Charities ‘not living up to expectations’, Commission chair tells BBC

Civil Society, by David Ainsworth

Baroness Stowell, the chair of the Charity Commission, has criticised the charities she regulates, saying they aren’t meeting public expectations and are not behaving properly.

Speaking to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, Stowell told interviewer Justin Webb that charities have “the potential to do a whole lot better”.

She said that the sector has forgotten that “charity is about how you behave not just what we’re trying to achieve”.

“The sector has to face up to a big challenge,” she said. “Charities aren’t always meeting the public’s expectations. What I’m calling on charities to do is to recognise their collective responsibility to respond to public expectations, because if they don’t, they aren’t going to provide the benefit the public wants.

“All charities, not just the big ones, have to recognise that they have to demonstrate charitable behaviour and charitable attitude.

“My main requirement right now is for charities themselves to recognise that they have a responsibility in making this change. It can’t all be down to the regulator, it can’t all be down to somebody else, it’s got to be charities themselves.”

In response to a question about whether charities trusted her, she made it clear that she saw herself as on the side of the public, and that this was not always going to be in charity’s interest. “It’s my job to represent the public interest to charities, not to represent charities to the public,” she said.

Stowell’s interview follows a critical speech at the RSA last week, in which she warned about a lack of ethical standards in fundraising, and too much focus on the pursuit of growth.

The speech itself was part of the launch of the Commission’s new statement of strategic intent, which indicates that the Commission will take a more proactive and critical role, and highlights bold ambitions which the document insists cannot be met with the current level of resourcing. Reaction to Stowell’s comments and to the new statement have been mixed.

Some charity leaders have backed her assessment that the sector needs to become more ethical in its behaviours, but others have questioned whether she is over-generalising, and going beyond the brief of the Commission, which is focused on compliance with the law rather than ethics.