Charity Commission promises new donation guidance to reflect 'promotion of lawful philanthropy'

Thursday, 01 December 2022
The Charity Commission for England and Wales (the Charity Commission) has promised that it will do 'all it reasonably can' to help stimulate more philanthropic giving in England and Wales, including defending charities that come under unfair or undue attack in the context of lawful philanthropic giving.
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The Charity Commission's new Chair, Orlando Fraser KC, pledged to grow philanthropy in a speech at the Beacon Philanthropy Forum on 30 November 2022. Fraser noted that research published in December 2021 suggests that incomes among the top one per cent of earners in the UK grew by about 10 per cent in real terms between 2011 and 2019; however, the typical donation to charity made by top earners fell by over 20 per cent over the same period.

Fraser linked this trend to a widespread failure in society to 'salute the greatest givers'. He referred to a ‘misguided’ and ‘unhelpful’ public tendency over recent years to malign philanthropy and to suppose that giving must be ‘motivated by cynicism, by an attempt to “whitewash” a bad reputation, or to obscure nefarious deeds, or to increase an individual’s power’.

'Charities...directly suffer if we inadvertently discourage such giving', he warned. 'When faced with an economic crisis such as the present, I do think that we must work together to create a culture in which the wealthy are encouraged to give, and indeed are celebrated for giving.'

Fraser said that under his chairmanship the Charity Commission would do whatever was within its remit to help increase philanthropy in the UK, despite its lack of any direct levers. 'As part of our duty to provide legal guidance on charity law, I can confirm that next year we will publish updated guidance on returning and refusing donations', he said. 'Its direction of travel will be a promotion of lawful philanthropy, and ought to further empower trustees to use their discretion in making the right decision for their charity, starting from the principle that charities must have funds in order to deliver on their purposes'.

He stated that public commentators’ misgivings about the motivations of any individuals involved in philanthropy do not automatically translate into a regulatory concern on the Charity Commission's part, unless unlawfulness or serious risk is involved.

Fraser reiterated an earlier promise that he would defend charities where he thought they were coming under unfair or undue attack, whether from the media, politicians or any other quarter. 'Given its obvious importance to the disadvantaged in society, I will very much do this in the context of philanthropic giving, where otherwise lawful and reasonable.'

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