'We've punched well above our weight': Outgoing Charity Commission chief Helen Stephenson reflects on progress

In her 2023 review, her final as Charity Commission chief, Stephenson, says she is "very proud" of the commission's achievements
Photo: Adobe Stock

By CSW staff

31 Dec 2023


Tell us three words that sum up your 2023...   

Challenges, resilience, support.  

...And why you chose those words   

This year has been incredibly challenging with the cost-of-living crisis continuing to place multiple strains on charities - increasing demand, increasing costs, and downward pressure on donations. However, we’ve also seen how the sector has shown resilience and adapted to these challenges.  

It was wonderful to be able to spend time with so many trustees at our annual public meeting in Liverpool this autumn and to hear first-hand of the vital work that charities continue to carry out. We are still seeing a high-volume of applications to register with us, with many of these organisations looking to make a real difference in a difficult economic climate. 

Earlier this year, we launched the My Charity Commission Account service. The new system will, over time, transform our relationship with trustees, allowing us to engage with them on a more personal level. We know that charities have experienced difficulties getting set up, but I am pleased that the majority of charities are now up and running on the system.  

We published new social media guidance in September to support charities in navigating this ever-evolving communication tool. It was consulted on and developed with trustees in mind, and I’m delighted that it has been well-received within the sector.  

Over the summer, we also published an updated version of our investment guidance, CC14. The refreshed guidance is easier to understand but also gives trustees confidence to make investment decisions that are right for their charity.  

It’s due to the hard work of our staff that we have been able to deliver these improvements to our services, and I’m grateful for their continued dedication to ensuring charities can thrive.   

What are your organisational and personal priorities for 2024?   

2024 is set to be another very busy year, with our new 5-year strategy due to launch in January. This is an exciting and important milestone as the strategy will set out our ambitions and priorities for the years ahead. 

In the summer, I will be stepping down as the Commission’s CEO after seven years in the role. The commission has existed for over 170 years, and I’m aware that my time as CEO has been just another chapter in that long history.  

I am very proud of what we have achieved over the years that I have been here, transforming our support for trustees, investing in digital-first services, and ensuring the commission’s staff continue to punch well beyond their collective weight in terms of the scale and quality of our output.   

But there’s still plenty to do before that time comes, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with the board and our staff into the new year to deliver against our ambition of being the expert commission.  

What’s your favourite festive treat, and what makes you say: ‘Bah, humbug’?    

My favourite festive treat is a glass of wine while watching Love Actually. But Christmas cards on sale in August make me say Bah, humbug! 

This is part of CSW's annual perm secs roundup. Read all the entries to the 2023 roundup here

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