Comment: Charities can’t let the government bully them into silence

By Cecilie Hestbaek

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Chris Grayling imagined charities as a new 'enemy within'. Campaigning charities represent a "mentality that would do real damage to our country," he argued, a conspiracy theory already comprehensively dismantled on

Those who try to shut up charities who speak about the problems they see, and recommend solutions to those in power, demonstrate two things. They are turning away from the democratic role played by healthy civil society in bringing unheard voices to the attention of their elected representatives; and are closing down one set of expert voices on complex public policy questions at a time when they are most valuable.

It's time for charities to step up and resist this line of argument. It comes from Grayling today, but the sector should be on the front foot to guard against it coming from any political party.

In a recent blog, my colleague Rob Abercrombie wrote about the charity sector being "individually strong, but collectively weak". Addressing that has never been more urgent. Charity campaigning often means speaking for disadvantaged groups, and if we allow the trust in charities to be undermined, we allow the voices of those people to be muted.

Fortunately, it shouldn't be difficult for charities to show their beneficiaries and supporters that such grand theories are woefully misplaced. But this can't be achieved from a defensive crouch. Transparency is key: charities should be confident enough to provide more information about how they work and what they are trying to achieve. Conspiracy theories thrive in a vacuum, so now is the time for charities to be more open about what makes them vital and effective.

This is difficult territory, which is why NPC has published the principles on which transparency must be based. The effectiveness of a charity campaign can also be tough to measure, which is why we are releasing a report on this issue next month. But for those of us who believe that charities are a force for good, proving this point forcefully is the strongest weapon we have got towards those who tell us otherwise, no matter which party or government they may represent. 

Cecilie Hestbaek is a researcher at NPC, the think tank for the charity sector

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