAL: Campaigning is a vital part of the voluntary sector

Lucy Maggs

At the heart of the voluntary sector is its ability to provide a voice for often unpopular and contentious causes, but its campaigning role is increasingly being called into question.

Last week, lottery distributor the Community Fund stated that organisations opposing government policy could be discounted from receiving its grants. The fund has made this proposal following a National Audit Office report on a controversial grant it made to an anti-deportation group, which attacked Home Secretary David Blunkett on its web site.

It has highlighted personal attacks on politicians, outright opposition to government policy, political bias, participation in demonstrations or direct action, use of abusive language on a web site or encouragement of law breaking as unacceptable political behaviour which could result in grants being withdrawn.

This stance reflects the frequently expressed opinion that the public wants its donations spent directly on beneficiaries, not on campaigning.

An article in the Daily Telegraph, following the Victoria Climbie inquiry, argued that if the NSPCC had spent more money on service provision and less on advertising and campaigning, tragedies such as this could be prevented.

This argument misses the point that many of charities' service provision activities are funded by the Government and that a certain amount of voluntary income is well spent raising the awareness of issues including child abuse and the plight of asylum seekers.

If organisations such as the Community Fund stop granting money to groups campaigning on controversial issues, the voice of the sector will die out. Savvy voluntary organisations have long been balancing their campaigning activities with service provision and it would be a shame if the whole sector has to suffer because of a few ill-thought out words on a couple of web sites.

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