The next round of appointments to the Charity Commission’s board should "actively seek to recruit people from a wide range of demographic characteristics", the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities has recommended.
In its report, the committee says it recognises there are difficulties for the regulator in securing a diverse board, but it "cannot expect to hold the sector to a higher standard than it is able to achieve itself".
It says: "We recommend that the commission is mindful of the example it sets to the sector and that when filling future vacancies it explicitly seeks to recruit individuals with a range of skills, charity experiences and demographic characteristics, such as age, gender, ethnicity and geography.
"We expect to see the results of this approach in the next set of board appointments."
Appointments to the regulator’s board are made by the government, but at one of the committee’s evidence hearings the Labour peer Lord Foulkes of Cumnock suggested to William Shawcross, chair of the commission, that his board was "a fairly right-wing, upper middle-class, white, middle-aged group of people from the south-east of England".
The committee’s report notes that it heard evidence during its inquiry from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which called for a greater role for parliament in how the board is appointed and an independent chair with cross-party support, and the chief executives body Acevo, which said the appointments process was "opaque and undemocratic".
A Charity Commission spokesman said the regulator was committed to continuing to improving diversity throughout the commission, and said its board had until recently included women from BAME backgrounds.
"Diversity is an important issue for the commission and charities to consider," he said. "Indeed, it is an issue across government, parliament and in wider society.
"Appointments to the board will be made by Department for Culture, Media & Sport ministers, but when vacancies are next advertised we will ask DCMS to allow us to work with a specialist recruiter with expertise in recruiting a diverse range of candidates."
Commission ‘must take care in public communications’
The report says that the commission "must take care in its public communications to ensure that it retains the confidence of the public and the charity sector".
It says the committee heard concerns from charities about the Charity Commission’s initial guidance on campaigning during the EU referendum, which had been interpreted as restricting their ability to speak on the issue.
The report says that, although the guidance was subsequently revised, "it clearly created a negative impression in the sector in relation to their freedom to comment and advocate on relevant issues".
The report says that any new regulation or guidance should recognise that advocacy is an important and legitimate part of charities’ role and set this out in "clear and unambiguous language".
It says: "Just as charities must be judicious in their activities in order to remain politically impartial, the Charity Commission must take care in its public communications to ensure that it retains the confidence of the public and the charity sector."
The charity leaders body Acevo said in a statment that it welcomed the committee’s affirmation that a healthy society is dependent on robust charity campaigning. It added that it was further encouraged by the observations that the Charity Commission should be "mindful of the need to support charity" and "to be representative of the sector it regulates".