Letters: Debate over Trevor Morris' comments on who charities exist for; the Charity Commission doesn't need more lawyers

Plus: society lottery deregulation and the test for profit-with-purpose businesses

Trevor Morris said charities should consider becoming less political
Trevor Morris said charities should consider becoming less political

Charities exist not for activists or the public, but for beneficiaries

I read with interest comments in your last issue by Trevor Morris, professor of public relations at Richmond University.

Morris argued that charities should ask themselves whether they are run for their hardcore activists or their general supporters, and should therefore consider becoming less political.

But charities do not exist for the benefit of the public, funders, staff or politicians: we are there for our beneficiaries. It's an old-fashioned term, but if I'm ever unclear what to do, I focus on the people that we try to support and our values. If there is a significant issue affecting our beneficiaries, it could be argued that we are failing in our purpose unless we raise it. Many of us have "relief of poverty" as a key object, so it is correct that we speak up and out.

I think this article also highlights some of the key tensions facing our sector as more organisations become service providers and are less willing to speak out. However, a number still do focus on their beneficiaries' needs, make strong cases and provide excellent services. The worrying aspects are the views of the general public and the impact of the lobbying act – these appear to be leading to some charities self-limiting their activities and comments.

Sally Young, chief executive, Newcastle Council for Voluntary Service, Newcastle upon Tyne

There is a conflict for charities between popularity and mission

Trevor Morris has missed the point – deliberately, I suspect, to make his argument. Charities shouldn't exist for hardcore supporters or the general public, but for their charitable aims. This means that a charity's aim shouldn't be popularity – although that can be necessary to get funding. This article highlights the interesting conflict between popularity and mission – and possibly why professors of public relations might not be the best people to run charities.

Barney Mynott, head of public affairs, Navca, Sheffield

'Charity Commission needs more lawyers, not more powers'

Lord Phillips is broadly right: whenever the commission threatens serious action, the individual on the receiving end of that threat "will run for the lawyers... which, the commission knows, will tie up more resources than it can deploy". But the answer is more case officers, not more lawyers. It was the "era of lawyers" from the early 2000s until the commission's apparent volte face after the recent criticism it received. New risk-averse lawyers were appointed, not only as advisers but also to senior managerial positions, where they proceeded to tie up case officers in red tape. The commission started avoiding using its powers and the number of statutory inquiries fell.

Michael Levitt, Eshchar, Israel

Society lottery deregulation will not lead to a fall in cause money

With reference to the MPs' inquiry into society lotteries, both the public awareness and the income of society lotteries have grown significantly since the emergence of the Health Lottery. Sales of National Lottery tickets have also increased during this period. We reject the notion that a modest amount of deregulation will lead to a free-for-all and confuse lottery players.

We support the position taken by the Lotteries Council that relaxing regulations would enable society lotteries to maximise the money generated for good causes, while recognising that some level of regulation remains appropriate.

The Health Lottery is looking for a relaxation of the rule that lotteries can give only 10 per cent of proceeds to a top prize. Society lotteries take a risk as soon as they announce a top prize, because whatever that amount is, they have to bring in 10 times that. This means that society lotteries tend to underbid the overall prize because there is a severe risk of not being able to sell 10 times the amount.

We are asking to increase the top prize from 10 per cent to 50 per cent so that societies can make a decision, based on their resources, to offer a slightly greater prize, and increase their sales and the overall return to good causes. This will be important to the society lotteries, and there will still be no threat to the National Lottery.

Chris Lunn, director of communications, the Health Lottery CICs, London N1

The test for profit-with-purpose will come when times are tough

The article about "profit-with-purpose" businesses was fascinating. The test of a sustainable structure will be whether it delivers on its objectives in bad times as well as good.

We need to ask: when money is tight and redundancies loom, what aspect of the business first heads for the lifeboat? If you can answer that, you will know whether you have a social enterprise that dabbles in profit or a business that dabbles in good works. I doubt that you can have both.

Wally Harbert, Frome, Somerset

Please send letters to thirdsector@haymarket.com or Third Sector, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington TW11 9BE

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