People Management: Coaching session

Q. A general election is approaching. What are the rules for charities at election time?

There are no hard and fast rules at election time. Charities obviously have to avoid overt party political activity if they wish to remain registered.

Common sense should also make us more careful about making statements that can be interpreted as 'party political'.

There is certainly no problem with a charity continuing to argue its particular corner - eradicating child poverty or improving rights for the disabled, for example. If that is your charitable purpose, you should continue to push it. Indeed, at election time you will certainly want to make sure that all the political parties hear your message and promise to do something about it.

And if one party is promising you it will deliver, you can't be blamed for supporting it in that area.

If you are campaigning, you obviously want to address your issues to the three main political parties - not forgetting the nationalist parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, of course.

But be warned - it is too easy to get dragged into a party political row. Acevo recently held a breakfast meeting with a group of members and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor - on the very day the headlines in the national press were blaring his advice to "reject Labour over abortion".

He wasn't actually telling people not to vote Labour, but this was the spin that had been put on what he said. He was none too happy about it.

Nor were some of us.

Of course, there is an added dimension for some of our organisations in that a staff member might be standing as a parliamentary candidate.

Some will return to work, whereas others might return to the Commons.

You may or may not have rules covering personal political activity, but in these circumstances it is worth reminding people to ensure they keep distinct their role as candidate and their day job in the organisation.

This applies to local elections, too.

But let common sense prevail. Use the opportunity that an election can bring to highlight your work and your objectives if that is appropriate for you.

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send questions to

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