Public benefit requirement 'seen as an opportunity to develop public confidence in charities'

Charity Commission study also found sector reactions ranging from 'not a priority' to anger and anxiety among those feeling under scrutiny

Charity Commission
Charity Commission

The public benefit requirement should be embraced by trustees and charity staff as a way of developing and maintaining confidence in the "charity brand", according to a new report published by the Charity Commission.

The regulator commissioned the Institute for Voluntary Action Research and Sheffield Hallam University to carry out research into charities’ perceptions, knowledge and experiences of the public benefit requirement.

The report, which is based on interviews with 11 voluntary sector leaders and three workshops with trustees, charity staff and advisers, was published yesterday.

"In relation to the charity sector as a whole, the public benefit requirement was perceived as a potential opportunity to develop and maintain confidence in the ‘charity brand’," it says.

It also says that reactions to the requirement were diverse and "range from the view that it is not a priority, particularly given the current financial climate, to feelings of anger and anxiety, especially on the part of those charities that feel they are under scrutiny".

There was a perception that larger charities were generally better than smaller ones at understanding the requirement, and that religious and faith organisations, fee-charging charities and membership organisations tended to be particularly affected by it, it says.

In a written foreword to the report, Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the Charity Commission, says that the requirement had helped the focus and strategic thinking of many charities.

"We need to help charities understand that, far from being an irrelevant distraction, the public benefit requirement is about core questions of mission," she says. "It is about charities being clear what their aims are, who they serve and how they serve."

The 11 people interviewed as part of the research included Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and Liz Dyer, service coordinator of the Small Charities Coalition.

Etherington said in a statment: "This research reaffirms that public benefit is the cornerstone of charity law and a central tenet for maintaining public trust and confidence in the sector’s work.

"It is also very positive that the renewed focus on public benefit has paved the way for fresh ideas and strategic thinking by trustees."

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