The charity sector must fight restrictions on its ability to advocate, a report from the Third Sector Research Centre says.
The report, published today, was compiled by TSRC director Pete Alcock, centre manager Cathy Butt and research fellow Rob Macmillan. It sums up conclusions for the TSRC’s series of Futures Dialogues discussions and papers, which have been looking at a variety of voluntary sector subjects since September.
"Advocacy has been a core activity within many third sector organisations and, while changing economic and political circumstances might change the focus and the message, they do not remove the right of organisations to advocate for change," says the report.
"The sector has a duty to promote the importance of advocacy within the public domain, in particular where this is challenged, either directly by ‘gagging clauses’ or indirectly by suggestions that public funding should not be used to advocate for policy change."
The report says the sector must take action to ensure that it remains autonomous, but this does not necessarily mean stepping away from receiving government funding.
"For some organisations, public funding and regulation will remain central elements of their purpose and practice; and for some, competition and commercial trading will be critical to their mission and sustainability," the report says. "Others might be able to navigate a more autonomous path, relatively immune from the state and the market."
The report also says that the sector should continue to speak with a unified voice, wherever possible, on charity-wide issues such as "policy and practice on commissioning, availability and use of social investment, capacity building and support, localism and community budgeting".
"There will continue to be the need for a sector voice, which is more than just the clamour resulting from the claims of particular organisations or subsectors, or a focus on particular issues," the report says. "This voice may in practice represent only a strategic unity, appealing to or speaking for those issues around which organisations might have common cause, and seeking to use this to influence external agents in government or the commercial world."
It also says that sector organisations should recognise their power to change policy decisions they do not agree with.
"Any discussion of the future of the sector should avoid a ‘victim mentality’ that sees organisations only as passive products of changing political and economic pressures," it says.