Recent high-profile scandals have left many charity trustees wondering how to do the right thing when it comes to accepting certain donations.
Trustees have rightly been wanting to make sure that money does not come from sources that might compromise the charity’s reputation, independence and work.
Responsible trustees right across the sector will have been watching closely how others have managed difficult decisions in recent months, following concerns about the ethical implications of accepting money linked to sullied commercial brands or gala dinners that fell wide of the mark in terms of what is acceptable in the 21st century.
We seem to be moving beyond the days when fundraisers might have chased corporate giants doling out the biggest cheques without necessarily considering where the money came from.
Only hours after the Presidents Club Charitable Trust story broke, the sector was already alive with questions about whether charities should accept and/or return donations from the charity. And more recently, the Sackler Trust suspended all new charitable donations amid claims linking the family fortune to the opioid crisis in the US.
It’s clear that charities are being increasingly conscious of their purposes when considering these difficult judgements, weighing up concerns about how the funds were raised against the financial impact of turning them down.
Thinking back to when I first became a trustee myself, this wasn’t a mainstream concern; many charities saw maximising their short-term income for the cause as being straightforwardly in their best interests.
What we’re seeing now suggests trustees are listening to an increasingly civic-minded and conscious public, and thinking about how they can best live their charity’s values and stay true to their raison d’être.
This shifting, more conscious approach to trusteeship is not to be knocked. It can be seen across a whole range of issues – from calls for further clarity around ethical investment policies, to charities acknowledging the need for transparency, admitting when projects have failed, and reporting to the Commission when things go wrong.
From where I stand, it seems that the sector is increasingly emboldened by its own values, not just in what it does, but also in how it acts and behaves.
As regulator, we welcome this. Charities are more than just a sum of their balance sheet and services they provide to a community. They belong to the public, and exist for the betterment of society, so it is right that they are considering what the public, their beneficiaries and volunteers think and feel about sensitive issues when making decisions about money.
To read the full Charity Commission Blog click here.