6 July 2011
Dame Suzi Leather, Chair of the Charity Commission, has called on trustees to be open with the public about the realities of running an effective charity in the 21st century.
Dame Suzi urged trustees to help the public understand why charities can’t operate on ‘thin air and love alone’ and that most charities can’t make an impact on their beneficiaries’ lives without spending money on overheads.
Speaking at a charity conference in London, Dame Suzi has said the public take financial matters in charities seriously, with recent research revealing that 'ensuring that a reasonable proportion of a charity's income reaches the end cause' is the single most important factor driving trust in charities.
Dame Suzi said that trustees have a responsibility to educate the public about the realities of charity work, to explain “how, why and with what effect the charity spends its money”. But she said that many are reluctant to speak out:
"I think it’s fair to say that charities sometimes feel uncomfortable about this issue. Many worry that the public simply doesn’t understand how modern charities operate. Charities worry that people just don’t want to understand that, for example: you can’t provide effective support to young offenders without having well-qualified, full-time professionals on board. You can’t provide sophisticated healthcare in remote parts of the world without accruing transport costs, security costs or paying doctors. Its not helped when charities claim that ‘every penny donated goes to the cause’. Not knowing that means the administration is simply paid for in another way, the public is encouraged to believe charities can live on thin air and love alone. But, here’s my view: the public will never understand why charities have ‘overheads’ unless trustees themselves have the courage to talk about them. Overheads are part and parcel of being effective. The public and funders aren’t going to suddenly ‘get it’ unless it’s explained to them. Charities have to construct that narrative both about effectiveness and the costs of delivering impact."
During her speech on Wednesday 6 July, Dame Suzi also urged trustees not to lose sight of their responsibilities in managing their charities.
She said recently published research on public benefit reporting among charities revealed that some trustees had delegated all responsibility for public benefit reporting to staff members or external accountants:
"We know trustees are under pressure, and have a wide variety of duties to contend with. But what could be more crucial than explaining why your charity exists, what it aims to achieve and how it works to meet those aims? Trustees must take ownership of this work."
The full speech is available on the Charity Commission website at www.charitycommission.gov.uk.
For further information on this story, please contact the press office
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Notes to editors
1. The Charity Commission is the independent regulator and registrar of charities. See our website at www.charitycommission.gov.uk .
2. Our mission is: to ensure charities’ legal compliance, enhance charities’ accountability, encourage charities’ effectiveness and impact and to promote the public interest in charity.
3. You can find more helpful information for journalists on our online Media Information Centre - http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/about_us/contacting_us/press_office/media_information/default.aspx.
4. Dame Suzi has been Chair of the Charity Commission since August 2006. Her previous chairing roles include the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the School Food Trust, an NHS Trust and a community project. Dame Suzi was also the first Deputy Chair of the Food Standards Agency. She has volunteered with Age Concern, the Probation Service, a community playgroup, a community food project and a grassroots project to support older people in their own homes. Dame Suzi’s academic background is in politics, social work and probation. Her particular interests include food policy, nutrition and poverty, the needs of low-income consumers and the impact of European policies on UK consumers.
5. Dame Suzi was speaking at the Action Planning ‘Leading your charity through a time of change’ conference in London.
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