The Reality of Governance

Attended the ACEVO Governance Commission Consultation Session 4

today (30 May). Good group of highly motivate people – mainly CEO’s. I provided the following paper at the end to the Commission – sums up my views on Charity Governance and the problem the current governance framework employs with a two-tier system trying to fit into a unitary legal framework. My response is to put CEO’s into Boards (as is the case with ACEVO).

The Reality of Governance

Grant Thornton in its Charity Governance Review 2013 – the Science of Good Governance – does not mention Chief Executives once.

They fall into the trap that governance “experts” so often do when writing about the charity / not for profit sector and the trap that the designers of governance law and rules have done since the beginning. The trap is that those entrusted with legal responsibility for such organisations can supposedly carry out their role as non-executives and any executives are deemed unnecessary to the process (or subordinated within the process as the “governed”) – indeed, in the legalistic set-up and the advice proffered to boards, chief executives are deemed risky on the board because of conflicts of interest – as the governed they hinder governance.

This separation of executive from non-executive is a divisive separation that inhibits good governance in the real world. The separation is really a throw-back to the 19th Century when wealthy philanthropists required administrators to disburse their funds. It has no place in the 21st Century except in very small charities (which are probably too small to have a CEO anyway). Elsewhere, having the Chief Executive on the Board should be seen as a natural requirement for reasons as follows:

1.     The Board cannot escape the charge of not being aware of issues as the Chief Executive will be part of the Board

2.     This is, in reality, the only way that Boards can be sufficiently aware of activities that impact governance

3.     The Board becomes “collegiate” with the development of real common cause

4.     The “upstairs / downstairs” mentality of the 19th Century is swapped for adult and more up-to-date dialogue

5.     Chief Executives will have to rise to the occasion so that they better understand the requirements and responsibilities of the Board rather than make proposals to the Board (as a servant of the Board) – even if, in reality, a CEO is probably in law as responsible as anyone for those decisions.

Unitary or two-tier boards?

There is also a continuous debate between the desirability of unitary and two-tier boards and it is believed that most charities (almost all) have decided on the second – whereas in most corporate Anglo-Saxon organisations (and public sector) the unitary board is by far the most common.

There are a few major errors within this view.

For there to be a two-tier board structure, there needs to be a legal distinction between the legal responsibilities of the two boards. In the UK, there is none so  that Charities that decide to form themselves of completely non-executives maintain a unitary structure but then devolve executive or operational decision-making to a team of executives – who are not enshrined in any legal context.

This team of executives (usually known as a Senior Management Team or SMT) has no specific legal framework outside of individual terms and conditions of employment. The SMT rarely has a framework of organization outside of an organization chart and has very few legally acknowledged responsibilities.

In the majority of charities, the most that exists is a tacit agreement between the Board (made up of non-executives) and the Chief Executive for the latter to carry out operational or “day to day” functions while the Board does governance.

This is not the two-tier legal structure known in German corporates, for example, which have defined legal status for both boards.

In the UK Charity set-up, only the main Board has legal status and is one reason why Grant Thornton do not mention the second “board” (as there isn’t one) or the Chief Executive at all!

The Responsibility Split

As a result of the ill-defined make-up of the Unitary Board in the UK Charity Sector, the split between the Board of non-executives and the management is also very ill-defined.

The Charity Commission spends much time on the responsibilities of the Board and states that there is an inherent problem in having Chief Executives on the Board of reasons of conflict of interest. However, the Charities commission does not state that Chief Executives should not be on the Board – which they can as long as Articles of Association allow this or Charities Commission approval is obtained.

Conflicts over, for example, salaries of the CEO can easily be handled by the CEO leaving the room (as it does in the Education Sector where Academy Chief Execs / Principals or School Heads – who are ex-officio on the Board – manage perfectly adequately).

However, the message is that Chief Executives are not normally on a Board. This message is just allowed to resonate around the sector – that there are so many conflicts between governance and operational management that it is better for the CEO to not be on the Board – the 19th Century mantra. This is not realistic. The conflict of interest issue is important – but, that is true for any member of the Board. Being non-executive does not mean that conflicts of interest don’t arise. Newly formed boards in the health sector are finding that there is a great deal of conflict where board members may have other interests in suppliers, for example.

The second reason for a completely non-executive board is unstated by the Charity Commission but often raised – the potential for undue influence by the Chief Executive if he / she is a Board member.

It is held that this one person would yield great(er) influence if he / she did not just attend Board meetings but also had a vote (one vote out of ten plus on the Board).

