What’s a serious incident and why should you act on it?

The Commission took part in an event in partnership with NIVCA last week that provided a forum for interested parties to feed back their views on Serious Incident Reporting. We were particularly interested in the reaction to our draft guidance on reporting serious incidents and were grateful for the opportunity to explain the regulatory approach behind it.

Our role is simply to ensure that any serious incident is adequately dealt with by charity trustees in accordance with their legal duties. With this aim in mind all charities, whatever their size and whatever their income, must report serious incidents to the Commission.

There are two main reasons for this.

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The dos and don’ts of street collecting

The regulations governing street collections by charities in Northern Ireland are nothing new – they have been in operation since 1927, having been the subject of legislation in the Police, Factories, etc. (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1916. However, as fundraising by other methods grows, fewer and fewer volunteers are carrying out street collections. This means that many may not be as acquainted with the rules as they once were.

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The future of trusteeship

Frances McCandless, Charity Commission for Northern Ireland Chief ExecutiveAt the closing of a discussion on the leadership demands and role of trustees at the CO3 leadership conference in Belfast two weeks ago, one of my fellow panellists asked “is everything always so pleasant here?”

As far as conversations between regulators and the regulated go the conversation was very constructive with both the panellists and the audience agreeing, for the most part, on the direction of travel with regards to trusteeship. We discussed where we wanted the sector to be in five years, and what steps we were taking to make our vision a reality. Continue reading

7 tips for a better charity website

Neil Wilson, Communications Officer, Charity Commission for Northern IrelandLate last year the Commission conducted research into trust and confidence in charities amongst the Northern Ireland public. The results were interesting. While trust and confidence had expectedly taken a small hit over the last year the research also gave us an indication of how people liked their charities to be.

92% of people wanted charities to be transparent, 70% preferred them when they operated locally. 49% trusted them more if they were based in Northern Ireland and 84% wanted them to be well managed. In short, accessible, local, open and well-run charities are well placed right in the sweet spot of public perception.

A charity’s online presence should demonstrate how a charity is all of these things. But how?

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Unblurring the lines – lessons in governance from the Rainbow Project

Duane Farrell, Chair of The Rainbow ProjectHow do you make best use of the skills and experience of Trustees, while still respecting the proper roles of Trustees and senior management? 

It’s a question that has underpinned The Rainbow Project’s development of its governance structures, in the context of a new strategy that focused us on being a change agent for clients, in wider society, and within the organisation itself.  We knew Trustees had a lot to offer. But we’d been working to clarify the Board’s and executive team’s respective contributions, and didn’t want to end up blurring those lines between strategy/governance on the one hand, and management/implementation on the other. Here is what we learned.

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“Trust is always conditional” – why Data Protection matters

Damien Smyth, IT OfficerWe’re sitting on the cusp of a vast data-driven age that some have even started to refer to as the fourth industrial revolution.

The theory goes that if steam powered the first, electricity, mass production and the division of labour the second and computing the third then the fourth epoch of technological progress will be driven by what we can store

Indeed, we can already see how this is beginning to shape our lives. Drones, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and ‘the internet of things’ are already starting to impact on our day-to-day lives. Much of this is powered by information sharing and while the sharing of information helped power our last great technological jumps, the next few years will be defined by it.

It is perhaps with great foresight that the Data Protection Act 1998 came into being. In an increasingly interconnected world it sought to strike a balance between innovation-feeding and the right of the individual to enjoy privacy.

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No such thing as average – what the register of charities tells us about the sector in Northern Ireland

aoife-morrison-policy-managerNorthern Ireland has a long history of a vibrant, trusted and well thought of charity sector. But, as strange as it seems now, there was no way to fully and accurately quantify its existence until 2013 when the Commission began registering charities.

While we may only be part of the way there – with 5,300 charities registered out of a final estimated total of between 11,000 and 17,500, we’re now able to put together a much fuller picture of the charity sector in Northern Ireland than has ever existed before.

So what’s the bottom line? What we find is a sector that is marked by its diversity where simple ‘averages’ do not reflect the breadth of charities in terms of what they do, how they are established, their income and where they are located.

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Open data – who benefits?

damien-smyth-it-officerLate last month the Commission began the process of opening up the data it holds for public consumption.

In line with a general drive in the Northern Ireland public sector, to “improve the transparency and accountability of government”, it’s aimed at stimulating innovation both within the public sector and without and having Open Data As Default, because it’s the right thing to do.

But with the amount of information we hold about charities, and the insights provided by the research we produce, becoming increasingly vast, we also realised that there were potential benefits to those we regulate of releasing our data as well.

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“It’s like conducting an orchestra.”

Kate Fleck, Chair of Open College Network NI on what makes a great Chair

I knew that being Chair of a Board can be both challenging and rewarding when I took over as Chair of the Board of Open College Network NI (OCNNI) in January 2016. Having been on the Board for the three previous years, one of these as Vice Chair, I had a clear idea of the sort of Board I wanted to be involved with and lead. For me it was about ensuring that the Board was both effective and active in supporting the CEO and that fully understood its role. It was also important that there was a sufficient and appropriate skills base.  Having just emerged from a difficult period, and with the organisation embracing a new strategic plan, there were certainly challenges – but opportunities as well.

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Mind the Gap – a Chief Executive’s view of charity regulation


John FarrellyJohn Farrelly, Chief Executive Officer of Ireland’s new Charities Regulator, provides an overview of his approach to regulating and protecting charities.

For many years I lived in London. One of my abiding memories was the announcement as you step off the Tube  to “Mind the gap”. Twenty years later, that message underpins my approach to regulating and protecting charities.

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