Charity trustees in E&W should not reject donations out of 'righteous progressiveness', says Charity Commission

Monday, 13 November 2023
The chair of the Charity Commission for England and Wales (the Charity Commission) has warned trustees that they should not refuse or return philanthropic donations without 'very good reason'.

In a lecture given on 9 November 2023, chair Orlando Fraser KC said the Charity Commission would mostly respect trustees' refusal of a gift from a high-net-worth donor but might intervene if the trustees' motivations appeared to be their own personal worldviews or preferences rather than the best interests of the charity.

The Charity Commission is currently developing updated guidance for charities on accepting or refusing donations, he said. This guidance, to be published early in 2024, will compel trustees to think more carefully about returning or refusing donations. 'I want to signal, quite clearly, that the law generally expects charities to accept monies where they are available, in order to deliver on their purposes for the public benefit, and not to refuse or return them without very good reason...the refusal or return of a donation inevitably involves a loss to the charity', said Fraser.

'Demonstrative personal squeamishness around sources of philanthropic funding may benefit the sense of righteous progressiveness of a trustee or charity executive, but it will most likely not serve the beneficiary reliant on the services a charity provides', he said. Moreover, such attitudes also risked deterring charitable giving by high-net-worth individuals overall, although there might sometimes be situations justifying the rejection or return of funds, such as instances involving illegal donations or where there was great reputational risk.

Fraser suggested there is an 'urgent need' for more monies to flow into the charity sector and that there are 'limited options' to provide this new cash, with the government unable to make up the shortfall. Larger-scale donations from philanthropists could play a 'crucial role' in covering charity operating costs, he said: 'Such arrangements, especially where they are celebrated and communicated by the charities involved, have the potential to provide crucial immediate cash injections for struggling charities, and, in the longer term, promote public trust and inspire continued, confident public giving.'


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