This is also unrealistic as a vote in itself is not the essence of the board membership. Chief Executives will not become more or less overbearing if hey have a vote – as is explained below. Governance remains the Board’s duty and legal responsibility – whether one vote is held by an executive manager or not.

The Tenuous Link

In the current split of responsibilities, the supposed two-tier Board structure (which is really only one plus an SMT) is completely reliant on the Chair of Trustees / Directors forming an excellent relationship with the Chief Executive (who heads up the SMT).

This requires the Chair to be up-to-speed on all things relevant to the legal requirements of the Board – an impossible task – in both directions.

This usually results in the Chair requiring the Chief Executive to provide a range of facilities to the Board – including induction, information provision and the like – so that the Board can attempt to be well enough educated to be able to carry out its responsibilities.

This is a tenuous link.

Worse, the Board has, in many organisations, retained so-called strategic responsibilities so that only operational requirements can be passed on to the SMT. This split of responsibilities is, again, a throw-back to the 19th Century where wealthy philanthropists entrusted administrators with passing out money on their wishes.

With far more charity complexity, the thought that non-executives actually “do strategy” is of great concern. 20th Century management thinking moved on from this separation in the 1930’s. It is well understood that strategy and operations are two sides of the same organizational coin and cannot be separated.

A recognized alternative may make sense as in the Carver model. “In the Carver Model, the board is responsible for ‘ends’, the difference the charity is seeking to make, for whom and at what cost. The CEO and the staff team are responsible for ‘means’, the actions which are taken to deliver the ‘ends’. John Carver talks about governance as ‘moral ownership’ one step down rather than one step up from management. He sees board leadership as meeting the wishes of the moral owners in compliance with laws and regulations. The role of the paid staff is to make the wishes of trustees’ happen.”

Carver does not recommend that CEO’s be on the Board but the concept that Carver proposes is so far away from current models – he views the CEO as completely central and Boards having the essence of the charity and governance and then asking the CEO to do everything else – that it is not consistent.

Current Boards are uncertain in their remit, usually go overboard in micromanagement and wanting to “do strategy”, often wanting to bypass the CEO in finding out information (i.e. do not put sufficient trust in the office of CEO).

This means that the viability of the Charity rests upon the tenuous link between Chair and CEO. The former, part of a non-executive Board; the latter (who does not in most cases report to the Chair) head of an SMT. The only legal link is in the CEO’s contract – a reporting line to the Board (who then often give this to the Chair).

This is a tenuous link and CEO’s often find this very difficult.

The Work Split between Board and Management

There is no constancy at all in any Board. Many see (as do NCVO) that the Board does strategy and the CEO and his / her team does “day to day”. This is out of date and harmful.

From a vision of the organization (usually the cause developed by the Founders and then provided as a legacy to the Board), a strategy has to be developed. This is clear. However, modern management thinking is uniform in its agreement that strategy and implementation need to be done by the senior management. This may require confirmation from the Board but then is the essence of good management and the ability of management to implement this strategy with the rest of the workforce. There is no sense in any advice from Charities Commission or elsewhere that this is understood.

Any charity where the Board does the strategy and the CEO picks it up and hopes to implement it is going against all best practice. The CEO is central to developing strategy – as is the SMT.

This is why, in reality, the SMT does the strategy based on the vision guided to them by the Board / Founders. SMT then has a job to sell this into the Board.

The main functions of the Board are not disrupted in this way. However, the link between Board and Management may be.

CEO on the Board

Those involved in governance thinking (Carver is a good example) believe that CEO’s should not be on the board for reasons of conflict of interest (or self-interest). In addition, they believe that there are better ways to make CEO’s feel good about themselves – i.e. the provision of sufficient prestige.

This misses out the very positive aspects of Board membership that the legalistic aspects of governance misrepresent but are fairly clear-cut in the real world.

What are these positive aspects?

1.     The Board is responsible legally and morally for the Charity. Yet, it is supposed to devolve almost every requirement of the organization to the management team – which is not even noted in law (i.e. it is a unitary Board when it thinks it is a two-tier system). In the absence of a proper framework, having the CEO on the Board provides an opportunity to ensure that the Management Team is at least unified in its legal responsibilities with the Board.

2.     Strategically, the Board is ill-equipped to understand what strategy is played out. Ensuring the CEO is involved (and votes for the strategy) ensures that the Board is unified in terms of collective agreement in terms of direction and implementation.

