Adopt a ‘laser-sharp focus’ on your purpose to handle culture wars, commission chief suggests

Charity

Charities must adopt a “laser-sharp focus” on their core purpose to handle challenges such as ‘culture wars’, the outgoing chief executive of the Charity Commission has said.

Speaking today at the annual charity conference of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, Helen Stephenson said many charities had been “very acutely” affected by so-called culture wars because of their desire to put things right in their communities.

Stephenson, who will step down as chief executive of the regulator at the end of July after seven years in the role, said the pace of change was increasing.

“Closely linked to this is enormous change around societal expectations on issues such as identity, fairness, community and so on,” she said.

“Some feel left behind, and indeed often devalued and ignored by those changes, and, in my mind, the so-called ‘culture wars’ are essentially about different levels of comfort with the nature and pace of those changes.

“These divergences are playing out across society, but they impact on many charities very acutely; in part, I think, because they are so often fuelled by a sense of mission, a desire to right a wrong or serve a certain community – whether that be a community or place of interest.”

She said there was no way for charities to immunise themselves against change but the question was how they should best respond.

“I believe strongly that the challenge for charities is how to retain a laser-sharp focus on your core purpose – on what you are ultimately set up to achieve – while being open, and flexible, about the best ways of achieving that aim.”

She said that applied not just to charities but also to the commission itself.

Stephenson also said the regulator would next month launch its next five-year strategy.

“I can’t give too much away, but I can tell you that our new strategy will be led by principles, purpose and values, setting out not so much what we will do, but why we matter, and the difference we need to make,” she said.

She said the new strategy would not amount to a “significant course correction”.

Stephenson said: “Our chair Orlando Fraser has spoken extensively about his ambition to lead an expert commission that is fair, balanced and independent – principles that we already work to, and which will also be at the core of the new strategy.

“These watchwords are all the more important in the years ahead, precisely because the cultural fissures within our society risk undermining a collective understanding of what it means to run an organisation well.”

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