Opinion: Regulation's mission creep

Lisa Harker, chair of the Daycare Trust, but writes in a personal capacity

Drawing up a list of criteria that an organisation needs to meet in order to be effective is a risky business. Either you end up with a list of the bleeding obvious or you are in danger of being too rigid in your choice. So, it was with scepticism that I opened the Charity Commission's The Hallmarks of an Effective Charity, published this month.

But I have to say I was pleasantly surprised, and found it really helpful.

It provides charity trustees with a succinct checklist of the most important issues that they and their board should be focusing on. And it is short.

Rather than overwhelming you with information, it sets out just six key characteristics of an effective charity.

But the document raises wider issues. The characteristics of effectiveness set out by the Charity Commission do not only apply to organisations with charitable status. Retaining a clear 'outcomes' focus, being fit for purpose, having sound governance, maximising potential, and being accountable, transparent and flexible are hallmarks of all good organisations.

All this raises the issue of remit. While the Commission's chief purpose is to promote compliance with charity law, as a modern regulator it is increasingly going beyond its narrow statutory remit to help charities become more effective.

Here its role begins to blur with not only umbrella organisations in the sector, such as the NCVO and Acevo, but also with the now numerous regulatory bodies in the public sector that are similarly trying to encourage organisations to be more effective through offering advice and support.

It seems certain that the increasingly crowded territory surrounding regulation in the not-for-profit sectors will have to be rationalised.

It is imperative that the distinctive features of the third sector are defended through separate regulation, and that there is a difference between regulating and representing the sector. But where there is common ground in helping organisations to be more effective at what they do, would it not be sensible to rationalise resources?

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