3.     The separation of Board and SMT (i.e. no linkage) is weak and offers a subservience that having the CEO on the Board would lessen.

4.     The rationale for Boards is to do three things (Charity Commission): Compliance, Prudence and Care. These are things that the CEO has to be central to.

5.     The CEO probably (in law) acts as a Shadow Trustee anyway. This means that the CEO is as responsible as any Trustee for the actions of the Charity but has no vote at all in Board meetings. This is responsibility without any representation and often leads to conflict.

The negative issues brought up are:

1.     conflict of interest – the Remunerations and Nominations Committee of individual charities can be properly asked to rule on this. Beyond salaries,  there is rarely an issue that comes up where conflict arises as a result of the CEO being a Trustee. Whether on issues like the approval of budgets or strategy, appointment of new Trustees or whatever, the CEO is normally heavily involved and a vote solidifies the process.

2.     Over-bearing CEOs – an over-bearing CEO will be the same whether on the Board or not. It is for the Board to ensure that none of its members outlast their value and this is a key requirement for the Chair.

3.     Governance and the ability to take the CEO to task for performance issues will be reduced – the CEO is a key member of the organization whether on the Board or not. Being able to vote on an issue does not reduce the roles of the Board. Where there is a serious issue with the Chief Executive, then this would be initially an issue for the Chair and possibly the Remuneration and Nominations Committee to handle. Any issue on the future of the Chief Executive would rule that person out of voting.

Other information

Charity Commission / ACEVO viewpoint

The Charity Commission seems to want to defend the status quo (where, according to an ACEVO report from 2007, around 5.2% of CEO’s were Trustees of that organisation).

The CC points out the dangers of conflict of interest over salary and similar issues. This is overcome everywhere else where committees are set up independently of the CEO as required and where CEO’s are asked to leave the room if there is a conflict (as conflict would be dealt with for anyone in such a situation).

The CC has no real view on this issue but also points out bureaucratically to watch out that the Articles don’t prohibit the change – which ours don’t.

ACEVO

In a 2007 report:

There was support for the following initiatives:

1. A code of good practice on governance (98% chief executives, 95% chairs).

2. Regular review of governance practices by external experts (68% chief executives,58% chairs).

3. More flexibility with respect to board structures (50% chief executives and 33% chairs thought that chief executives should be voting trustees).

 

It goes on:

The role of the chief executive as a bridge – by Paddy Fitzgerald

In the third sector the general practice is for trustee boards where normally trustees are non-executive, chaired by an independent and with the chief executive, who is rarely a trustee, in attendance. Here the primary concerns of the trustees are the mission and future of the organisation, while shorter term issues are for the most part dealt with by a management committee chaired by the chief executive.

 

If this model is to work, the chief executive becomes the bridge between the future concerns of the trust and the short-term issues of the management committee. Most importantly, the chief executive will be responsible for overseeing the journey from short to long term and in deploying management resources to explore this and identify the issues along the way. In this way the chief executive brings to the attention of the trust shorter term questions requiring resolution, and engages the executive staff in the consideration of longer term matters.

 

This is a much more powerful vision than one of the chief executive as a non trustee

passively awaiting the instructions of his or her board. The bridge role requires positive engagement with the ability to exert powerful advocacy in both trust and management committee, and as leadership becomes less and less a matter of autocratic direction and more and more a matter of persuasion and shared endeavour, so it becomes vital that the chief executive is an inclusive member of both trust and management committee.

 

Trusts too should value the extra dimension provided by the sense of a unified team, and should welcome the chief executive as one of their own, for it is under these circumstances that the chief executive is most likely to engage other trustees most, chief executives cannot escape legal obligations placed on trustees since they will be judged as shadow directors with the same penalties in the event of any major problem, so it is in their interests to don the mantle of a Trustee and participate wholly.

 

The conclusion may be that the formal appointment as a trustee aids the chief executive in this bridge role and is one of the defining characteristics of the third sector. Recognition of this role for the chief executive is essential to staff appraisal and through this to the management and leadership programmes aimed at staff development and management succession.

 

 

On its FAQ’s – current – ACEVO lists the types of Board structure:

 

Q: What is the appropriate level of executive involvement in governance?

