At this North East VCSE Policy Forum meeting we will examine and discuss charities’ campaigning and influencing activities; the recent political narratives that have sought to reduce charities’ ability to campaign and engage in political dialogue and the importance of campaigning, lobbying and influencing from charities to drive and shape social change.
Following months of political controversy, the Charity Commission has recently clarified that charities are allowed to campaign robustly and engage in political debate providing that such actions align with their mission and has the backing of trustees.
This is welcome and reassuring news after a series of statements from prominent politicians and senior members of the Charity Commission earlier in the year that led many commentators to believe that challenging the right of charities to engage in political discourse could have a ‘chilling’ effect and stifle charity campaigning and influencing.
In the latest round of Third Sector Trends research, Prof. Tony Chapman from St. Durham University with funding from the Millfield House Foundation, included a specific focus on the campaigning and influencing activities of charities and wider voluntary sector organisations. The report on this area of focus Third Sector Trends 2022: Relationships, influencing and Charities, was published in February 2023 and in October 2023, a follow on report Third Sector Trends in England and Wales 2022: shaping social change through campaigning and influencing was published.
This latest report shows that many charities (73%) do ‘steer clear of political issues’, but this does not mean that they stop campaigning, participating in formal public consultations or debates or lobbying behind the scenes to effect changes in local social and public policy – indeed, only one fifth (21%) of charities abstain from all of these forms of influencing.
The report goes on to examine why politicians’ interventions unlikely to have much impact on campaigning and influencing:
'The objectives of charities are usually achieved with a mix of practical action and influencing. This strongly suggests that threats from politicians to limit the third sector’s campaigning and influencing activity is unlikely to impinge significantly on the way that local organisations make decisions about what they want to achieve, how they garner resources and how they work – it is just one factor amongst many other considerations.
In some senses, all organisations in the third sector are continually engaged in a campaign to champion their chosen cause and convince others that investing in them is worth their while. If they stop doing it, their chances of survival would be slim in a highly competitive civil society environment.'
Political pressure at a national level on the way charities campaign or lobby has proven to be an unwelcome intrusion in established sector culture and practice. And it is a big relief to many that the Charity Commission has clarified that the right to engage in the political process (within certain limits) is enshrined within the law.
Prof. Tony Chapman will be attending the Policy Forum meeting to give an overview of the report findings and to lead a discussion on its contents.
Before attending the Policy Forum meeting, we would ask that attendees visit the following web page to get an overview of the latest report findings and to download and read the full report if you wish as background to the session: Political pressure to stifle charity campaigning is unlikely to be effective - St Chad's College Durham (stchads.ac.uk)
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