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Our policy positions are also derived from our research and the collective knowledge, experience and interests of our staff and board.
The following policy positions are not exhaustive but comprise the main areas of our public commentary and policy activity in recent years. Some positions are the focus of current campaigning activity whereas others have been in the past.
Supporting documents can be accessed by clicking on the links for the topics in the left navigation bar.
Overview of DSC's policy positions
Government and the voluntary sector
Charities are increasingly involved in delivering public services for government. We have concerns about the extent to which this constitutes charitable activity, and whether this may be inadvertently changing what charities are for.
We do not believe the government has properly examined the potential impacts of its commissioning agenda on the beneficiaries of charity, the individual organisations involved, or society as a whole.
Read DSC's documents on government and the voluntary sector
Charity law and regulation
DSC largely supported the Charities Act 2006. Along with many other organisations, we argued that the Government needed to define the meaning of ‘public benefit’ in the legislation itself, but the Government opted to effectively leave this politically contentious issue to the Charity Commission.
The Commission has now published its guidance on public benefit, but it remains to be seen how this will be interpreted and enforced. We will contribute to the ongoing debate about what public benefit means in the context of the new guidance.
We contend that companies have the capacity to put much more back into society. Typically company donations amount to less than 1% of pre-tax profits, and much of this is ‘in-kind’ rather than cash. In comparison to other types of funders, companies only provide about 3-4% of total income for voluntary organisations.
Greater transparency and regularity is needed in how company giving is reported. Too often company giving is motivated by PR or marketing needs rather than genuine concern for the cause or the community being supported. Companies could more to enable staff, shareholders, and customers to help shape their corporate social responsibility activities.
The National Lottery
In our view the principle of ‘additionality’ means that the lottery should fund things that are additional to what government must provide. After a decade of repeated government interference in determining the lottery’s priorities, the meaning of the term and its practical application have been steadily eroded.
The recent raid on the Lottery to fund the London Olympics is only the latest chapter in this story. We believe the majority of lottery funding should be distributed through demand-led and widely accessible programmes, with minimal direction from government.
Read DSC's documents on National Lottery.
Most interaction between voluntary organisations and government takes place at the local level. We welcome greater authority and local accountability for local government, but are sceptical about the government’s proposed mechanisms to achieve this (such as Local Strategic Partnerships and Local Area Agreements).
There is a real risk that voluntary and community organisations will be excluded from the decision-making process and will suffer because of changes to funding arrangements over which they have little influence.
Read DSC's documents on local government
The prevalence of contractual arrangements and loan finance provided by government funders is to a large degree related to the drive to involve charities and other voluntary organisations in delivering public services. Increasingly grants are portrayed as unsustainable or outmoded, but we maintain that they have real advantages.
Grants can be more responsive to need from the bottom-up, can allow for greater flexibility and innovation, are better suited to the unique legal status of charity, and ultimately pose fewer threats to an organisation’s independence. They are particularly important at local level to enable citizens to make positive contributions to their community. These changes to the funding environment highlight the important role of independent grant-making trusts and foundations.
Read DSC's documents on Funding issues
Payment of trustees
We contend that voluntary trusteeship is an important and distinctive characteristic of charities and other voluntary organisations. Even if charities employ staff, they are governed by volunteers. Trustees should perform their role without any personal financial interest.
That means it is perfectly right for them to be reimbursed for expenses (including, potentially, for wages lost because of trustee duties), but that they should not be paid to be trustees.
Read DSC's documents on payment of trustees
Monitoring and reporting requirements of funders
Funders’ monitoring and reporting requirements can present an irrational and unnecessary burden for funded organisations. Funders should avoid regulatory overlap and should be flexible in how quality or effectiveness can be demonstrated.
Their monitoring and reporting requirements should be proportionate to the amount of money being spent and balanced against the need to do real work. For their part, those who seek funding need to provide evidence of effectiveness and must bear in mind that poor conduct may reflect badly on others.
Read DSC's documents on monitoring and reporting requirements of funders
Terms and conditions
Too often the terms and conditions set by funders are not available at the point of application, which makes it impossible to make a fully informed decision about whether to apply. Many terms and conditions are simply unfair, irrelevant, unnecessary or there for historical reasons, and some may not even stand up to legal scrutiny.
Funders should have a sound understanding of why they are needed and what they are intended to achieve, and should be open to negotiating them to accommodate the diverse needs of different types of organisations.
Read DSC's documents on terms and conditions
Charities enjoy a high level of public trust and confidence. To maintain this they should be transparent about their activities, including where their funding comes from, what they do with it, and why (which also applies to charitable trusts and foundations). They should be able to demonstrate, in their own terms, how they are effective and why they are needed.
Read DSC's documents on Transparency
More charities, not less
Charities and other voluntary groups exist to serve people’s needs, advance important social causes, and improve community life. By engaging citizens as volunteers, donors and beneficiaries, they help maintain the social fabric. They spring up and develop where and when people feel they are needed.
They are not instruments for governments or other funders to manipulate or control for their own ends. No organisation should exist for its own sake, but that does not mean they should be forced to merge or disappear because of external pressures.
Read DSC's documents on more charities, not less
The Compact is a framework of working principles intended to improve the relationship between the voluntary and community sector and government. The fundamental problem with it is that it is conceived as an agreement between two equal partners.
The reality is that one partner has all the power and money (government) and the other isn’t really a partner at all in any coherent sense. Most of these organisations are unaware of the existence of this supposed ‘agreement’ or don’t take it seriously, as are most government bodies for that matter. Despite its flaws, we support efforts to make the Compact more relevant and meaningful to both parties.
Read DSC's documents on the Compact