Unwin urges charities to speak up

Charity Commissioner Julia Unwin has urged voluntary organisations to respond to the Government review of charity law and regulation. Speaking at the inaugural Third Sector Forum, Unwin said: "It's terribly important that the sector has a voice."

The two-day forum was attended by 47 communications and fundraising managers who took part in a series of seminars and meetings.

NCVO is also calling for the voluntary sector to respond to the strategy unit's report, emphasising the need for a charities bill. It urges organisations to respond quickly with both negative and positive reactions to the suggestions in the report. The deadline for responses is 31 December.

The Charity Commission, according to Unwin, was one of the chief initiators of the review. "The Commission pushed government to review charity law, which resulted in the PIU," she said.

One of the recommendations of the review is that the Commission is reformed to resemble a more traditional regulatory authority and renamed the Charity Regulatory Authority.

Unwin added that she favoured the self-regulation of the voluntary sector and recommended that charities in the same service areas sorted out benchmarks together. "I do think some kind of regulation is coming, but it may be inappropriate if the sector doesn't get there first," she said.

In the same seminar, Andy Williamson, director of fundraising at the Royal London Society for the Blind, said he did not think the voluntary sector had shown that it was capable of self-regulation. He said: "I think the management in this sector is very poor. It needs some outside intervention."

Unwin highlighted the importance of transparency and openness in the sector and praised the RNID's impact report as a good reflection of this.

The report gave details of what the organisation was aiming to achieve and the impact it had managed to make on the lives of deaf people over the past year.

She also expressed concern about some current fundraising methods. "Charities need to invest heavily for the future but I do worry about fundraising methods that put the public off, for instance sending a biro. You may get a good return on investment in the first year but it may in the long term turn the donor off. We need new methods of fundraising."

I Speaking at the same event Lisa Harker, deputy director of the IPPR, think-tank, said that charities needed to reconsider their lobbying techniques to keep up with the changing structure of government. She argued that traditional methods such as responding to consultations and lobbying MPs were a waste of time and that it was more effective to get members of staff seconded to government departments. "There are an increasing number of opportunities to actually get staff inside a department," she said.

Responses to the Strategy Unit report should be sent to piuvolsect@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk or Strategy Unit/Home Office (charities project) Admiralty Arch, The Mall, London SWIA 2WH.

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