“There’s nothing like a crisis to test your set of values,” the chair of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) told delegates at the Trustee Exchange conference in London yesterday.
Eleanor Southwood reflected on financial difficulties and safeguarding issues that RNIB faced last year and how they had impacted the charity.
“It’s been a tough year,” she admitted. The charity closed one of its subsidiary children’s homes in November 2018 due to safeguarding concerns flagged by the Commission and Ofsted, which resulted in an ongoing statutory inquiry and the departure of its former chief executive.
She said that the crisis had forced the charity to re-examine what its values like transparency and openness actually mean in practice and provided a reminder of why the charity does what it does.
“It made us connect with our fundamental purpose,” she said.
Charting the lessons the issue could provide for the sector, she said it was important for beneficiaries and stakeholders to hear directly from the charity that the home had closed, rather than from the news, and that an attitude of openness and transparency was essential to maintaining trust.
“People should hear bad news from us,” she said.
She added that it was important for charities to create a environment on the trustee board in which people can say how they feel not just what they think when resolving issues, but admitted that this is not always easy.
The charity’s rebrand, undertaken in September 2018, was also “absolutely the right thing to do,” she said, although admitted it felt risky at the time due to it attracting attention to the charity at a turbulent time.