On 1 October the Charity Commission held its first fully digital annual public meeting. Whilst a virtual event wasn’t their preferred outreach approach, it did prove effective because over 5,000 people registered an interest in joining the broadcast.
It starts with interviews with the public in the street about what “charity” means to them. This was no surprise because the Charity Commission has followed this mantra of asking charities to take account of public expectations for a while. As evidenced in Baroness Stowell’s speech back in December to women Chairs and CEOs of charities, she explained that charities can and should lead the way in taking people’s expectations seriously.
The public meeting then moved onto a formal online procedure which started with a speech by Baroness Stowell, Chairperson of the Charity Commission. During the speech Baroness Stowell referred to informal mutual aid networks that had sprung up during the pandemic, “sometimes supported by existing groupings or organisations, but often presenting simply as coordinated individual acts of kindness.”
The Charity Commission wants to make sure that the Register is open to this “wider charitable instinct – to encourage more people who are perhaps not the ‘usual’ suspects to consider channeling their charitable endeavours into existing and new registered charities.”
If you would like help in setting up a charity, Voluntary Action LeicesterShire (VAL) can provide free support with the register process. Just send us a message. If using the online contact form then use the support for your voluntary organisation drop down box in the reason for contact section.
Levelling up agenda
The Baroness mentioned that Danny Kruger MP has published a range of proposals to strengthen what he describes as the social covenant as part of the government’s leveling-up agenda.
The MP suggests a form of probationary registration period for new entrants on to the register. The Baroness feels this is an idea worth serious consideration if the Register is to be truly plural and more easily accessible to new people who are great standard-bearers for what Charity means.
NCVO’s Director of Public Policy, Sarah Vibert, has written a blog about her thoughts on the report. Sarah feels that Kruger’s recommendation to consider a requirement for employers to give time off to volunteer as trustees and school governors is very welcome, as are his ideas to address diversity in volunteering.
Sarah also touches on the topic of the report recommending that the government should create a law outlining that the whole purpose of public spending is to deliver value for society, not just value for money for one particular budget.
Charity Commission improved efficiency and effectiveness
The public meeting continued with a speech by Dr. Helen Stephenson, Chief Executive Officer of the Charity Commission for England & Wales, in which she explained that the pandemic has demonstrated that charities have been relied on to provide life-saving services, as well as small local community groups innovating and helping people in support of a common cause.
However she noted that charities are reliant are on the contributions people of all backgrounds make on a continuous basis. If your charity needs help in recruiting volunteers, then VAL can advertise your volunteer opportunities for free.
Whilst a transcript of the CEO’s speech hasn’t been published, a number of things about improved efficiency and effectiveness are described in Dr. Stephenson’s July blog. This includes reductions in the total volume of ‘queued’ casework by 80%, despite increasing demand during the year, as well as supporting an extra 6,000 charities by answering 12,000 more calls, having invested in increasing their contact centre’s capacity.
As well as the Charity Commission’s call centre, VAL provides free support for your voluntary organisation or service, giving 1:1 support to trustees and staff on topics such as governance, policies, funding etc.
New online register of charities
In the latter part of the CEO’s speech, Dr. Stephenson referred to the revised public register that was launched in September 2020. She explained that the register can be used by people considering setting up a charity so that they are not duplicating the efforts of others.
Funders can also use the register to make informed choices about who to fund. The improved functionality should make it easier for trustees to access their information and update the charity’s record. In our recent sector support newsletter we published the details of the charity commission press release.
If you haven’t checked your charity’s register yet we recommend you do and update accordingly, making sure such things as your policy details, trustee details, and staffing levels are correct.
Revitalising Trust Programme
The speech concluded with details of the Revitalising Trust programme, including a video of staff working at the Charity Commission on this project. Since its launch in 2018 it has secured the release of £32 million of inactive funds back into the sector.
The Revitalising Trusts programme is managed by the Charity Commission and UK Community Foundations, with funding from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). It aims to help inactive or ‘ineffective’ charities either get back up and running, or redeploy their dormant funds to other good causes.
The programme classes charities that have had no income or expenditure for the last five as inactive, with those that have spent less than 30% of their total income over the last five years classed as ineffective.
But it might be for any number of reasons that you can no longer manage your charity in the way it used to run. Perhaps you have struggled to get trustees, or people to help out, or the area you work in has changed and no longer needs the same kind of support.
Your first port of call should be to contact VAL in case there is some work that can be done to review aims and operations.
However, if the work has become too onerous, or no longer viable, or the people in your organisation just want to move on, Leicestershire and Rutland Community Foundation can often help. The Community Foundation works with you and the Charity Commission to manage closing the charity, and transferring the assets under formal agreements. And it ensures that support can continue “in the spirit of the original intent”.
For example If your charity or trust is one of the ancient ones that aims to help with “bread for the poor at Easter” the Charity Commission will agree to a new expression for the 21st century – perhaps to support those in poverty or with food support.
One charity that worked in this way is Apex Works. Apex worked for many years and very effectively with disadvantaged people in Leicester and Leicestershire facing multiple barriers to employment, who are often turned away due to preconceptions or not given the chances that other people are given.
When the time came for them to close, they set up the Apex Works Fund. Their assets are invested for charitable income and with help of the Community Foundation, they give grants out once a year to organisations in Leicester and Leicestershire that address barriers that stop vulnerable and marginalised people achieving employment. Seeking to improve their prospects in the labour market, to relieve and prevent poverty through employment and appropriate training.
Grants have been given to HQ Can, Falcon Support Services, Zinthiya Trust, Confident Communities and Leicester City of Sanctuary, all to support vulnerable people towards employment.
Other trusts that have found a new lease of life with the Community Foundation are a large number of educational trusts, and several smaller parish trusts, which are now giving grants, often with the involvement of nay surviving trustees.
To find out more, contact the Community Foundation on firstname.lastname@example.org and they will be in touch.
Diversity within trustee boards
The public meeting concluded with some questions from the public via online questioning with the executive team at the Charity Commission.
One question was about the issues that trustees face. Paul Latham, Director of Communications and Policy answered this question explaining that their casework has identified issues with collective decision making. The Charity Commission guidance ‘It’s your decision: charity trustees and decision making’ might be a useful tool if you are encountering similar problems.
The Charity Commission is in the process of updating a number of their guidance materials. Sign up for VAL’s Sector Support newsletter so you can be kept informed of when and what revised guidance is released.
Another question was by Tesse Akpeki, who I have had the pleasure to meet at the Charity Commission annual public meeting in London a few years ago. Tesse referred to the Charity Governance Code. Principle 6 of the governance code is about the topic of Diversity.
The code states that “Diversity, in the widest sense, is essential for boards to stay informed and responsive and to navigate the fast-paced and complex changes facing the voluntary sector. Boards whose trustees have different backgrounds and experience are more likely to encourage debate and to make better decisions.”
Dr Helen Stephenson welcomed this question and felt that diversity within boards is crucial to health and wellbeing of the sector. If you would like to find out more of how to become a trustee in your local community please sign up and search for volunteer opportunities, or give VAL a call.
Linda Jones, chair of VAL’s board of trustees recent blog ‘Being a charity trustee – your contribution will make a difference’ will hopefully inspire you to pick up that phone and offer your support.
The recording of the annual public meeting can be accessed on Youtube.