Charity campaigning in a general election year

As the UK waits for a general election to be called, CGI has published a set of Governance FAQs for charities undertaking political and issues-based campaigning activity.

Charities have long played a crucial role in advocating for social and political change, and campaigning can help charities to maximise their impact. The Charity Commission and charity law is clear that charities have a right to campaign. Safe to say, however, that the current media and political climate is not an easy environment in which to be campaigning, as contentious issues take on increasing prominence in the public imagination.

Campaigning activity must, of course, advance a charity’s objects and be in its best interests. There are also other legal and regulatory frameworks which govern campaigning activity. Our Governance FAQs for charities set out how to ensure that campaigns are managed effectively and carried out responsibly. The FAQs cover areas of compliance under both charity and electoral law which charities need to consider.

 Board oversight

The board of trustees needs to consider carefully the benefits – and risks – of any particular campaigning activity. To do so, they need to understand fully the campaign’s goals, strategies, channels and themes – and crucially, how the cause for which the charity is advocating directly advances the charity’s objects. This may involve some research about the issue to better understand how a campaign is likely to be received and perceived by stakeholders. This can include looking at media coverage, engaging with a charity’s donors, supporters and beneficiaries, and speaking to collaborators or experts in the space. As ever, the trustees’ decision-making process needs to be carefully documented.  

Resourcing campaigns

Choosing to engage in campaigning activity will have impacts on a charity’s resources, both in terms of funding and staff time. It can be a very effective means for charities to make an impact (even within limited resource). Nevertheless, it is important for charities to maintain accurate records of where and why funds have been allocated, and to report campaign-related expenses transparently. There is more detail on campaign-related spending thresholds and limits in our FAQs.

Social media as a tool

Social media is a powerful means for reaching new and broader audiences and amplifying a campaign’s key message. It can support charities in generating more support for their cause, particularly as it enables new modes of storytelling, through video, infographics and soundbites. It too comes with certain risks, including the risk of third-party commentators who may ‘hijack’ or derail a campaign, as well as risks to staff who are involved in moderating online conversations. This is particularly the case when a charity is campaigning around an emotive or contentious issues.

Reputational impacts

Campaigns can have significant ramifications for a charity’s reputation – both positive and negative. This can ultimately impact a charity’s supporters and beneficiaries, as well as open a charity up to increased media scrutiny. When campaigning, charities need to be careful to preserve their independence – as well as the public perception of their independence. This extends to relationship building with politicians and policymakers, which should be done in a balanced way. You can find out more about the regulatory requirements surrounding political and issues-based campaigning in our Governance FAQs.

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