A: This relates to the structure of organisational boards. Board structures fall into four categories:

  1. The wholly executive board: found most often in small commercial companies. For obvious reasons, such boards usually struggle to offer any independent scrutiny of executive decisions. Such boards are rarely found in the non-profit sector, and it is unlikely that the Charity Commission would permit such a structure for registered charities.
  2. The two-tier board: found in parts of Europe, comprises a ‘supervisory board’ to represent stakeholder interests, and an ‘operational board’ to drive the organisation’s performance. Some charity boards may in practice resemble this structure, delegating operational decisions to a ‘senior management team’. However, a genuine operational board, unlike a senior management team, has a legally recognised governance role.
  3. The unitary board: classic model for business in the UK and Commonwealth countries, includes both executive and non-executive directors, with equal status. Despite the ambiguity concerning executive directors’ role, this model is recommended by many experts on corporate governance. The structure embodies the tension between conformance and performance. If working properly, it can combine executives’ detailed knowledge of the business with the more detached scrutiny of non-executives.
  4. The wholly non-executive board: found commonly in commercial companies based in the USA as well as in the British third sector. Third sector board member are usually, but not always, unpaid.
  5. Recognising that no one model will be perfect for every organisation, ACEVO recommends that its members conduct an audit of their governance arrangements, which should include an examination of governance structures as well as good practice.

ACEVO has not formally proposed a major change and has not acted on this serious issue – although it has a Reform Group which highlights the issue – http://www.acevo.org.uk/Policy+Advocacy/Activity/Governance . However, it is clear to me that the practice of CEO’s not being on the board is a serious deficiency and one that should be rectified across the board.

 

ACEVO – POLICY: UNITARY BOARDS

(From the ACEVO website)

Alongside paying trustees, the creation of unitary boards is one of the most controversial issues of governance debate within the third sector. Traditional third sector governance models have a two tier board system – an executive board (with employed directors) and a more strategic non-executive board of trustees. In comparison, the most common structure within private sector governance is the unitary board – where non-executives and executives combine to form a single structure.

The most commonly stated advantages of a two-tier system are the importance of an objective governance structure (the non-exec board) which can both examine issues at a strategic level whilst also remaining free of management influence.

However, many ACEVO members have reported that they do not believe a two-tier system is the most effective method of governance for their organisations and would like to combine all or part of the two boards to increase efficacy. This potentially offers great strength in combining the strategic views of the trustees with the organisational knowledge of the executives. This inter-action works because those involved are Directors and share a joint responsibility with full accountability in law.

In 2007, ACEVO invited Sir Rodney Brooke, Chair of the General Social Care Council, to chair a Commission of Inquiry into governance in the third sector. Improvement governance was found to be a major issue for the sector and often not focussed on enough by individual organisations. Other key findings included a general lack of board appraisal or training, poor trustee diversity and concern over the transparency and capacity of the sector’s governance. The Commission of Inquiry suggested that organisations should review their governance arrangements, the board structure being one of them, to ensure effectiveness and suitability. ACEVO strongly believes that each organisation should be able to adopt its optimal governance structure and is actively campaigning on this matter to reduce regulatory concerns around conflicts of interest.

Own comment: ACEVO should now actively promote CEO’s on to main Boards.

“Everyone should be allowed to bribe”

I had an interesting discussion the other day at a Fundraising event. Sitting opposite me was a businessman who also does a tremendous amount of work for charity. We got into a discussion on corruption – specifically, bribery. The discussion centred on how “the Bribery Act was causing business a lot of trouble” and that the UK “as always” was taking it seriously whereas other countries would not. We would therefore be undermined and lose business.

I argued differently. Working for Global Witness since 2007 (I left in late 2011), I had played a small part in working to get the Bill into law, then to ensure the guidelines made sense and have since worked with organizations like the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) to provide guidance (I wrote their guidance on the Act) and chaired their Bribery Act conference at St Paul’s Cathedral in 2011.

The businessman, actually a very interesting, successful and intelligent individual, suggested that, to make it fair, “everyone should be allowed to bribe” as much as they liked.

It was a Fundraising event, so not the time for a row – nevertheless, it reminded me sharply about how the world works and how it is split between those who understand the chaos that endemic bribery causes and those that see only the micro-economy (through the eyes of individual businesses) rather than the macro-economic chaos and individual misery that bribery causes.

We live in a disjointed world

I have recently been involved in the filming of a documentary on corruption that will go out later this year. So, although I have left Global Witness (which campaigns against natural resource-related corruption and conflict), I have stayed in touch with the issue.

It is easy when involved within an NGO to forget how business folk (as I counted myself for many years) can disassociate themselves from wider issues. I spent most of my career in business and those who are very successful are completely focused – like an athlete focused on winning a gold medal at the Olympics. The best are relentlessly single-minded in the pursuit of gold – the best business people are similar. This means that they are completely focused on what benefits their business.

