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Manage risk when people in charities are candidates or political campaigners in an election period

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Use this guidance to learn about the steps a charity should take to manage the risk for those involved (individual trustees, staff or volunteers) in the charity who are political candidates or campaigners in an election period.

This guidance is relevant in two contexts. Where individuals in a charity are:

  • candidates in an election period
  • political campaigners in an election period.

Individuals involved in a charity who are also heavily involved in political campaigning should take steps to protect the charity. Taking these steps may also protect the individual.

Avoiding any real or perceived association between the charity and a political party or candidate is important. This association is under increased scrutiny during a regulated election period.

Follow the steps below to help manage the risk in your charity.

Step 1: Update your charity’s policies

In advance of an election period it’s helpful to review and make sure you follow robust policies on:

Step 2: Educate your charity about why political independence is important

Charities should educate their people (trustees, staff and volunteers) about why the organisation needs to be politically independent.

Charities should make clear that political association with candidates or political parties shows a conflict of interest. This risks the charity and the individual if it’s not carefully managed.

Aim to develop education and knowledge-building activity for those involved in the charity's work which covers training in the following areas:

  • In charity law, charities must be, and must be seen to be, independent from party politics. Failing to do this puts trustees, staff and volunteers at risk and could undermine the organisation's reputation.
  • There must be a clear separation between the charity and its campaigning work and the political campaigning and electioneering taken on by individuals.
  • Charities have an important role in campaigning and can take positions but must do so in a way that is:
    • aligned with purpose
    • compliant with election regulations
    • not associated with a single candidate or party.
  • Individuals involved in a charity can be political, campaign for candidates and parties, or stand for election in their personal lives. But there must not be an association, or perceived association, with the charity's work.

Step 3: Assess the association the organisation has with candidates or political campaigners

Charities should assess any potential association, real or perceived, the organisation may have with candidates or individuals involved in political campaigning. Even in cases where multiple individuals belong to a range of political parties.

Individuals involved in the charity who are candidates should have a way to share and discuss this information.

The board should consider the outcomes of this discussion and decide how best to manage any risks alongside the policies listed above.

If an employee is directly engaged in a charity’s campaigning activity and also has personal involvement with one particular political party, for example they are standing as a candidate, they should declare this to their employer (the charity). The trustees should then consider this potential conflict of interest and assess the risks for the charity in terms of both reputation and legal liability of the person taking on both roles simultaneously.

Charity Commission guidance on Charities, Elections and Referendums

Assessing the potential risk will depend on many factors. Speak to the individual to find out the following:

  • How senior is the individual within the charity?
  • Is the individual standing for election or a senior member of a campaign?
  • What profile does the individual have through the charity, and how connected is this profile to the charity’s stakeholders?
  • Does the individual member direct or undertake influence, advocacy, or campaign work for the charity?
  • Is the individual familiar with the rules on charities and campaigning and their association with candidates?
  • What steps does the individual intend to take, or what steps have they taken already to limit the association and mitigate risk? For example, removing references to the charity on their social media accounts.

Step 4: Decide on how to manage the risk

Once there’s a clear assessment and understanding of the issues, the board, (or a suitable subcommittee reporting to the board), should consider the following:

General and specific risks should be recorded in the risk register.

Step 5: Begin a formal agreed way of working with the individual

Once the charity has assessed and decided how to manage risks, we advise the charity to speak with the individual and agree on an arrangement (which relates to and references relevant policies, contracts, guidance and law).

The individual agreement may include or reference the following:

  • None of the charity’s resources are to be used on the campaign. For example, office space or equipment (such as photocopying machines).
  • No party political activity during working hours and no use of the charity’s communication channels or IT equipment.
  • Separate social media accounts should be used for campaigning purposes.
  • Where possible, the individual should speak to the charity when they’re approached by media for interviews where they will likely be asked about:
    • their work in the charity
    • issues that may overlap with the charity’s policy positions or campaigns.
  • The individual should not imply that the charity endorses them in either their campaign for election or their political party.
  • A decision on whether it’s appropriate for the individual to actively mention the charity’s name in the individual’s campaigning materials. The charity might agree that the individual states on campaign material that they’re a senior representative of, for example, an ‘environmental charity'.

If the charity suspects an agreement is breached, they should:

Step 6: Create a culture of transparency

These issues are often not always straightforward. They require openness, honesty and understanding to know how best to proceed. Using best judgment on what action to take will manage risk for the charity and individual.

Once a charity has assessed the risk, engagement with the individual is key to making sure an agreement is reached.

Although it wouldn’t be appropriate to share the details of individual cases, we recommend that the charity consider how best to communicate its overall approach to managing risks openly with key stakeholders (such as funders).

Last reviewed: 03 June 2024

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 03 June 2024

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