Maintaining public confidence in the charity sector is an important role for the Charity Commission – but, in order to achieve it, the regulator needs charities’ input, its new chief executive has said.
Last week, Paula Sussex attended a round-table discussion with representatives of 12 small and medium-sized charities, organised by the publishing and training charity the Directory of Social Change. A report on this meeting, written by Gabi Zagnojute, a researcher at the DSC, has been posted on its website.
One of the key points raised by delegates, the report says, was the sector’s reputation and media portrayal, and the pressure on charities to defend themselves from increasingly frequent and often unsubstantiated allegations. "The role of the Charity Commission in maintaining the profile of charities, securing public confidence and bringing more attention to the impact of charitable work was acknowledged by Paula as an important one," it says.
The discussion later turned again to the sector’s public profile, with delegates asking whether the huge amount of information the commission holds on charities could be harnessed to improve its reputation and showcase its importance in society.
"Paula agreed that this was an important function for the commission, but that it required shared efforts from both the regulator and charities," the report says. The commission is due to release a revamped, but delayed, version of its online register in the coming weeks.
The delegates also expressed concerns that it was sometimes not easy enough to approach the commission for advice or permissions, citing cuts to its telephone helpline.
The report says: "There were comments referring to some technical difficulties in applying for charitable status, making changes to governing documents or receiving clarifications on the commission’s decisions. The point was made that, for trustees to manage their charity’s regulatory affairs efficiently, they need an efficient service from the regulator.
"Some hopeful reassurance from the Charity Commission came with Paula mentioning that she was looking again at the accessibility of support from the commission and how it could be improved, modernised or retained even with limited resources."
Other concerns raised with Sussex were complex reporting requirements for charities – due to be made more complicated with changes to the annual return – the challenging fundraising environment, charities’ difficulties in maintaining independence from funders, perceived barriers to cooperation and collaboration between charities and the need for the commission to maintain the correct balance between being a policeman and adviser to the sector.
Her response to these matters is not recorded.
Sussex’s meeting at the DSC came the day before her first public outing in her new role, in which she promised to turn the commission from a reactive to a proactive regulator.