It’s not just the UK where charities feel they are being gagged by government through hostility in the media and restrictive legislation such as the ‘Lobbying’ bill.
A new report by the Charities Aid Foundation says that NGOs around the world are being prevented from speaking out by a “wave of polices” from their governments, which are also limiting their freedom to manage their own finances.
The report – Future World Giving: Enabling an Independent Not-For-Profit Sector – warns that “poor legislation” could “jeopardise efforts to promote giving among new generations of middle class people emerging across the world”.
This world’s middle class is expected to grow by 165 per cent by 2030 – with 70 per cent of this growth outside of the “traditional philanthropic centres” of Europe and the USA. The report says this new middle class has the potential to contribute up to US$550bn a year to charities by 2030, were they to give one per cent of their salaries, the report says.
“We believe that if governments put policies in place which help to enable the growth of independent and sustainable not-for-profit organisations, the results could be transformative, not only for their beneficiaries, but for the health of civil society more widely,” CAF says in the report.
“When not-for-profits are free to pursue the causes that matter to ordinary people, and are able to represent their concerns and aspirations, they can win the support and legitimacy of aspiring middle class donors.”
‘Worrying’ trend to restrict advocacy
However, the report identifies a “worrying trend” whereby governments around the word are restricting voluntary organisations that engage in “legitimate advocacy activities that support their stated charitable mission”.
It says that governments in Algeria, Azerbaijan, Canada, Ecuador, and Indonesia, as well as the UK, have recently introduced or are in the process of introducing restrictive legislation. CAF says these moves “vindicate” governments such as Vietnam and Saudi Arabia, which have had such polices in place for a long time.
It also says some governments have legislated to restrict financial surpluses being carried over into the next financial year, which, rather than reduce the chance of financial mismanagement, actually increases the risk that charities would spend money in an unstrategic manner, the report says.
CAF’s report recommends a set of actions for governments:
- Governments should allow not-for-profits to criticise and influence policy in order to improve standards and promote public debate, for example by providing training for politicians on the importance of charity advocacy and establishing an independent body to arbitrate government claims of “unlawful” advocacy by non-profits
- Not for profit organisations need freedom to manage their resources in the way which best achieves their stated mission, including creating statutory guidance preventing the withholding of funds based on public criticism of government policy by charities and allowing charities to carry reserves into the next financial year
- Governments should foster a strong and independent civil society to benefit both the state and society as a whole, for example, by introducing awareness training for commissioning civil servants.