Think tank chief suggests a 'Civil Society Improvement Agency'

Dan Corry of the NPC says the body would act as 'an instigator; a depository of knowledge and an advocate for change'

Dan Corry
Dan Corry

Dan Corry, chief executive of the think tank NPC, has renewed calls for a new "Civil Society Improvement Agency" that would work to drive up effectiveness across the sector.

In a speech made at his organisation’s annual conference in London this morning, Corry called for a new body to act as "an instigator; a depository of knowledge and an advocate for change".

He said the rewards and incentives in the voluntary sector were usually aligned with fundraising and survival. "I’ve yet to see a chief executive sacked for failing to achieve enough social impact," he said.

Efficiency and effectiveness were highly varied across the sector, said Corry.

"Without a clear metric to guide decision-making and provide focus, there is often a lot of avoiding decisions, of not thinking hard and rigorously enough about resource allocation," he said.

"The lack of an external pressure – such as the commercial in business, or the democratic in government – in the non-profit world is bound to have an effect."

Corry said the proposed organisation would be based loosely on the Improvement and Development Agency for local government.

"We need high-class monitoring of what is going on in our sector: data, analysis, debate," he said. "That will in different ways help shape the way we move forward."

The new body would be sector-led but not a membership organisation, and would be joint-funded by the sector and government, said Corry.

"It would push good practice and free the Charity Commission to focus purely on regulation, which is where I think its priority should be – in contrast to what the recent Charity Commission strategy pushes towards," he said.

"It’s a controversial idea, but one I think could really add value."

Corry said that regulation of charities should be changed so that boards had to report on – and therefore occasionally discuss – their impact and how they could improve it.

NPC last year published a paper that recommended the creation of a new improvement body "to help promote good practice and stamp out bad practice".

In his speech today, Corry also expressed concerns about the "uneven geographical spread" of the voluntary sector around the UK.

He said that, broadly speaking, the density of charities tended to be higher in more prosperous regions than in poorer communities.

Corry, who is a member of the Charity Tax Commission, set up by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations to propose improvements to the tax regime to benefit charities, said he was "not holding my breath" that it would discover that tax breaks currently benefit the people and places that need them the most. 

- The final line of the article was amended on 11 October 2018.

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