Christine Pratt thrust herself into the limelight on Sunday afternoon and in the process all but destroyed her charity, brought the confidentiality of help lines into question and raised questions about the role of charities in political debate.
Whatever one makes of her motivation to speak out, I think that there are a couple of interesting lessons for third sector leaders.
The website of the National Bullying Helpline contains quotes of endorsement from David Cameron and other prominent Tories. Her board was comprised of other local Tory activists and the office was two doors away from the local branch of the Conservative party. I don’t for a second believe that her actions were part of a coordinated Tory plot, but for anyone like me who spent two minutes on Monday morning checking out the NBH website alarm bells were ringing.
A huge number of charities involve politicians in trying to promote their work and help to influence the development of policy. This is absolutely appropriate. But that involvement must not be partisan, and in this world appearance is as important as reality. It was very foolish for the charity not to seek and demonstrate cross party support for its work (it’s hardly a controversial topic after all). Whether or not the charity had inappropriate party political links its reputation and credibility are now destroyed.
The second lesson concerns her decision to put political activity ahead of the confidentiality and interests of her clients. The organisation’s objectives as displayed on the charity commission website are “the preservation and protection of good health of those affected by bulling in the workplace and other environments.”
Political campaigning is only allowed and indeed only appropriate when it helps to further the objectives of the charity and is in the interests of its beneficiaries. In her case Pratt has directly sacrificed the interests of her beneficiaries to give herself a platform. That is the cardinal sin of a third sector leader. I wrote a few weeks ago about how our first principle must always be the interests of our beneficiaries.
Sector leaders shouldn’t be afraid to become involved in political debate. They just need to avoid the mistakes of appearing partisan and ignoring their beneficiaries. Neither should be hard.