When the Charity Commission knocks on the door of a charity (usually the email "door") asking for information from a charity it is easy to assume the worst. The old phrase "no smoke without fire" comes to mind, but is that true? Honestly? No, I don't think it is always true.
The Commission is a regulator and when someone makes a complaint about a charity or the Commission becomes aware of certain information via the media, then depending on the level of risk (to beneficiaries, financial, reputational etc.), the Commission is under an obligation to investigate. In the same way that the police cannot decide whether to ask the Crown Prosecution Service if it can charge a suspect without first investigating and gathering evidence, the Commission does not know if a complaint or information in the media is justified/correct and if the Commission needs to take action, without first gathering information.
For any charity receiving an email from the Commission asking for information about their activities, governance, fundraising etc. it can be a heart-stopping moment.
Trustees and senior leaders can, in my experience, feel outraged, anxious and, occasionally, fearful. But what should they do? The easy answer to that is, in a measured and organised manner, answer the Commission's questions, provide the documents they ask for, co-operate and stay calm, helpful and professional. After all, trustees are usually under a legal obligation to provide the information and documents and, if the charity has done nothing wrong, the sooner it can demonstrate that the better. To do so can minimise the reputational risk to the charity and potentially any financial impact i.e. loss of donors in light of negative press coverage.
And if the smoke really does conceal a raging fire...... I know a really good charities lawyer!
"We will assess the information provided by the trustees to determine whether or not there is a role for the Commission"