Charity Resources: A Trilogy of… Lots?

‘I may not have gone where I intended to go,
but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.’

‘I love deadlines.
I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.’

‘DON’T PANIC!’

I am a fan of Douglas Adams.

He was a great author, writer, humorist, and all round good egg.

So in honour, of Douglas Adams famous Trilogy in Five Parts, I’m starting my own trilogy, on Charity Resources.

And whilst it might  not be as funny as Hitchhikers, it does share a certain ambiguous numeracy. In that I’ve no idea how many there will be. 42 might be appropriate?

But, following Douglas Adam’s lead, I’m going to start at the beginning. And hope that this won’t be regarded as a bad move.

My first Charity Resource page is on charity law.

I hope this series will be helpful.

But as the great man once said:

“You live and learn.
At any rate, you live.”

Governance Workshop 14th November 2013

Governance Workshop Thurs 14th November 2013

I am delighted to invite you to our Governance Workshop!

Governance Workshop Info – November 2013

We are partnering with the Charity Commission to host this event. The details are:

Date: Thursday14th November 2013 from 10am to 3:30pm
Venue: Ascension Trust, Alpha House, Alpha Place, Garth Road, London SM4 4TQ
Cost: £15 with lunch provided for every person.

The Workshop is designed to help local charity trustees, staff and volunteers better understand the role of a trustee, the importance of good governance, the various legal, financial and policy issues to consider, and it will be a chance to meet and talk with various local trustees about their personal experiences.

Highlights include:Charity Tax Group

Rev Les Isaac OBE, CEO, Ascension Trust speaking about Trustees as Leaders; Contributions from the Charity Commission and Charity Tax Group; and AT General Counsel, Andrew MacKay, covering legal and policy issues.

Here are some of the reviews from the last Workshop:

“I found the last workshop very helpful and definitely worth investing the time to attend.”

“It was very helpful and something that would be of benefit to all trustees, especially if they have had little or no involvement as trustees in other charities. It provided a good overview. I think it was run extremely well and each session valuable.”

“It was well organised, good food. It was interactive which I think is great giving people time to digest the information being presented and reinforce it through discussion.”

For more information, just email a.mackay@ascensiontrust.org.uk, tweet @BetterCharity or call 0208 330 2809.

I look forward to seeing you there,

Andrew

OSCR’s gone Wilde! Interesting developments with the Scottish Charity Regulator

I’ve always been a fan of Oscar Wilde, the enigmatic poet, playwright, polemic and prisoner.  How can you not love his caustic wit and winsome charm:

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”

“Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.”

The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it…

But my favourite Victorian writer is not the only Oscar causing a stir from time to time: OSCR, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, is finally considering publishing some charity accounts on its online Register of Charities.

Interestingly, there are some key differences between the English/Welsh and Scottish charity regulators.

In England and Wales, the Charity Commission only registers charities when they have a regular annual income of more than £5,000, before which they are unregistered charities, but charities nevertheless; whereas in Scotland, if you aren’t registered with OSCR you ain’t a charity full stop.

In England and Wales, the definition of a charity is contained in the Charities Act 2006; whereas in Scotland, the definition  of a charity is contained in the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005; both quite riveting reads.

But a much more practical difference is that the Charity Commission does include a charity’s accounts on their site, while OSCR provides much less financial information on its register.

However, OSCR is now considering a consultation with the sector about publishing some charity accounts on its website. The reason given is the improving quality of Scottish charities’ accounts since 2006.

This is surely a good thing.

It is vital for the public trust in the third sector for charities to be as transparent, open and honest as possible, and to be seen as fully accountable for the sums they have received.

Checking how a charity has spent its money is a key part of this process.

And this is even more critical in light of the recent media furores about the extent of charity overheads, the level of charity’s chief executive pay and remuneration, and the salary paid to William Shawcross, the Charity Commission Chair.

So I would generally welcome this development.

The publication of charity accounts on OSCR’s website is needed. In an era of increasingly savvy donors, interested trusts and foundations, and attentive media, it is time for Scotland to follow best practice from England and Wales.

And as the great man so helpfully put it:

We are all in the gutter, but only some of us are looking up at the accounts…

To read more visit the OSCR website, or view a helpful Civil Society article.

Tesco Law: well, what about Oxfam Law?

Oxfam, Solicitors?

It’s not as crazy as you might think.

The legal landscape in England and Wales changed in 2007 with the introduction of The Legal Services Act 2007. The Act, known informally as ‘Tesco Law’, introduced the ‘alternative business structure’ (“ABS”),  which allows ‘appropriate companies to provide legal services to clients.

The Guardian reviewed the impact of Tesco Law at the time.  The article noted,  whilst it may not have been the big bang that some feared, that  “in five or 10 years’ time, the face of legal services could look very, very different“.

And weren’t they just right.

This week, the very first charity-run law firm has opened in Leicester.

Castle Park Solicitors launched in the heart of the city’s legal district, and provides “high-quality, low-cost, legal services to people who might otherwise be priced out of the market, particularly following recent cuts to legal aid.

