Mark Flannagan: Telling the commission to 'bugger off' solves nothing

No, charities shouldn't 'behave', but the commission has the right to expect and call for a degree of conformity to the law

Mark Flannagan
Mark Flannagan

What a great headline and a great piece of writing by Debra Allcock Tyler – but once again leaders in our sector are complaining about the Charity Commission without real foundation.

I honestly believe that the commission, as a body and in its staff, are trying to do their best job for society, charities and the public. I also believe that saying "bollocks" to them doesn’t help, however amusing a headline it makes. 

I take particular issue, however, with Debra’s assertion that the commission enforces the message that "charities should behave well", and that "charities apparently have to be perfect, conform to what the regulator has decided the public expects, not shout or be too loud, not get in people’s faces, behave and conform".

Not only is this a misreading of the commission’s view, it is, yet again, a fundamental misrepresentation of the commission’s role. The commission has the right to expect and call for a degree of conformity by charities to – you know – the rules, the law, the ethics of charitable purposes and all that.

God knows there have been some well-known, high-profile examples of a comprehensive failure to do so within the sector.

But every time anyone at the commission dares to suggest that maybe some sector leaders and leading charities should accept that wrongs have been done and that a bit of contemplation might be appropriate, I hear screams of "not fair" or "how dare you".

Now, I agree it isn’t the job of charities to "behave", if by that you mean challenge society to change, reject the notion that everything is fine and highlight the most awful case of need and the resultant need for change in society.

But I don’t believe that the commission is saying "don’t do this" or "shut up" and "don’t cause trouble".

That is patently nonsense. Every day charities are raising issues, giving voice to the dispossessed and making the case for change, most currently during the general election.  

But action has to be taken within the rules to maintain charity neutrality, require them to use evidence to make their case and, dare I say, model behaviours for the rest of society. 

In a time of fake news, straightforward lies by some politicians, a partisan media and at times a frankly scary social media space, I think charities behaving responsibly while always maintaining their mission to make change happen is not an unreasonable call.

Mark Flannagan (@MarkFlann) is a former charity chief executive who now works in the NHS

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