Ten things the charity sector needs to do to restore its reputation

1. Better fundraising regulation

1. Better fundraising regulation

We need better fundraising regulation. I have been writing about inadequacies of the current system since 2012. So the new regime of a stronger, better funded regulator with control over the Code of Practice is very welcome.

2. Trusteeship needs a revolution

The standard of charity trusteeship needs to be higher, both through better trustees and better practices. The code of good governance for the sector is at best treading water (though Northern Ireland has just relaunched its code), and at worst moribund.

3. Better media messages and spokespeople

The sector’s performance in the face of media stories has been patchy to put it mildly. When the big stories have broken the sector has been unable to effectively counter the accusations made against us. We need better messages and a breadth of articulate spokespeople.

4. Forget our good works

Because we are the charity sector, there is a tendency to believe that doing good works makes us different, and that we  can operate to a different set of criteria to the public or private sectors because of this. We must never let the good work of the sector make us feel we can do things that other sectors wouldn’t be able to get away with.

5. Start the search for new funding

We need to start looking for new sources of funding and fundraising. The only estimate that I have seen, suggests an annual drop of around £2 billion after five years. That is a lot of money that charities won’t be spending on beneficiaries. So we need to start looking for new sources of income for charities.

6. Develop a thirst for scrutiny

We need a culture change in the sector in which we welcome scrutiny.  We need to embrace criticism, not instinctively reject it, not least because it is one of the ways we understand the gaps between what we do, and how we are seen.

7. Create an Ofsted for charities

There have been many attempts to find a way to evaluate the performance of charities. We need a kind of Ofsted for Charities which would have a set of key criteria about how charities were working. These could include: governance, financial management, effectiveness of mission delivery, fundraising, communications and so on. It wouldn’t be perfect or easy, but it would be an improvement on the status quo.

8. Better charity metrics and clearer charity accounts

We need to provide clearer and better information to help people judge charities, both on how they spend their money and how well they do their job. This means changes to charity accounts, and also better ways of charities summarising the difference they have made. It also means a change in attitude by those who think that simple metrics are crass and inappropriate.

9. Get the message across about our good works

In apparent contradiction to the point above, we need to make sure that we are in the news for the amazing works that charities do. The media coverage of charities is divided into the terrible and the angelic, the former we have seen so much of recently. We need to find ways to make the coverage of the fascinating work that charities do normal, not exceptional.

10. Comprehensive stakeholder research

One of the weaknesses is that the sector seems to do little research in how different stakeholder groups see charities and the sector. We need some comprehensive research to help the sector know where it is going wrong and what it is doing right to rebuild public trust.

And wrapping it all together: Create a 10 year plan

During the last year, there was too much knee-jerk response by the sector to the media coverage. All the evidence is that the media and politicians will continue digging for dirt for the foreseeable future. This means there are no short-term fixes to the situation we are in. We need a 10 year plan to tackle it and not a series of sticking-plaster solutions.

Joe Saxton

This is an edited extract from Joe Saxton’s blueprint for restoring the charity sector’s reputation report. For the full report please download from our website along with over a hundred free reports and presentations.