Peter Lewis: Safeguarding the future for charities

The public care about charities. They value the work charities do and they recognise its importance. 4 in 5 people benefit from a charity’s services. Individuals in the UK give £15bn as a result of charity fundraising every year. And they, rightly, expect high standards from us, ensuring their money works hard in making a difference for our causes.

But their expectations go further; doing good, on its own, is not enough. How we do that good, how we protect and safeguard those that we come into contact with in our charitable work, and how we treat our staff and volunteers are fundamental questions.

Safeguarding issues have been at the forefront of discussions in the charity sector this year following front page news about international aid organisations but also closer to home with the revelations from the Presidents Club scandal. In both cases, the public were understandably shocked by the behaviours exposed, and rightly demanded strong and clear action to improve practices. A huge amount of work is now going on to review and improve policies, practices, and procedures in safeguarding, undertaken by the charities involved themselves, by regulators and by the government.

The fundraising community has a wide and deep responsibility in this area. Safeguarding and safety has to be embedded within everything we do and in how we work with every person that we come into contact with. Alongside ensuring beneficiaries and those we work with in delivering services are safe, we also need to look after our fundraising colleagues, our fundraising volunteers, our event participants and our donors.

So what needs to be done? In relation to fundraising, the Code of Fundraising Practice is clear in its prescriptions around the need for effective safeguarding procedures to be in place. There are also legal and regulatory requirements to protect vulnerable people, and which require the reporting of serious incidents.

But this can only ever be half the battle. Rules and regulations are essential in setting clear requirements and holding organisations to account if things go wrong, but they can only go so far. Without the right values, culture, and behaviours being set and lived by each and every charity, the safeguarding of everyone who comes into contact with our fundraising activities cannot be achieved.

These values, and the culture of the organisation, has to come from the top. Trustees must take the lead in setting a clear vision, signalling the importance of this area of work, and setting the strategy which the senior team can make sure every member of staff can understand and follow. Working with their executive team the trustees need to assess risks and making sure that suitable safeguarding procedures are in place and monitored.

Excellent governance will aim not only to ensure that vital funds are raised through inspiring donors to give, but also ensure that their organisations are positive and safe places to work, and that everyone who comes into contact with their organisation has a positive experience of that engagement.

Many charities already have established safeguarding policies. Once the trustees and executive team are happy that they are fit for the organisation at this moment in time, the next practical step is to ensure that those who work for the charity are not only aware of their responsibilities and their rights in this area, but they put them into practice. Charity leaders need to ensure the culture of their workplaces means safeguarding responsibilities are embraced, and be clear about the behaviours expected of people day in day out. This has to be about more than just about signing off a new policy and putting it on a website.

The recent report from the Fundraising Regulator on the Presidents Club found that ‘the Presidents Club and its trustees had little awareness of the expectations around fundraising’. They focused on giving their guests ‘a good time’ with little or no regard to the experience, rights, or treatment of the women who were working at the dinner, with the fig leaf of ‘raising money’ used as a cover to justify the means by which it was raised.

This was as unacceptable then as it is now. Our responsibilities as leaders within charities require us to ensure that everyone is treated properly. Contractors, junior members of staff, people who work for other organisations that we work with, our own volunteers, participants in our events, donors – all deserve the same level of respect.

At a practical level, that means organisations have to understand and use DBS checks properly, implement proper recruitment practices, including appropriate and reliable reference checks, and have regular specialised training for staff and volunteers, while emdedding specific and appropriate policies and procedures on areas such as protecting people in vulnerable circumstances. The recent guidance that the IoF has published about safeguarding and safety in fundraising provides a useful overview.

Getting this right is not only essential in itself, but will mean we are better able to deliver for our causes. Our employees and volunteers will feel safe and supported, both in improving the services we provide, and the way we raise the funds we need. Many of our causes will need us to be here for years to come. It is essential that we ensure that we deliver the very best, and safest, experiences to anyone who comes into contact with us. In order to safeguard the future of our causes we need to ensure our campaigns, our services and our fundraising are all properly safeguarded.

Peter Lewis is the chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising

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