Action by volunteers was critical in the anti-discrimination laws being approved in Guernsey recently, but how far should charities push themselves forward when it comes to campaigning politically?
Wayne Bulpitt, Chair of the Association of Guernsey Charities ponders what voluntary organisations need to consider before launching any controversial activity.
Pictured: One of Wayne Bulpitt's charitable roles includes work with the organising committee for the 2023 Island Games.
To campaign or not – a fine line for charities?
The role of campaigning charities hit the headlines in Guernsey during the recent anti-discrimination legislation debate when a few politicians vented their anger at what they thought was inappropriate behaviour of some of the individuals and charities campaigning for the long overdue change.
The reality, however, is that without the 15 years of very hard work by the largely volunteer ‘workforce’ of the Guernsey Disability Alliance and others, it is very unlikely that an effective law would now be in place, and certainly not with the resources and support to enact it.
So, for charity trustees, a question is, how do you define that ‘fine line’ and more crucially, how do you navigate along it?
Guernsey is not alone in having ‘sensitive” politicians, complaints to the UK Government about campaigning charities, particularly those that also receive significant government funding to increasingly deliver critical social and community services, has led the Charity Commission to issue guidance on why and how charities might campaign.
There are a few key considerations for trustees:
i. Are you allowed? Check your constitution (rules, M&AA, registration) to ensure it is within your permitted activities/objectives.
ii. Pros & cons – evaluate the potential benefits of campaigning (“campaigning” may just be expressing a view/issuing a press release as well as a more proactive engagement), how will it help you achieve your objectives? How will your stakeholders (volunteers/staff, funders, beneficiaries) feel?
iii. How? – perhaps the most critical, how will you achieve this, where to set those fine lines? Too subtle and nice, and you may not be noticed; too aggressive and you may be counterproductive. The Charity Commission’s sound advice is to monitor reactions, assess impact and review accordingly.
Whatever you decide, communication with all stakeholders is key.
Remember, many significant changes in society came about through the actions, not always popular at first, of a minority willing to take a stand for change.
Wayne Bulpitt CBE
Chair, Association of Guernsey Charities