Charities should not be afraid to involve themselves in political activity or discuss sensitive topics on social media, according to new guidance from the Charity Commission. The watchdog’s advice clarifies that charities have the right to campaign robustly online, provided they are acting within the law and have the support of their trustees. The guidance comes in the wake of a recent controversy surrounding a tweet sent the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which led to calls for the charity to be stripped of its charitable status. The Commission’s clarification is intended to assist charities in navigating the increasingly charged and polarised political atmosphere expected in the lead-up to the next general election.
Charity Commission Chair, Orlando Fraser, described the guidance as “supportive” and emphasised his commitment to protecting charities’ rights to campaign within the bounds of the law, even on divisive or sensitive issues. The guidance stipulates that charities cannot support or oppose specific political parties, but they can engage in political activity as long as it aligns with the delivery of their charitable mission. This clarification is anticipated to be welcomed within the voluntary sector, which has been concerned about increasing criticism from right-wing politicians and the media. Relentless attacks on charities on issues such as race, immigration, and the climate crisis have been noted to have a “chilling” effect and discourage some charities from speaking out or campaigning.
While the guidance allows charities to use social media for political purposes, it advises them to behave reasonably and responsibly online, promoting a culture of respect and tolerance. Although Fraser acknowledges that there is no legal obligation for charities to act respectfully or show tolerance, he believes that charities should aim for higher standards of public discourse than political parties. Instances such as the RSPB tweet serve as a reminder of the importance of acting with caution on social media, but Fraser commended the charity for swiftly acknowledging its mistake and issuing an apology. He stated that charities should be commended for their ability to model better public discourse avoiding the aggression often found in party politics.
– Charity Commission: the voluntary sector watchdog that regulates and provides guidance to charities operating in England and Wales.
– Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB): a wildlife charity in the UK.
– Right-wing politicians: politicians who hold conservative or traditionalist views.
– Voluntary sector: organizations that are non-governmental and non-profit. They work for the public good and rely on volunteers and donations.
– General election: an election in which all or most members of a given political body are up for selection.
– Charity law: the legal framework that governs the operation and conduct of charitable organizations.
Sources: The Guardian