Foundations should do more to improve the brand of charities, according to Andrew Hind, chair of the Fundraising Standards Board.
Speaking at the Association of Charitable Foundations’ annual conference in London this morning, Hind, who is also a visiting professor of charity governance and finance at Cass Business School and a trustee of the Baring Foundation, said that foundations should do more to "buttress and build the charity brand".
He said this involved continuing to fund unpopular causes and argue against the "starvation cycle" that sees some charities unable to recoup their core costs.
Hind said the actions foundations did and did not take affected public trust and confidence just as much as those of charities such as the NSPCC.
He also encouraged foundations to stand up for charities that are criticised for campaigning. "It would be wonderful for foundations to assert the right of charities to complain within the law," he said.
Hind asked delegates why it was that UK foundations were not more outspoken about issues such as climate change and global warming, like their counterparts in the US. "Your investment strategies could help a lot here," he said.
He also challenged the ACF to play more of a leadership role in the sector. "I think it could do more," he said.
Another speaker at the session, on the theme of the independence of the voluntary sector, was Barry Knight, director of the Webb Memorial Trust. He said that foundations had been underperforming when tackling the challenges the sector faced.
"All over the world people are talking about the closing space for civil society," he said. "Power is not a word used much in the foundation community – and it needs to be.
"We need to get real because this is happening and the threat will continue."
He said the ACF needed to start working with international sector bodies to organise a global response to the challenges on behalf of foundations across the world.
His fellow plenary speaker Caroline Slocock, director of the think tank Civil Exchange, concluded her speech by asking delegates whether they truly believed they were speaking up enough about the challenges to the sector's independence.
Examples of recent challenges included the recent case of the Charity Commission v Cage and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, she said.
Knight also commented that he thought the boards of most charitable foundations were "unashamedly elitist" – this was okay, he said, but foundations needed to compensate for that dynamic when making their decisions.
Responding to a delegate who said that if foundations put their heads above the parapet they would need to defend their role in a democracy as "unelected bodies with wealth", Knight agreed that foundations needed to be careful when speaking out.
"There are times when you need a voice and times when you need to be quiet," he said.
Another delegate noted that the Minister for Civil Society was not in attendance, despite being tentatively billed to attend in the conference programme. "I've been to this event five times and the minister has attended on only one of those occasions," the delegate said. "Is it because the ACF is not high up enough on politicians' agenda?"