Should charities “get political”?

The debate about this, fuelled by remarks by Charity Commission Chairman Orlando Fraser, has generated a considerable amount of comment by, and in, the media during the past month. For example, much has been made of Mr Fraser’s past links with the Conservative Party.

Most, if not all, of us have political views and vote in elections. The concept therefore that charities, their Trustees, executive teams and volunteers should somehow be completely apolitical is unrealistic. It follows that members of all these groups will support one or other of the political parties and that appointing a Chairman of the Charity Commission who has no record of support for any political party is likely to prove challenging to say the least – except perhaps Martin Bell.

Whatever party is in power, it is almost certain that at least some charities will support or oppose those government policies which affect their own beneficiaries. This does not mean that they will or should necessarily support or oppose that party in government or its overall policy slate – but they rightly feel the need to point out publicly if they believe that for example, homeless or disabled people, are disadvantaged by a particular government policy or programme.

It is healthy in a democracy that charities should challenge politicians and fight for their own beneficiaries. By the same token, charities which are perceived to ally themselves closely to a particular political party are in effect surrendering their independence. Charities need to attract and retain a wide range of donors who will have differing political views. Fundraising today is challenging enough without unnecessarily alienating existing and potential donors.