Insights

Chris Rose: 4 minute read

Should safeguarding be seen at the same level as fundraising in terms of importance?

The Oxfam scandal of 2017 brought to life many truths that the sector would have preferred to remain hidden. It showcased the lack of safeguarding policies employed across the sector and was brought to life by the Times.

The story suggested that staff at the aid charity had paid for sex whilst in Haiti and this understandably rocked public confidence. The fallout from which resulted in 7,000 regular donors cancelling their direct debits and public perception of aid charities reducing. A poll immediately following the news suggested that 35% of those asked would be less likely to donate to humanitarian charities in the future.

With aid charities such as Oxfam sitting on the frontline of crisis response, the loss of donations is devastating. It will not affect those in the office as much as it will affect those who have lost their homes and have nothing left. To avoid incidents such as this from taking place, a safeguarding policy should have been in place but on a deeper level, what could they have done?

Be accountable

Every organisation needs to be accountable for their actions. This should be written in their mission statement and embraced by everyone, from the Chief Executive to the Secretary and beyond. Everyone needs to be aligned. This is always easier said than done and why safeguarding policies ensure that staff know what to do and who to report it to in the event of a breach. Ideally this document would provide a named individual or department that would deal with any failings. Staff members can then report these in confidence without fear of those who have breached the policy finding out. Without policies such as these in place intimidation can be a key factor in preventing incidents from being reported.

Despite attempts to assure the public that it wasn’t guilty of similar offences to Oxfam, Save the Children fell victim to their own scandal. It’s Chairman and Chief Executive were accused of sexual harassment, resulting in resignations, public apologises and subsequent adoption of new policies and procedures. Following on from this it has been discovered that 28% of its employees have experienced discrimination or harassment. These issues are not limited to overseas aid organisations. Stories from other organisations such as the Sexual Health Charity, Yorkshire Mesmac, Ampleforth College and the Kids Company also rocked headlines last year.

All of these stories lead to one undeniable conclusion. Trust and confidence in what should be the most trustworthy and pure of sectors takes a hit. This loss of trust then has an effect on the number of donors and consequently, the number of services that can be offered. The actions of a few ultimately affecting the many and leading to loss of lifelines that can be vital.

What can be done?

As mentioned earlier in this article, you need to create policies and procedures that outline what is expected of employees. These policies will then create a firm board, from which you can use to instil a zero tolerance culture in your organisation. You can ultimately have more policies than Lady Gaga has outfit changes but they will be useless without the right culture, values and leadership.

Change comes from the top down. By instilling this in every facet of your organisation you will ensure that you attract the best employees that share the vision of the charity. Following on from the Oxfam scandal, the Charity Commission established a special taskforce to look into the reporting of incidents. This special taskforce has the remit to undertake proactive work to ensure prompt and full reporting of serious safeguarding incidents. As well as being responsible for investigating issues such as this, the group provides advice and guidance to charities. They discuss the options available and help each charity to apply the appropriate remedy to the situation to ensure minimal loss of reputational damage.

Helen Stephenson, Chief Executive of the Commission points, you can have all the policies in the world, but they’re useless without the right culture, values and leadership.

“Policies, procedures and formal systems – vital as they are – do not alone prevent safeguarding incidents, or ensure charities respond appropriately when incidents occur,” she said.

From when you walk through the door on that first day, you should know what type of organisation you are joining. From the application form to the job advertisement, interview process and starting pack you should get a sense of where you are. Safeguarding is a mind-set and should be with you every step of the way, assisting your actions and steering you towards the right choices.

Employees should feel safe with their concerns

Each employee should know who to go to in the event of a safeguarding breach. Each organisation should have an appropriate system that is run by a safeguarding trustee and be able to report the information in a secure manner. They should know from the environment around them that they will not be judged. Ann Marie Christian, an independent safeguarding consultant put it best when she said that;

“People who work for you should feel their concerns will be listened to and respected.”

Policies and procedures cannot function effectively without an equivalent cultural shift. When both are working in harmony, safeguarding can flourish and instil a level of loyalty in the organisation. This internal loyalty will project outwardly and prevent issues such as those emerging from the Oxfam scandal. This will lead to donor loyalty and belief in the charity.

Charities are on the frontline of a lot of global issues and fill in the gaps, where governments cannot. They are organisations that require the purest of souls and have unfortunately succumb to the crimes of a few over the last few years. These crimes should not go unpunished and should be reported. This we absolutely agree with as an organisation and this is why we created ECLIPSE.

Technology can assist

Paper records means that it is difficult to share sensitive information around concerns and too often crucial information is not shared and tracked.

OLM have supported the care sector for over 27 years providing Safeguarding software solutions and were the first supplier to innovate in delivering a multi-agency safeguarding hub IT system. OLM have now designed a specific solution to address safeguarding issues in charities. Our cloud native software ECLIPSE offers an easy to use way to raise safeguarding concerns, handle allegations or incidents, manage and report on concerns. The software ensures that no key information slips through the net and information is shared. Any potential safeguarding issue can be quickly caught and addressed.

ECLIPSE is currently being implemented in organisations such as Barnardo’s and Help for Heroes. Donors want to invest in charities that they know and trust and OLM has found a recent surge in enquires with other charities wanting a professional, compliant way to manage with their internal safeguarding procedures.

Should safeguarding be seen at the same level as fundraising in terms of importance?
With the changes introduced by the charity commission in October 2018 we believe that the tide is changing with regard to the importance of safeguarding. Charities are waking up to the significant risks of not addressing safeguarding appropriately in terms of brand reputation, donations and ultimately in some cases survival (Kids Company).

For many forward thinking charities safeguarding is now just as important as fundraising and we believe this trend will only grow over the course of 2019.