Under-fire charities remain defiant - Museums Association

Under-fire charities remain defiant

Some organisations more likely to speak out about campaigning work, according to a new survey
The National Trust faced a backlash after including Chartwell, the home of Winston Churchill, in its report on properties with links to slavery and empire
The National Trust faced a backlash after including Chartwell, the home of Winston Churchill, in its report on properties with links to slavery and empire National Trust

Recent attacks on the campaigning work of charities has made some organisations more likely to speak out, according to a survey carried out by a foundation that supports social change.

The Sheila McKechnie Foundation, which runs an annual Campaigner Survey, said that this year’s results showed that organisations are still determined to carry out their work despite growing legislative pressures and insufficient resources.

The survey found that recent attacks on charities such as the National Trust, RNLI and Runnymede Trust have made 30% of organisations more likely to speak out. Only 7% report that they are now less willing to speak out.

This is mirrored in the surges of public support for the RNLI, which reported a spike in donations following criticism by some politicians, and the National Trust, which saw record-breaking membership rises last year following criticism of its 2020 report into links between its properties and slavery and colonialism. The Charity Commission later found the organisation did not act outside its charitable purpose in publishing the report.

“The threats that most people have noticed have been overt – public, vocal and often peppered with blatant disinformation,” wrote Chloe Hardy, the director of policy and communications at the Sheila McKechnie Foundation in a blog on the organisation’s website. “The National Trust, Barnardo’s, and the Runnymede Trust have all been subject to complaints that the Charity Commission concluded were groundless.”

Celia Richardson, the director of communications at the National Trust, said: “Public scrutiny and debate are part of everyday life in the nation's institutions and charities. It's part of why we exist and no-one would want that to change. 


“But when we become lightning rods or are used as platforms it can get in the way of us doing our jobs. Our response is always to stick to our mission and remind people of what we're here for. The National Trust is for nature, beauty and history, for everyone.”

The Campaigner Survey shows that 90% of respondents regard campaigning as a vital way to deliver their mission. Also, 98% believed that it is legitimate for civil society organisations, including charities, to campaign for changes to policy, law, attitudes and behaviours.

Sharon Heal, the director of the Museums Association (MA), said: “This is a really interesting and timely report. It demonstrates that charities can make a positive difference to people’s lives and that campaigning is a normal part of what many charities do. 

“At the MA, our members overwhelmingly support our campaigns on issues such as anti-racism, decolonisation and climate change and we will continue to provide guidance and resources on those issues, as well as making the case for and supporting workforce and community wellbeing.”

The Campaigner Survey found that 96% of respondents believed there are threats to the freedom to organise, speak out and protest. These include proposals to restrict protest and judicial review, and negative statements by politicians. 

Just under half of those surveyed predicted that current legislation will have a direct, negative effect on their work – either stopping it, dramatically reducing it, or making it more difficult or expensive.

The Sheila McKechnie Foundation conducted its survey between 18 October 2021 and 18 December 2021. There were 118 respondents.

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