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What were the biggest charity stories of 2021?

New Charity Commission chair (finally)

Early in the year we bid farewell to Baroness Stowell as chair of the Charity Commission. Her public statements won over few sceptics during her three-year term, and her own parting shot was to tell the sector that she wished she had been more outspoken.

For most of the year, the Commission was led by an interim chair, but finally Martin Thomas was confirmed as the next chair last week.

With solid experience chairing charity boards, and a reluctance to get involved in culture war narratives, Thomas appears to be everything that the sector has been calling for.

As Andrew Purkis, a former Commission board member, wrote yesterday: “It feels as if a grown-up has entered the arena.”

Culture wars continue

During the year there were a number of times when charities were, often unfairly, embroiled in so-called culture wars, as critics sought to paint legitimate campaigning or educational activity as somehow politically motivated.

For example, a group of backbench Conservative MPs complained about Barnardo's, after the charity shared tips about how parents and guardians could discuss racial discrimination with children.

Later in the year, MPs complained about the Runnymede Trust’s response to the report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED), the Sewell report, and questioned whether it was engaging in lawful political activity.

In both cases the Charity Commission concluded that trustees had acted properly.

After just 18 months as chief executive Karl Wilding announced he was leaving NCVO. Shortly afterwards a report detailing the extent of discrimination and bullying at the umbrella body was leaked to Third Sector and one of its trustees quit saying, “the change I seek is beyond this role”.

NCVO’s interim CEO, Sarah Vibert, and chair, Priya Singh, promised to get its house in order, and carried out an inquiry.

The story also sparked a wider debate about racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism across the sector, and the campaign group #NotJustNCVO emerged to offer people support and share experiences.

CIOF sexual harassment

In the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder, fundraisers demanded answers from their representative body, the Chartered Institute of Fundraising (CIOF), about the slow progress on sexual harassment cases under investigation.

Throughout CIOF was criticised over the tone of its apologies and delays in responding to people involved.

Eventually, the CIOF completed an investigation, expelled a member and acknowledged organisational failings.

Its leadership apologised and promised to improve and strengthen its processes. A new permanent chief executive joined this autumn and the body is currently recruiting a new chair.

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