Charities must avoid being led astray by the attention they are receiving from the major political parties, Charles Kennedy, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has warned.
Speaking at the NCVO political conference last week, Kennedy said the idea that the state cannot solve certain problems was gaining "quasi acceptance" in political circles. But he warned that charities could - in their eagerness to offer solutions to those problems - end up promoting particular party agendas.
"Charities need to be careful about making the political parties work for them, rather than them working for the politicians," he later told Third Sector.
Kennedy, who was speaking to the conference in a personal capacity, advised voluntary organisations not to get caught up in the wave of voluntary sector rhetoric from politicians. "It's important not to get overwhelmed by it," he said.
He added that the growing role of charities in the delivery of public services did not mean the state could evade its duties. "The state cannot abdicate its responsibilities," he stressed.
However, Kennedy, who is now a backbench MP, advised charities to make the most of the favourable conditions to influence policy-making in the main political parties.
"There is a real chance to exert influence," he said. "But get in there early. It's much harder to influence after the event."
Kennedy also expressed concern about how charitable giving was growing in the UK while the number of people engaged in charitable activity was falling. He suggested that legal barriers and issues such as health and safety meant the UK was missing out on a wealth of volunteers. "We don't seem to be harnessing that very well," he said.