There needs to be a greater understanding of the value of the charity sector and the work it does to ensure it is not mistakenly overlooked or the sector is undermined, according to a research paper published by the Charity Commission.
The Value of the Charity Sector, which was co-authored by Baroness Stowell, chair of the commission, and produced with the consultancy Frontier Economics, highlights five areas where research could highlight the importance of charities and their value to society.
The five areas include direct value to beneficiaries and to volunteers, the report says.
Other areas where research could prove valuable, according to the report, are about the impact of charities on their donors, their employees and wider society as a whole.
The report says that although an approach to measuring each of the five areas would be difficult to apply to every charity’s work, there are areas where charities could benefit from considering who benefits from their activities and how their positive impact could be increased.
Risks from failing to properly measure benefit include "mistakenly overlooking or even undermining the wider public benefit function of charities while focusing on the services charities deliver", the report says.
It adds that failing to measure benefit could affect which organisations become charities in the first place and whether any trade-offs in delivering services are correct.
The commission is therefore looking to discuss how best to understand and capture the value of charitable activities, the report says.
In the introduction to the report, Stowell and the crossbench peer Lord Gus O’Donnell, who also worked on the report, say: "Proper measurement is an important step that would allow the sector to deliver more benefit and to understand its value.
"Measurement must reflect what charity means in the eyes of the public and serve to maintain the distinctiveness of charities in our society.
"This is a particularly timely discussion as policymakers look for solutions to some deep economic and social divides. This government and all governments over the coming years will need to better understand the value of charity as part of seeking those solutions."