Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The price of generosity...

We've recently had a Report* from the Charity Commissioners (with whom the Trust is registered according to law) setting out its findings - through research, casework and consultation - on how to improve its services to faith-based charities like ours. The Charity Commission estimates there to be over 25,500 faith-based charities operating in England and Wales, not all of which were registered until recently.

The stated aim of the investigation into faith-based charities was to gain insight into the main issues, concerns and tensions facing faith-based charities in their work, and in their relations with the regulatory body.

The Report (which can be accessed in its entirety at http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/) explores some of the key themes that emerged, and 'learns lessons' from its findings. 234 Buddhist organisations were identified by the Commissioners, of whom 39 made representations (including this Trust).

Common issues expressed across all faiths included a need for more support, especially for trustees, and more face-to-face events allowing dialogue. Faith groups believed that the Commissioners lack understanding of the cultural context within which faith groups operate, especially the spiritual system of giving (in Buddhism, dana), where Commission accounting methods and "public benefit requirements" may conflict with religious beliefs and practices.

Issues of particular concern to Buddhist charities, over and above the ones mentioned, included dana in the form of time, knowledge, services, goods etc, where attempts to quantify giving to meet legal accounting practice undermine the concept of no-strings generosity. Another concern was perceived pressure to "merge" in order to achieve efficiencies of cost etc. Buddhist charities have a generally low profile, irregular and often very modest incomes, and can be easily overlooked.

The Commissioners were generally seen as doing a good job, but - as always - one has learned not to take everything one is told at face value: the "proof of the pudding is in the eating", and we shall just have to wait, watch, and see...
*Working with Faith Groups: The Charity Commission Faith Groups Programme 2004-2007

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