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Friday, 8 June 2018

What are campaigning charities really afraid of?

Something that interests me is the disparity between mainstream charity campaigning and politically-motivated campaigns, on the right.

I was prompted to think about this again in the wake of yet more research about the impact the Lobbying Act has had on charity campaigns. The Sheila McKechnie Foundation, finds 90%  of charities blaming the Lobbying Act for having a chilling effect on their campaigning activity, forcing them to avoid being critical of government on contentious issues like welfare reform, for example.
This phrase in the report jarred with me in particular:
“Ultimately, it is up to the Government as the accountable body for such freedoms and regulations, to ensure that the interaction of policies and legislation do not unreasonably constrain what civil society may speak into public life, and how.”
But a cursory glance at the actions, activities and networks around organisations like the Taxpayers Alliance reveals that some campaigners are clearly feeling none of the ‘chill’ that is paralyzing mainstream charities and NGOs.

A further quote from the SMK report, this time from the Salvation Army included an incredible (for me) assumption about the 'public imagination' when it comes to campaigning. 
“The original intention of the Lobbying Act was good, but the public imagination now says that any attempt to influence is illegitimate. But an uninfluenced democracy is a dictatorship. There’s danger that the voluntary sector makes itself illegitimate by ceasing to influence. We see influence as good as long as it is transparent.”
(The Salvation Army)
Of course transparency matters. But what is this public imagination the Salvation Army speaks of? Is there evidence people actually think charity campaigns are illegitimate? Is it real or in the mind of the Salvation Army’s own campaigns team?
For sure the media does seem more critical of charities these days, but this isn't entirely unjustified, given recent issues around fundraising and safeguarding affecting charities and NGOs. It is also true that certain right wing campaigns (for example, the IEA) have played a role in creating an air of skepticism about the advocacy work charities do. 

But huge public support for campaigns like Stop Funding Hate and the groundswell behind movements like Momentum would appear to contradict the notion that the public has lost faith in campaigning.

Perhaps certain charity campaigners have lost faith in themselves? Perhaps the public has simply lost faith in certain charities?

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