Allegations last year about sexual misconduct within charities were shocking for those of us who perhaps had a rose-tinted view of the sector. Notable were revelations that Justin Forsyth, the former chief executive of Save the Children, was the subject of three complaints about inappropriate behaviour towards female staff between 2011 and 2015, all of which were “resolved” with a mere apology.
Save the Children responded last year with a “zero-tolerance” approach, launching a “root-and-branch review” of the organisation’s culture. But while the stream of allegations in national newspapers may have since dried up, the journey for the sector as a whole is far from complete.
That much is clear from reading the recent coverage given to this issue by Charity Finance’s sister publication Fundraising Magazine.
The problem of sexual harassment in fundraising was initially raised by Ruby Bayley-Pratt in March, but the scale of the response confirmed that this was not an isolated issue.
In fact, the offer of money places donors in such a powerful position that fundraisers can be left vulnerable to inappropriate or outright unacceptable behaviour, whether verbal or physical. And some charities even play into that narrative by using young, attractive women to “bait” wealthy older men.
Subsequent research by the fundraising think tank Rogare firms this up. Although board chair Heather Hill emphasises that the survey was self-selecting, half of the female respondents said they had experienced inappropriate behaviour.
This mostly comprised innuendo, “banter” or unwanted comments, but 34 per cent said they had been subjected to unwanted touching or other physical contact. Some 22 per cent had received an improper proposition, while one reported that she had been sexually assaulted.
Fundraisers are also not always getting the support they should. Some 34 of the 245 respondents said they had been explicitly or implicitly told to keep quiet about inappropriate behaviours.
Work has begun on tackling this problem. The Institute of Fundraising has set up a taskforce to tackle harassment in the fundraising community. But this should not be seen as an issue purely for fundraisers to tackle.
Trustees and senior staff all have a responsibility to ensure their colleagues are safe and treated with dignity. If that means turning away donations, then so be it. Charities cannot turn a blind eye to sexual misconduct.
Gareth Jones is editor of Charity Finance magazine