In the wake of the shocking revelations about Oxfam and Save the Children I concur with Vicky Browning, CEO of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO), in her recent tweet: “If we are going to continue to do the work we are most proud of, we must actively confront the parts of the sector we are most ashamed of”. Zero tolerance of abuse is vital.
VCSE organisations need to face the fact that total transparency runs the potential for risk to reputation and negative public perception, but ultimately reputational damage will be greater if organisations are exposed by external parties, as in the recent cases. We also cannot ignore the fact that as a sector we have a duty to act responsibly and proactively safeguard and promote the welfare of our staff and beneficiaries.
The Charity Commission recently issued a regulatory alert to charities following a number of serious incidents reported to them. There is heightened public interest about accusations of harassment in the workplace and media reporting about safeguarding incidents which have affected charity beneficiaries, charity workers and others coming into contact with charities. The Charity Commission advises that safeguarding should be a priority for ALL charities, not just those working with groups traditionally considered at risk.
Key factors in both the Oxfam and Save Children scandals were to do with leadership and governance, and ultimately the pervading culture within the organisations. In addition to having good safeguarding and whistleblowing policies, procedures and training, we need as a sector to create a culture of transparency, trust and respect across staff and trustee boards. This needs to be driven from the top and we need leaders in organisations to actively demonstrate a commitment to this approach.
National support bodies such as ACEVO and NCVO are providing guidance on best practice and tools which we should all find useful in re-visiting our approach. For example, ACEVO are producing a briefing on good leadership relating to safeguarding and NCVO have a range of free resources including:
- A hub page on safeguarding resources on their Knowhow website
- A downloadable safeguarding guide for organisations who involve volunteers
This is an issue that is relevant to the sector as a whole, both large and small, national and local. I urge you to make use of these resources and be bold in challenging bad practice and any pervading organisational cultures that work against a transparent and open approach that is without fear of reprisal for both staff and beneficiaries who may need to speak out.