Charities shouldn’t expect to be ‘handled with kid gloves simply because they are charities and therefore inherently good.’ This was the view of William Shawcross, the chair of the Charity Commission, who addressed NPC and CFG’s Impact Leadership Conference yesterday.

Expressing his surprise that charities are affronted by criticism over pay, Shawcross called on the sector to show leadership in responding to public disapproval. Charities have a duty, he said, ‘to help the public understand what it takes to run a 21st century charity that actually achieves its mission.’

According to Shawcross, it is our responsibility as charities to explain: ‘why it is necessary to pay high salaries to attract the most able people to your charities; why charities consider campaigning such an important way for them to help and support their beneficiaries;  and why and when charities think it is their role to tell uncomfortable truths to those in power.’

The importance of communicating clearly what we do, why we do it and what this achieves, was echoed by several speakers during the day. David McCullough, Chief Executive of Royal Voluntary Service, for example, spoke about how many charities are moving from ‘being quite comfortable demonstrating impact to commissioners with numbers and stats to demonstrating impact to people, consumers and families.’ ‘Why is that happening?’, he asked. ‘Principally because the money is running out.’

NPC will be exploring this theme further in an event on 5 March when we’ll be revealing the findings of a poll on public perceptions of charities. This “Mind the gap” research, conducted for us by Ipsos MORI, will help us to understand why a gap exists between what the public think we are about and the day-to-day reality for most charities. We also look forward to discussing what can be done to close this gap.

Whether you agree with Charity Commission supremo, that charities expect to be handled with kid gloves rather than say Marigolds (or perhaps more industrial handgear), it’s clear that we had better get better at engaging in some of these debates and speaking up for ourselves.

If you have missed our Impact Leadership Conference 2014, catch up via our Storify what we have discussed.