What we believe about independence and values
Independence has been a core value for NCVO since its inception in 1919, and remains relevant for all our 12,000 members. NCVO has long argued that the sector cannot allow its values and independence to be compromised by a closer working relationship with government.
For some time there has been a debate within the sector about how dependence on state funding creates a pressure for self-censorship. As funding is limited, some voluntary organisations may choose to withdraw from public advocacy in favour of service delivery. Others may find that contributing to government policy making compromises their ability to be critical and to oppose.
Whatever the situation, voluntary organisations must never be afraid to speak out, regardless of their funding resources and in particular the levels of statutory funding.
If voluntary organisations are to continue to be trusted by the general public, they need to ensure that they:
- maintain their values
- operate independently
- are perceived and treated as independent organisations by the government and the public.
The sector's independence needs to be understood and valued, not just by stakeholders but by the voluntary sector itself. Voluntary organisations need to ensure and assert their values and independence. We need to make good use of the tools and opportunities we have that enable us to do this.
Funding is a key issue. Wherever possible voluntary organisations should:
- diversify income sources so as not to be dependent on a single funder
- improve their skills in contract negotiation, and be willing to walk away from an inappropriate or poorly funded contract
- improve their skills and confidence when working in partnership.
This may require new and different ways of working, with different forms of accountability. We may have to become more innovative when influencing the public agenda if we want to achieve the right outcomes.
We must not allow our willingness to accept public contracts or work in partnership to be seen as a compromise of our independence or values. Voluntary organisations must only deliver services when they support their values, and only go into partnerships with those who respect their independence and values.
Voluntary organisations should make use of the Compact to hold statutory partners to account.
Trustees are an essential part of maintaining independence and values. They are the moral compass of a voluntary organisation.
Organisations should ensure that all trustees are independent and always act in the best interests of the organisation. Trustee boards need to take responsibility for:
- determining the voluntary organisation’s role
- being clear about objectives, actions to support and promote those objectives
- preventing mission drift
- rejecting proposals for funding and partnership that run counter to the organisation’s objectives, core priorities and values
- ensuring that the organisation is transparent and accountable.
Download our 2004 report, Standing apart, working together - a study of the myths and realities of voluntary and community sector independence (PDF, 306KB).
The relationship with government will always be important. Being too close to government is not good for the sector, but neither is being oppositional for the sake of it. The Compact and its codes exist to frame the relationship between voluntary organisations and government. This includes an explicit reference to respecting the sector’s independence.
Many voluntary organisations have nothing to do with government, but are crucial for thriving vibrant local communities – for example local history groups or sports groups.
But independent voluntary organisations are also important as part of a healthy democracy. They operate as a challenge or balance to the interests of government and the market. They provide a voice and support for individuals and communities who might not otherwise be heard. And they provide vital services and often identify service needs.
Government and politicians of all parties must:
- respect the independence of voluntary organisations, including their right to campaign in support of their cause and in the interests of their beneficiaries, irrespective of any funding relationship
- demonstrate their commitment to this by ensuring that the Charity Commission's guidance on campaigning (CC9) is upheld and fully adhered to, by both charities and the Commission itself
Read our Right to campaign manifesto (PDF, 16KB) produced in 2010 in partnership with the Sheila McKechnie Foundation.