Our Policy Principles

Find out what guides our policy work, where we stand on broad issues relating to voluntary sector policy, and what interests us the most

DSC has four core policy principles that guide our work and that we use to try to influence everything that affects the voluntary sector.

These are:

Responsible Giving which is about how individuals, businesses and government should support charities

Responsible Regulation which argues that charity law and regulation should be enabling towards charities

Responsible Delivery which promotes transparency in the charity sector

Responsible Independence which stipulates that government and charities should strive to promote charities independence


Responsible Giving

Givers should be informed about the characteristics, motivations, capacity, aspirations and needs of the organisations they are giving to. They should consider the impact that their giving will have and the outcome it is meant to achieve.

a) Individuals should consider the impact of their giving

We believe that a considered approach to individual giving is beneficial to both the individual giving, and to the recipient charity. An understanding of the work a charity does, as well as what the funds will be used for helps to build a connection between donor and charity and is more likely to result in regular rather than one-off donations.

b) Grant-making trusts, companies and statutory funders should all have clear and accessible application and monitoring processes

We believe that this is essential for both funders and applicants in ensuring effective use of time and resources from applicants, enabling better quality applications.

c) Funders should implement appropriate term funding arrangements

We believe that there is a place for both short and long term funding, and that funders have a responsibility when setting grants programmes to assess the most effective duration for funding arrangements.

d) Good funding practice should be shared

Relating to 1b, there are funders that demonstrate excellent practice in administering their funds. We feel that funders who have invested time, thought and experience in developing procedures that are effective for both themselves and the organisations they fund, have a responsibility to share their positive learning with funders that do not share their resources/size/age/experience.

e) Funders should understand the environment in which they, and the recipients of their funding operate, and be able to respond effectively to change

Funders’ objectives and agendas should be set by the needs of the end users, not the other way around, and funders have an obligation to ensure that the setting of grant programmes, funding criteria, objectives etc. reflect the needs of the people and organisations they are supporting.

f) Companies should give more

We feel that companies are capable of giving more to the sector than they do at present, and that they have an obligation to do so. We feel that there are unanswered questions around not just the amount that companies give, but also the effectiveness of the ways they do give and the extent to which large proportions of what is labelled “company giving” should actually be considered giving at all.

Responsible Regulation

Some regulation is necessary to safeguard and maintain the interests of the general public, the beneficiary, and of the organisations and individuals being regulated. However, it should have a demonstrable benefit, and should aim to empower and strengthen voluntary activity rather than control it unnecessarily.

Our understanding of what constitutes regulation stems from the impact it has on the organisations and individuals concerned, rather than any technical definition.

It includes:

  • formal regulation, such as exercised by the Charity Commission or social enterprise regulator;
  • formal regulation that affects organisations and individuals engaged in certain activities (e.g. child protection);
  • formal regulation which has a more indirect impact, such as Treasury and EU rules governing the expenditure of public money;
  • the terms and conditions of funders, often containing elements of the above, which have an informal regulatory impact through funding arrangements;
  • self-regulation, which is facilitated by statutory or sector-owned bodies (e.g. Fundraising Standards Board, Volunteering England)
  • self-regulation through internal governance (boards of trustees).
a) Regulation should be proportionate

Regulation must strike a balance between perceived risk and intended benefit. It should recognise the diversity of voluntary sector activity and be developed and applied in a proportionate way.

b) Regulation should be appropriate

Regulation must be informed by the characteristics, capacity, and needs of the organisations and individuals that are being regulated. Insofar as is possible it should be focussed, rather than acting as a blunt instrument that has unintended effects.

c) Regulation should be enabling

Regulation should seek to empower rather than control voluntary activity. The reasons for the regulation and the regulation itself must be properly understood by those institutions which are applying it. It should be accessible and intelligible to those being regulated. It should seek as far as possible to encourage self-regulation rather than focus simply on enforcement.

Responsible Delivery

Voluntary and community organisations should be transparent about their aims and activities. They should provide evidence of their effectiveness and seek to maximise their impact. Most importantly, they should be driven by the best way of serving the needs of their users or beneficiaries.

a) An organisation’s objectives, activities and progress should be clear and transparent

This refers to both internal and external clarity relating to all aspects of the organisation’s activity such as understanding full costs of activity, reporting activities effectively etc. From an internal perspective, clarity in these areas enables development in line with organisational objectives.

b) The best way to serve beneficiaries or users should drive how organisations develop

By this we mean that all voluntary organisations should effectively be trying to do themselves out of business, having resolved the need that they are addressing. The sustainability of the organisation should not be a driving force for change or development in itself; the organisation should be prepared to grow or shrink in response to the needs of its users.

c) Organisations should understand the environment in which they operate, and be able to respond effectively to change

There are a whole range of external pressures on voluntary and community organisations. Being aware of these and how they can affect the operating environment is essential in enabling them to plan effectively for their future in the best interests of their beneficiaries.

Responsible Independence

The independence of voluntary and community organisations from state power flows from the individual citizen’s right to freely associate and act in the public arena. It is not absolute, but neither is it something that is given or sanctioned by government.

Independence is vital to the ability of voluntary and community organisations to remain relevant to the communities they arise from, and to the way they serve people’s needs. Partnerships, alliances and funding relationships should maintain and enhance an organisation’s independence, not threaten it.

a) Organisations should only enter into alliances and partnerships that maintain their independence

We believe that partnerships and alliances can enhance the effectiveness of voluntary and community organisations, whether they are between similar or different voluntary organisations, with private sector companies or statutory bodies. However, we believe that such relationships should be entered into with a full and clear understanding on each side as to the short, medium and long-term implications, and with clear review points. We also believe that forced or coerced partnerships (as criteria for awarding funding for example) are irresponsible.

b) More charities, not less

We do not believe that there are ‘too many charities’; we maintain that increased choice is to the benefit of the end user/beneficiary. We believe that citizens have a fundamental right to organise and support any number of independent charities or other voluntary organisations. Therefore there should not be undue barriers to the setting up of a voluntary organisation in any form; such activity is to be encouraged, not restricted.

c) Organisations should maintain a critical distance from government bodies

As outlined in 4a, we are not against partnership or cooperation with government. However, we believe it is crucial that voluntary and community organisations retain an independent and critical voice regardless of any funding or partnership arrangement. The drive to involve voluntary and community organisations in the delivery of public services has meant that some organisations have become quite dependent on government funding. We think this potentially threatens their ability to retain control over their own activities and to ‘maintain a critical distance’. In a wider sense, we are also concerned that this process may be fundamentally changing what charities are for. We are not against being partners with the state but at what point does that start to become part of the state?