we need you!
About the Charity Reform Group (CRG)
The Charity Reform Group (CRG), hosted by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation (SMK), brings together mutually supporting charity leaders, committed to using their voice and influence to further the reforming role of civil society.
Participating CEOs in the first year of the Charity Reform Group have been*:
Craig Bennett, Wildlife Trusts
Susan Daniels, National Deaf Children’s Society
Matt Downie, Crisis
Paul Farmer, MIND*
Jackie O’Sullivan, Mencap
Tim Naor Hilton, Refugee Action
Polly Neate, Shelter
Tessy Ojo, The Diana Award
Harriet Oppenheimer, RNID
Chris Sherwood, RSPCA
*Since our conversations last summer, Paul has left MIND to join Age UK. We are delighted to say that Sarah Hughes, the new CEO of MIND, has joined the group.
Going forward, the CRG will continue its work to further the reforming role of the charity sector and wider civil society, tackling challenges from both inside and outside our sector, as well as finding common cause with those in other sectors who share our values and interests.
Trustee survey: confidence in reforming role is high but trustees need support
In collaboration with Governance and Leadership (G&L), we surveyed 165 charity trustees on their attitudes, appetite and understanding of speaking out, campaigning, charity regulation and more. Find out what we learned and book for our free event where we will explore the results further.
Key messages from the Speak up, we need you! report
Figures from other sectors say that:
- The relative absence of charity CEO voices is a loss to our national debate, and if charities could speak into the issues of the day, they could wield significant positive influence
- It is charity leaders’ experience of working on critical social issues that is seen to be invaluable – and which confers legitimacy
- However, to cut through, charity leaders were exhorted to speak into the agenda of the day – not just stick to their core issue
- Our contributors wanted to see charity leaders speaking collectively and more widely – reaching beyond government and political decision-makers
- It was recognised that Whitehall is not as open to charities’ contribution to policymaking as it has been in the past. Charities should not simply wait for doors to re-open, they must demonstrate their role and value by engaging with confidence
- There is a need to re-examine what good leadership and governance should look like today and, at its heart, a re-examination of mission and purpose in the face of those who believe charities should ‘stick to the knitting’
- More collaboration on shared interests, even establishing shared platforms, would be welcomed
- People and personalities, not just positions, are important – but public prominence can exact a personal cost, so leaders need support
This positive encouragement to speak up from across different sectors and groups feels new, even surprising, given much of the recent commentary around charity voice and campaigning. At the conclusion of the listening exercise, SMK CEO Sue Tibballs said:
“Trying to read the zeitgeist from social media and think tank reports might tempt charity leaders to conclude that people are not ready for a bolder, more visionary tone. Our discussions revealed quite the opposite; that, if more charities put their heads above the parapet, they might be pleasantly surprised by the unusual allies they find.”
Our discussions show that people outside the sector do want charities to feel free to speak beyond their ‘core’ issues and offer that broader analysis – we just have to create the conditions and provide the support that allows them to do that.
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Speak up, we need you!
During the first year of the Charity Reform Group’s operation in 2022, we focused on an initial question: why are charity CEOs relatively under-represented in the national conversation? A quick scan of current affairs programmes like Question Time, Peston, and the Andrew Marr Show indicate charity CEO’s represent just 2% of guests – five times less than academics and a half of those from business. To find out why, we reached out to people from other sectors to understand more about how they view charity leaders and the question in hand. We hosted a series of conversations, under Chatham House rules, between charity CEOs and leaders from the public sector, politics, media, business, and wider civil society. What we heard and learned over the next twelve months was, we felt, worth sharing more widely. We hope this first report will offer perspectives, raise questions, and offer challenges to charity leaders from all parts of the social sector.