This is why the US Chambers of Commerce have been waging a war on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for some time. The USA has, since the FCPA was brought into being in 1977, been way ahead of the field in anti-bribery law. This has heated up recently as the US authorities have piled into those who are believed to have breached the Act and, mainly through out of court settlements, have gained hundreds of millions of $ in fines and caused real change in US companies and how they operate outside the US especially.

But, the Chambers of Commerce believe that this puts the US at a disadvantage as other countries don’t have similar laws, they believe, or flout them.

Of course, this is no longer the case in many parts of the world. The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention was signed up to by 39 countries and the Convention is a tough one. As a result, the UK was eventually shamed into all-party support for anti-bribery legislation and the Bribery Act was the outcome – which came into law in July, 2011. It is actually a tougher law than the FCPA – making facilitation payments illegal, for example, and making the bribery of anyone (including government officials) a criminal act if it affects a decision. However, if a company has good processes and trains its staff well (Adequate Procedures), Directors of the company are unlikely to be prosecuted. Let’s face it, the funding of prosecutions is also likely to mitigate against major cases being developed.

However, the Act has led to a large industry being developed in training and in new processes. I was on the working group in the UK that brought in guidance for the not-for-profits (charities and NGO’s) in the UK (under the auspices of Transparency International and Mango) so saw very clearly how every organization (business or not-for-profit) could be affected by the Act.

This new anti-bribery industry has seen a number of lawyers move from the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to private industry – confirmation if needed for business people that the whole thing is a cash generator for law firms and those in them and nothing more.

The equivalent of the “revolving door” that has been denigrated for years when politicians or civil servants enact laws or make project decisions and then move to senior positions in companies, is now taken as a serious concern by business people who see the same situation used against them! There is an irony there somewhere.

Corruption hurts

Business people see anti-bribery legislation as a problem. It makes business (in their opinion) more difficult in the same way that early 20th Century business people saw health and safety legislation as a problem. I am sure that many business people in the 19th Century saw government money being used to build the sewer system in London as a huge drain on their wealth and a public use of funds that proved that their wealth creation was being used against them – even if for the public good.

So, it must be galling to see anti-bribery legislation (which is international in concept and which is aimed at benefitting the poor in the poorest countries) put into force. In the USA, business is working to erode the law that has been in place successfully for 35 years – a law that has led the world. In the UK, there is irritation (maybe mounting anger) at the Bribery Act. And its implementation costs.

Business folk (and I was one for many years) see the short term and their bottom line. They find it hard to associate themselves with the wider questions about how corruption transfers wealth from the mass of people to a few – as, say, in Angola; how it ensures that money is spent on items that are not needed – very expensive air traffic control systems  in Tanzania, for example; how it adds to the price that poor nations pay; how nations like Nigeria are completely beholden to corruption as was England in the 18th Century – a nation where every job, every hospital appointment, every legal decision is likely to be subject to payment / bribes. Look at Greece and its current malaise – not paying tax is a symptom of a society corrupted – so much of the economy is bribery-induced – the black market is a corrupt market and leads to short-term benefits and long-term disaster.

Values are not for sale

The Bribery Act is now in place in the UK; the FCPA has been tried and tested in the USA for 35 years; 39 countries have signed up to the OECD convention. Yet, we probably face a bigger problem. The growth of nations such as China, India and Russia face us with enormous challenges as each nation is, in its own way, a centre of corruption.

China has adopted a Confucian posture – hit hard at home to rid itself of the endemic corruption that is at the centre of its totalitarian heart while allowing corruption to exist where it trades – such as in Africa. The Confucian spirit allows it to leave alone the nations with which it does business at the same time as Western nations attempt to apply governance to aid budgets. This is a time of real challenge and western countries should be working more than ever to instill values not just trying to compete for short-term gains. It used to be “if we don’t bribe, the French will”;  now the same phrase is directed at China, Russia and India (the home of www.Ipaidabribe.com).

We should not allow our values to be for sale for short-term benefits even in times of economic stress.

Is Bribery good for Business?

There are examples of businesses that have high values and most do not engage in bribery. Usually, those with the highest values are large businesses that know their CSR will be shaken by reputational problems. It makes business sense not to take the risk – bribery is bad for business.

Medium to small businesses, where the main opportunity for employment growth exists in most countries, are less concerned with CSR – which most think of as meaningless nonsense. Societal issues are way down the list of priorities – international issues are nowhere.

