Small Charity Index Perceptions – September – November 2018

The Small Charity Index is the FSI’s quarterly ‘Pulse of the Sector’ report and has been collecting data every three months since June 2013. The report looks at income, service delivery, workforce and governance, allowing us to track the trends, challenges and opportunities emerging for small charities. Now into the Index’s sixth year of collecting data, we’ve decided to shake things up and release a quarterly blog examining the data that we collect. Here’s what we found looking back at September – November 2018:

The role of the Charity Commission:

The second half of 2018 was a time of reflection and change for the charity sector, with the government releasing their Civil Society Strategy at the end of the summer, Julia Unwin’s Civil Society’s Futures report launched at the end of the year, and the Charity Commission unveiling their new Strategy in October. With this in mind, we wanted to find out what small charities think the role of the Charity Commission currently is, and what they think the Commission’s role should be.

The Charity Commission’s role is primarily as the regulator for charities in England and Wales, so it is surprising that only 42% of respondents chose this, and even fewer (31%) think that’s the role they should play. Instead, a large number of respondents believe the Charity Commission should be playing a role as an advisor or an advocate for the sector: “It should be an advocate but at the moment its role seems to be confused” said one reply.

This confusion is prevalent across the sector, and was addressed by the Commission at their November APPG on Charities and Volunteering, where they explained that although their Strategy aims to increase public trust and that their “purpose is deliberately positive”, they are not policing charity behaviours or acting as an advocate for charities. Their role is primarily to regulate charities and ensure that charitable objectives are being met.

Another theme that emerged from the data is that some respondents were critical of the Commission, with one comment that the Commission is currently “Treading water. Understaffed. Not proactive enough”.  Similarly, another comment said: “I think it is weak at present and therefore does not play an effective role in any of the above. With the Commission’s turning point in mind, our next question asked respondents to elaborate on this and share their recommendations for the Commission.

As a small charity, what would be the one piece of advice that you would give to the Charity Commission?

Respondents were clear in both questions that they wanted more and easier access to support from the Commission:

 “Please make yourselves more accessible. The web information is not always tailored to what we need to know, and as a small charity, we don’t have the resources to keep seeking and seeking – it would be much more efficient to be able to speak to an expert at the Charity Commission, which would make us feel that the organisation is there to support charities.

Engage more with charities to share learning, good practice and also skills/ knowledge/experience; this is especially useful for smaller charities with fewer resources.

As a response to our members’ needs, the FSI Skills Conference will include two interactive workshops with the Charity Commission. You can find out more here and here.

As the FSI work with thousands of small charities, we know that ways of working in very small organisations are vastly different to those in larger organisations. Respondents (all from charities with a turnover under £1m) echoed this, suggesting the Commission should:

 “Ensure that regulatory/administrative processes are proportionate to charity size/scale.

 “Ensure administrative processes are easily accessible for small charities that rely heavily on volunteer input for all governance and oversight activities; and that regulatory/administrative processes are proportionate to charity size/scale.

Be aware of the impact of new regulation on charity. Even just changing a form can mean a big increase to workload on part-time staff or volunteers who have other commitments as well.

However, one small charity leader had a different perspective, and felt that all charities should have the same opportunities within the Commission’s register, regardless of their size:

Allow charities with a turnover of under £10k to upload their Annual Reports to the Charity Commission if they produce them and thus make them available to the public – I’m chair of a micro charity that’s run entirely by volunteers, but we produce a full Trustees Report & accounts every year to use for fundraising and it’s irritating the we can’t have it on the Charity Commission site.

This shows that size isn’t everything and, as one respondent said, the Commission can’t “assume there is a single ‘charity sector’” – some small charities would like to showcase their annual report on the Commission, while others are calling for fewer regulatory and administrative processes.

Finally, (and to prove it’s not all doom and gloom!), other responses were more positive in their advice, or lack thereof, for the Commission:

Nothing really, from the knowledge I have of them they seem to be doing a good job.

I don’t feel qualified to give the Charity Commission advice. It’s not an easy job they have.

And on one last point, one small charity had a succinct and important thought for the Commission:

Don’t forget us, we’re the backbone on which much of the work is done!

With a more detailed road map to the Commission’s Strategy promised soon, we look forward to seeing how they will reconcile these differing perceptions and demonstrate what role they will play going forwards.

Have your say:
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