Charity Commission urges caution in refusing philanthropic donations

The chair of the Charity Commission for England and Wales, Orlando Fraser KC, has issued a warning to charity trustees regarding the rejection or return of philanthropic donations, as reported by STEP.

In a lecture delivered on November 9th, 2023, Fraser emphasised that trustees should not decline such contributions without compelling reasons. While the Charity Commission generally respects trustees’ decisions, they may step in if trustees’ motives seem to align more with personal beliefs rather than the charity’s best interests.

The Charity Commission is currently working on updated guidance for charities on the acceptance or refusal of donations, set to be released in early 2024. This guidance will encourage trustees to carefully consider their decisions regarding returning or refusing donations. Fraser emphasised that the law typically expects charities to accept available funds to fulfil their public benefit purposes, emphasising that rejecting or returning donations results in losses for the charity.

Fraser cautioned against personal biases affecting decisions around philanthropic funding, suggesting that such attitudes might prioritise individual values over the beneficiaries reliant on the charity’s services. What’s more, he noted that such stances could discourage charitable giving by high-net-worth individuals, although exceptions may exist, such as dealing with illegal donations or significant reputational risks.

Fraser highlighted an “urgent need” for increased funding in the charity sector, acknowledging limited government resources to bridge the gap. He advocated for larger-scale donations from philanthropists as a vital means to cover charity operating costs. These contributions, especially when celebrated and communicated by the involved charities, have the potential to provide immediate financial support to struggling organisations and foster public trust, encouraging continued and confident public giving.

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