Hemmed in (in their view) by unjust legislation on all sides that seeks to choke off the spirit of enterprise, small businesses fight to survive daily. To them, bribery may be a necessary part of life. So what if people overseas suffer as a result – jobs are created for British firms and if we don’t do it, someone else (like the Chinese) will.

Globalisation in this context means nothing but cheap supply chains, cheap overseas labour and opportunities for exports. Globalisation does not mean we should take account of international problems.

Like 19th mill owners who fought sanitation bills as bad for business, who (in the main) were not interested in the health of their workers, who were only constrained by legal changes, many business people will only react to changes in the law because they are focused on their business and anything that adversely affects that business is bad – by its very nature. Bribery may allow business to take place – if a British company is not allowed to do it, business may well be lost.

Is bribery good for business? Of course not – just like the death of a worker because of shoddy safety systems, just like the gradual reduction in bullying at work because most acknowledge it is not needed – we inherently know that bribery (the corruption of people to make decisions go our way) is abhorrent. The impact is grotesque and cannot be justified even for a few extra short-term jobs.

Relentlessly focused business leaders know that bribery is wrong (at least most do) and, apart from the most extreme libertarians, understand that globalization means that the rules of business engagement are going to be made international. We cannot for long assume that developing countries will, for long, expect to be treated as the working class of 19th Century England. The class structure of international business will, over time, lessen just as we have made changes to our own class structure in Europe and North America and elsewhere.

Good business cannot “allow everyone to be bribed”. It is not just an ethical position, but a business one. Business should be undertaken on a level playing field where no-one bribes – we should be striving to ensure that bribery is minimized not allowed everywhere. Rules or norms are basic for societies to function. In a global society, the norms need to be widely applied. Bribery is bad – we all know it. Business leaders, here and in the USA, should be leading the fight – not over-reacting and running in the opposite direction.

Under-valuing Civil Society – Wherever the Market and Government don’t work

What, in the 21st Century, is it the role of charity?  Where does civil society (the real society) fit in a world dominated by the market and the state?

Recently I became Chief Executive of Willow Foundation (www.willowfoundation.org.uk) – a Charity in the UK that works to help 16-40 year-olds who are suffering from life threatening illnesses. We do this by providing psychological and emotional benefits through the provision of “Special Days” – something exceptional that we organize and make work  for them and their close ones. Our research shows that this is important for all – whether in curative or palliative phases of their illness.

So, my question above is heartfelt as well as intellectual.

Well, the simple and well-known answer is that where the marketplace has no response to society’s need and today’s government (focused on financing an NHS as the biggest employer and where they are just getting round to looking after elderly patients with care) is not entrusted (or does not feel entrusted) with this task, then charities and civil society intervene. That response encompasses both interventions such as Willow employs all the way to campaigners for new rights (here and overseas).

Charities?

In 2010, Sir Stephen Bubb, CEO of ACEVO in his paper titled: “Rediscovering Charity: Defining our role within the State” focused on the role of charities from their origins to the present day through their varying links to Government.  Whether funded by government (the state) or philanthropists, the link with the state was crucial from early times when the state was there just to extract taxes and fight wars to now (when it seems to be much of the same!) where the state sets the minimum standards of involvement.

The state also sets the laws under which charities operate (partly to defend its citizens from rogue elements) and pays a considerable amount of its taxation to charities. My recent blog on this: Do we value the Charity Sector? (https://jeffkaye.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/do-we-value-the-charitable-sector/)

was a statement of concern that the state completely fails to lay out the economic benefits and costs of the sector.

But, it is not only in regard to the state (or government) that charities must be seen. Charities exist in the 21st Century in the USA, UK and other, wealthier countries because neither government nor the “market” meets all our needs – even if they are better met than five hundred years ago. The “Third Sector” exists where the main economic system actors fail and where the need is financeable and / or manageable by volunteers and / or better managed by this sector.

Charities (or civil society organisations) range very widely. With newer forms of company (like social enterprises, community interest companies), the blurring is intensified, but the relationship of many forms of non-government, non-traditional market organisations are continuously reforming and developing.

Also changing is the gap that is to be filled as a result of government and / or the marketplace “failure”.

Maslow described in 1934 our “hierarchy of needs” which changes as we become wealthier. From charities operating to provide food and shelter (critical in much of Africa now and the UK in the 19th Century and before), as economies grow, the gaps become different. As income grows, the market may wake up to provide the need; government raises taxation and develops new ways to disburse that income where voters shout for that need to be filled.

