Public support cannot be taken for granted, Charity Commission chair warns charities

Baroness Stowell uses the Charity Commission's first virtual annual public meeting to call for greater accountability and transparency across the sector

Baroness Stowell
Baroness Stowell

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown charities that public support cannot be taken for granted, the chair of the Charity Commission has warned.

Baroness Stowell used her opening address at the regulator’s annual public meeting today to discuss the impact the pandemic has had on charitable giving, while calling for greater accountability and transparency across the sector.

She also said the Charity Commission’s register must reflect some of the more informal organisations that have sprung up during the pandemic, while maintaining standards and efficiency.

Stowell paid tribute at the event, which was held online for the first time, to the role charities had played during the coronavirus crisis.

However, she said that while evidence of courage and generosity from individuals and within communities had given the sector hope, it had left many charities facing financial difficulty.

“It’s shown just how reliant on generosity the sector is. Giving is not a grand gesture we make once a year, it’s how we live daily; in normal times it’s so effective,” said Stowell. “It’s easy not to notice how pervasive charity is in our daily lives."

For the sector to learn the lessons from the crisis and “build back better”, she said that “public support cannot be taken for granted”.

Stowell called for greater commitment to accountability and transparency from charities, and to respect public expectations for support.

“Charities need to tell people that they understand… to recognise and explain the particular difference a donation will make, and that every penny will be spent wisely.”

Stowell said she wanted to ensure that the register reflected the expansion of charities during Covid-19, and in particular, some of the more informal organisations.

“I want to make sure our register is open to this, because the safest way to maintain standards is to ensure structures remain fit for purpose,” she said.

“Standards matter because motives matter. If people are going to get behind a charity they need to believe their motives. Being clear about standards [is] so important to the future of the sector.”

For the regulator, Stowell said this meant providing a level of assurance and efficiency to the sector and the public.

“We need to be able to act decisively when a charity lets the side down.”

She said the regulator had a crucial part to play in weathering the storm of coronavirus.

“We all have to work harder. Now more than ever, we have collective responsibility that the impact charity has is more than the sum of its parts.”

“Charitable status need to remain relevant for today's world and into the future, keeping front of mind the lessons of the lockdown.”

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