On 30 September Helen Stephenson, Chief Executive of the Charity Commission, delivered a speech at the Commission’s annual public meeting.

Back in 2018 the Commission set out five strategic objectives in its five-year business plan. While to date it has focused more on holding charities to account, dealing with wrongdoing and harm, and informing public choice – the first three strategic objectives – it is alive to the possibilities of using the huge amounts of information it continually receives from charities (in particular within annual accounts, reports, returns, serious incident reports and whistleblowing reports) to give charities the understanding and tools they need to succeed and to keep charity relevant for today’s world – the remaining two strategic priorities.

As a risk-based regulator with limited resources and increased demands placed upon it, the Commission needs to be a smart, proactive regulator, able to step in before risks become entrenched problems.

With the data it receives and the interventions it makes, the Commission is in a unique position to take a helicopter view of the charity sector. It has, for example, spotted an increase in the number of internal disputes arising and so has advised charities to remain alert to the risk of disagreements escalating, as trustees face difficult decisions about how to adapt their work to changing times. It has also suggested that charity boards prioritise communication with those with whom they work and with those on whose support they rely.  

The reminder “Don’t place being right ahead of doing the right thing” brings us back, as always, to the fundamental duty of charity trustees to act in the best interests of their charity’s purpose and not in narrower personal or institutional interests.