Charities and the economy

In 2010, Charities had an income of £36.7 billion – about the same size as Aviva’s revenue – the UK’s biggest insurance company. The UK economy’s GDP in 2011 was around £1.5 trillion – so, the Charity sector is about 2.5% of the UK’s GDP as measured in simple economic terms (comparing income to GDP).

Financially, the raw economic facts do not speak for themselves. Economic statistics are based on what is measured and it is assumed that £1 is £1 is £1. Measurement in our economy is flawed – real value is mistaken, of course, when our decisions are made almost entirely on the basis of cost data.

The impact of the charity sector, then, is much greater than the raw data. This is reflected in the media and elsewhere but because the third sector is not so easily measureable – charities don’t have financial bottom lines – it is too easy to ignore it or treat it like a small child to be patted on the head when it does well and scolded if it doesn’t.

How important is the Third sector / civil society?

If it is not practical to value civil society or that piece of society that is not government or the market (although it interfaces with both), then how can the real value of this sector be valued? If we are now working to value our natural resources, the value of the charity sector (or whatever we call it) has to be made so that decisions are not taken purely on the basis of costs.

The stupid action of the Treasury in proposing to set an upper limit of £50,000 or 25% of income for tax deductions on charitable donations is so crass as to be almost unbelievable! It is the sign (if we needed it) that valuation is not the issue. Apart from the fact that the Treasury cannot even provide decent examples of the complex schemes that they are trying to hit (sledge hammers cracking nuts), it completely under-values the Charity giving sector and the value that is created from these donations.

This is happening throughout our austerity-driven society. In the same way that pollution effects of manufacturing in the 19th and 20th Centuries (from pesticides to greenhouse gasses) were not properly valued (and are still not properly), so charity is completely undervalued by those responsible for taking decisions that have enormous and adverse impacts.

The value created by a volunteer does not show up in statistics. The value created by pro-bono help from companies and lawyers and school governors and countless others is not shown. The reduced cost of staff in the sector compared to other sectors (notwithstanding the argument about managerialism which is another important subject) is shown as much lower and demands far lower “income” to fund it. Discounts from companies, gifts in kind – all appear to reduce the economic benefit of the sector because they show up as lower costs. But, they provide huge value, which is seriously under-reported. The Big Society is much bigger than the raw data shows.

Yet, decisions are still made based on 19th Century statistics and 19th Century economics.

If we value society as a mix between the market, government and the third sector – with individuals as the customers of all three – then we have to be much smarter and less lazy in understanding what real value comes to mean and much less lazy in using out of date models to make decisions.

The Charity (or third) sector / civil society has a huge and under-estimated impact on society – far greater than the 2.5% of GDP or its equivalent to other sectors of society – which (apart from various externalities) are better approximated by GDP statistics. It is not just the market and the state which makes up society – although we are brainwashed to believe it it.

In the past, before we became beholden to numbers as the only arbiter in society, charity was understood for the huge part it played. As we have become wealthier, rightly government and the market have taken positions, which in the past were covered by charities. Charities and civil society in its widest sense have moved into new areas as the demand became clear. Now, we need to understand the impact of the sector in macroeconomic terms (across the huge range of “charitable activities”) – not just its GDP – in order to properly make decisions.

Osborne’s recent numbskullery with the £50,000 limit has not done much to Cameron’s happiness index nor his leader’s desire to establish the Big Society, has it?

Do we Value the Charitable Sector?

As the Coalition Government slips worryingly through its third year, the value given to the Third Sector (or the Civil Society) is more uncertain. The Big Society is being challenged as it has not been for many years through financial austerity in national and local government. This has had a dramatic impact on charities in the UK that have been set up to serve the community and who rely on government (national and local) income. In Osborne’s last budget, charitable giving has been hit hard by limiting that which is tax allowable to £50,000 in any one year for individuals.

The charitable sector is strong in the UK, but threatened by this reduced government spending, reduced spending by companies and potential reductions in individual giving as we tumble back into recession.

The variety of charities is vast – from those set up to further medical research, those working to improve health and welfare, those set up to do international development, social clubs and societies, sports clubs and a host of others. Even schools are charities under UK law. This makes it hard to understand the role they have in society.

However, they stand alongside the Governing sector (government) and the products and services sector (business) and the fourth sector or fourth estate – journalism. Maybe that’s also where many NGO’s lie these days – funded to do investigations into society as newspapers once were. The fourth estate now contains many NGO’s – the likes of ONE, Enough, Global Witness, parts of Greenpeace, Oxfam, Save the Children, Amnesty and many others – where charitable work continues alongside the investigations and journalism and lobbying.

