Charities, elections and political parties
Election time and charities
In election years, charities should take special care to ensure their independence from political parties and candidates.
Charities add a valuable and trusted voice on issues that affect their communities. Charities can speak up, including in election time, and it’s important that they do.
The important thing for charities is ensuring that any activity they carry out is in support of their charitable purpose, and in the best interests of their charity. This is because an organisation set up to be a political party or support a political party cannot be a charity.
If your charity is considering engaging with a political party or candidate(s), you should also think carefully about how this might look to the public.
What your charity can’t do
It’s ok for a charity to express support for a particular policy of a political party that is important to their charitable purpose (for example: a soup kitchen supporting a party’s policy on homelessness).
However, a charity must not support or oppose a political party or candidate. This could include:
- making a donation to a political party or a candidate’s election campaign;
- endorsing a candidate or political party over social media;
- telling people on a charity’s website to vote or not to vote for a political party;
- allowing a political party or candidate to use charity resources without compensation;
- sending volunteers, employees or officers to accompany a candidate in door-to-door campaigning;
- consistently inviting only one political party in an election to speak to a charity’s supporters, rather than a wide spectrum of political parties.
This is because all political parties and candidates have policies on a wide range of issues (for example: defence, taxation, foreign policy). As not all of these policies will be relevant to a charity’s charitable purpose, it’s not ok to support or oppose a political party or candidate generally.
What your charity can do
There are lots of ways a charity can speak up in election time without supporting or opposing a political party or candidate. This could include:
- encouraging people to vote and participate in elections;
- asking questions to a wide spectrum of political parties that are important to your charitable purpose, and posting the answers on your website;
- holding community hall meetings or debates where candidates across the political spectrum come and talk about their ideas;
- providing objective educational reports on current election issues and publishing them;
- encouraging your supporters and the public to consider a charitable purpose in making a decision on how to vote;
- surveying a geographic area and publishing the people’s views in that area on different issues.
Transparent decision making
Officers of a charity should be as open and transparent as possible about any engagement their charity has with a political party.
It is good practice to record any interactions your charity has with political parties or candidates in your meeting minutes, as well as how your charity decided this was in your charity’s best interests.
If someone in your charity is personally involved with a political party or candidate, this should be recorded in your interest register(external link).
Employees standing for election
Where employees of charities stand for election, they should discuss with the charity how their candidacy will impact on their workplace. Officers of a charity must ensure charitable resources are not supporting their employee’s candidacy or political party.
If you want more information about the ways a charity can speak up during election time, you can read our previous blog - Upcoming election things to think about as a charity(external link)
For more information about advocacy purposes see our guidance(external link) on this topic.
If you have any questions about a particular situation with your charity, please contact us(external link). We’re happy to talk you through our position and what your options are.
You can also seek independent legal advice, and some Community Law Centres will offer charities support free of charge.