Campaign: NCVO achieves political support for charity bill - Public Affairs

Campaign: Campaign for a Charities Bill

Client: National Council for Voluntary Organisations

PR team: In-house

Timescale: September 2002-ongoing

Budget: Undisclosed

Current charity law remains loosely based on a 400-year-old Elizabethan statute that gives charity status to organisations working in the fields of education, religion or the relief of poverty, omitting those operating in areas such as human rights. This means that Eton is a charity, while Amnesty International is not.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) decided to launch a campaign to reform the antiquated legislation with a modern legal framework that would ensure an organisation needed to prove it was of public benefit before it could attain charitable status.

Objectives

To persuade the Government to pass a new Charities Bill.

Strategy and Plan

The challenge of the campaign was to communicate the importance of charity-law reform and make it newsworthy.

The NCVO therefore formed a coalition with charities such as the British Red Cross and the NSPCC, and launched this coalition at a press conference where representatives spoke.

To ensure the NCVO's voice would be heard in every specialist area affected by the bill, national social affairs, education and health correspondents were targeted, along with religious, legal and charity press. NCVO chief executive Stuart Etherington was made available for interview.

Since the organisation didn't want the need for reform to be seen as a one-party issue, the team decided to chase cross-party support. MPs and peers were sent briefings that stated the case for reform and were invited to take part in one-on-one meetings. Those politicians who had previously shown an interest in charities and law reform were especially targeted, and the team managed to convince some MPs to table parliamentary questions on the need for a bill and triggered a debate in the House of Lords.

Presentations were made to Home Office civil servants and ministers because the team wanted the bill to be sponsored by the department. The NCVO sent the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit a report detailing a consultation with different charities about the need for reform.

Measurement and Evaluation

According to Romeike, the launch of the coalition generated 43 articles in the trade and technical press, 18 pieces in the national media and five pieces regionally. There were mentions of the campaign in the press every month since, with approximately a quarter of this coverage appearing in national and regional titles.

Whenever the campaign made headway with the Government, extensive coverage was achieved in The Guardian, The Times and the Financial Times.

All members of the Joint Committee on the Draft Charities Bill came out in strong support for the legislation and their report mentioned NCVO on almost every page.

Results

A Charities Bill was included in the Queen's Speech and is expected to comprise most of the changes the NCVO wanted.

'The NCVO did a good job at alerting MPs to the need and opportunity for change and managed to maintain cross-party support, which was very important for the campaign,' says Labour MP Tom Levitt.

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