The Charitable Sector – Filling the (Massive) Gap

The role of charities is therefore complex – even if in the minds of most funders it is primarily to provide help to those sectors of society that are left out by the State and by the remainder of civil society. Charities exist to drive funds and assistance locally, regionally, nationally and internationally where it is deemed that government does not, cannot or will not.

Whether it is DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) or similar assisting in emergency international funding, or Oxfam or Save the Children, or local hospices, each has been set up by individuals who saw a gap in care and raced to fix the problem. The whole area of social business has also sprung up in between business and charities. The roles are evolving as niches appear where need is believed to occur – it is a complex and adaptive system that is constantly evolving.

Each society is developing its own way from the bottom up – very few governments are sufficiently totalitarian to impose its blueprint on its people. In North Korea, this may be so but elsewhere government and business leave gaps that the market cannot satisfy and that civil society attempts to fill.

If the role of the charity sector (outside of the fourth estate incumbents) is to fill the gaps that business and government leaves – because they identify the need first, provide funding that is otherwise unattainable, provide better expertise, more focused concern or whatever other motivation – then how should society be developing to maximize its positive effectiveness? While this note focuses on the UK, it is as relevant to the international community.

Valuing the Charitable Sector

 

It is now time that government in the UK (and elsewhere) took a long, hard look at the charity sector and saw it as a real sector of the economy. The last budget was a good example of how taxation and benefits were structured towards businesses and individuals and where civil society (or the Third Sector) was seen as a peripheral activity. This was a slight on that sector.

The seemingly thoughtless and throw-away issues such as the limit of £50,000 on tax-free giving was typical of government not seeing the organized part of civil society as being defined in any special way. It is surely time that civil society – the charitable sector – is defined as separate from the business and individual taxed community and that we establish a set of income and expenditure statements from government that shows clearly how well or badly we are doing in that sector – at least in money terms. This would then clearly show how well or badly governments are also doing.

At the time when the Natural Capital Committee under the newly appointed Dieter Helm is calling for an accounting for natural resources / natural capital, it is time for the charitable sector to be similarly “valued”.

Impact Valuations – What does this mean?

On a basic level, an understanding of the tax taken from the sector (mainly through VAT, plus income tax and national insurance – both company and individual – paid to staff) should be provided annually at least by Government – maybe the office for National Statistics. That can be set against the tax benefits that may arise through gift-aid benefits for those who provide funds to charities. At the very least, an Annual Report should be made by Government (almost a CSR report) but verified and commented on by Charities Commission and maybe more independently-minded organisations). This would be completely different to the current Charities Commission Annual Report – which is a micro-analysis of how it spends its £29.4m. The report has to be a macro-economic one.

Stage two would be an analysis of the sector’s public “goods” – a value of the huge and positive impact that charities have in the UK and internationally. This will be its “Impact” at a macro-economic level.

If natural assets can be “valued” (providing an accounting value as Dieter Helm wants), then so can charitable activities. This is being demanded by many funders before (certainly trusts and foundations) before they fund charities, while individual givers often want to know more about an individual charity beyond the “gut-feel” instinct that propels them to give.

This macro-economic valuing would give the charity sector an independence. It would mean that civil society could begin to understand just what contribution the charitable sector provides in terms that begin to be understandable.  Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, would have a far more meaningful brief. Currently, he sits in the Cabinet Office (under Francis Maude) – but, the brief is very wide and less economically focused than it should be. The key, of course, is how we go beyond pure economic modeling (our GDP of quantity not quality) to measure the benefits we receive from natural capital / assets (which the NCC is set up to assist with) and from civil society itself.

Just as the value of education is not the money that the government spends on education per head (based on the Academy where I am Chair, £9.35m of income is spent on 1450 students – a “value” of £6,448 per annum – although at least this has some calculative affect. Even here, of course, the cost is reduced by the government’s take of income tax from staff, National insurance from staff and schools), so the value of charities should be assessed and the (often adverse, sometimes positive) impact of government intervention should be made known.

This is not a simple task, but a critical one. As we enter a world of real austerity (especially in Europe), we are underestimating the cost of cost savings on society – at best, we ignore them.

We are well into the 21st Century – time we thought in 21st Century terms and valued those things that materially contribute. The NCC may be making a start with natural capital: it is a good time to start making real progress on valuing the macro-economic benefits of our charitable sector – before it is too late.