The Castle Park law firm, which grew out of another general advice charity ‘Community Advice and Law Service’, seems to be the very first example of “Oxfam Law”, of a law firm coming from the not-for-profit sector. Castle Park will initially offer family and employment law advice, but do so at competitive rates, in bite-sized chunks, and in user-friendly packages.

I think this is a really positive development, and has a lot of potential, for three main reasons:

1. It Can Transform Not-for-Profit Legal Advice

This development will build on the work of Law Centres, which have existed since the early 1970s and work within local communities to serve local people.  Law Centres are independent, not-for-profit, and are accountable to their local communities, with local people helping with their management.

But Oxfam Law would allow charity-based legal services to develop and grow out of simply local communities, offering paid-for legal services where the profits are used to grow the business not make their lawyers wealthy.

And that must be positive.

2.  It Should Transform Charity Legal Teams

Many larger charities already employee solicitors to help them stay legal and advise them on their complex work, which saves them having to pay law firms to give them advice.

Surely, it would not be a difficult move for larger charities to use this pre-existing legal resources to offer legal services to other people, as part of their charitable work?

3. It Might Transform the Legal Aid Cuts

Many people imagine all lawyers to be well-paid fat cats, sucking the blood from their poor clients.  While that may or may not be true (and as a former commercial lawyer, I’d prefer remain silent!), it is true that many lawyers do try to help society, providing services on the high street, to those on low incomes, to charities and to the wider third sector.

But the recent cuts to legal aid, so wonderfully lampooned by Radio 4’s John Finnemore (audio link and text link), will in effect be removing a vital access to justice for the most vulnerable in our society.

The government are seeking to save £350 million from the legal aid bill.  While we all know cuts have to happen, and the legal aid budget should of course be reviewed, many have highlighted the potential damaging effect of the Government’s current approach.

Perhaps when the Government see that we are now in a position where charities are having to provide legal services, they might reconsider their position.

So, Oxfam Law?

It really just might work…

Governance Workshop Thurs 16th May 2013

Dear friend,

Governance Workshop Thurs 16th May 2013

I am delighted to invite you to our Governance Workshop!

We are partnering with the Charity Commission to host this event.  The details are:

Date: Thursday 16th May 2013 from 10am to 3:30pm
Venue: Ascension Trust, Alpha House, Alpha Place, Garth Road, London SM4 4TQ
Cost: £15 with lunch provided for every person.

The Workshop is designed to help local charity trustees, staff and volunteers better understand the role of a trustee, the importance of good governance, the various legal, financial and policy issues to consider, and it will be a chance to meet and talk with various local trustees about their personal experiences.

Highlights include:
Rev Les Isaac OBE, CEO, Ascension Trust speaking about Trustees as Leaders
Graham Divers, the Charity Commission speaking about Good Governance
Andrew MacKay, AT Legal and Policy Advisor, covering legal and policy issues.

Here are some of the reviews from the last Workshop:

“I found the last workshop very helpful and definitely worth investing the time to attend.”

“It was very helpful and something that would be of benefit to all trustees, especially if they have had little or no involvement as trustees in other charities. It provided a good overview. I think it was run extremely well and each session valuable.”

“It was well organised, good food. It was interactive which I think is great giving people time to digest the information being presented and reinforce it through discussion.”

For more information, just visit the Ascension Trust website, email policy@ascensiontrust.org.uk or call 0208 330 2809.

I look forward to seeing you there,

Best regards,

Andrew

Charities Speaking European?

A friend of mine once asked me what language they spoke in Europe.

She wondered whether it was ‘European’?

There’s not much you can say to that, really.

But sometimes, charities do need help with ‘speaking European’. Historically it’s been very difficult for smaller charities to gain funding from the EU, and there are plenty of other competing interest vying for attention and funds.

So it was helpful to hear from the NCVO that the European Network for National Associations (ENNA) has been given funding from the European Commission for expanding the opportunities for joint work and exchange between community groups across Europe.

ENNA, of which the NCVO is a member, provides a collective voice for the voluntary sector within Europe, and the new funding should provide “major opportunities” to expand its work as the EU prepares its next budget.

This is good news.

Good news for the third sector generally, especially at a such a key time for Europe and for the role of the third sector in UK society.

But good news also for smaller charities, especially with the NCVO only recently recognising the difficulty for smaller charities in winning European funding.

And it is interesting, coming so soon after Sir Philip Etherington, the NCVO CEO, spoke out in favour of Europe, instisting that the answer for charities was “unquestionably reform of Europe, not walking away from it.”

So a stronger voice for the third sector must be yet another benefit for charities if the UK does remain in Europe.

Perhaps there are benefits to ‘speaking European’, after all…

Feel free to contact me with any thoughts or questions: andrewkmackay[at]gmail.com or @BetterCharity

Two Useful Guides

Just came across these on these two helpful guides produced by Gaby Hardwick Solicitors.

The first one deals with Charitable Incorporated Organisations,  the second with Incorporating a Charity.

Helpful if you are considering setting up a charity from scratch.

Any questions or thoughts, do get in touch: andrewkmackay[at]gmail.com and @BetterCharity.