Conflicts between transparency and your Charity’s reputation
Ensuring your reputation is at the forefront of your activities
We expect you remember the ugly headlines generated by scandals at Oxfam, Save the Children and the Presidents Club Charitable Trust.
The reputation of charities has taken a beating in the years since the collapse of the Kids Company. These recent events, as well as the size and profile of the charities involved, has sent shock waves through the sector.
As the news about misconduct on Oxfam projects broke, the charity didn’t just come under fire over the actual events, but also how it handled the news once it became public. High profile casualties followed, with the CEO of Oxfam GB stepping down at the end of 2018 in order to allow someone else to “rebuild” the charity (and public confidence). Whilst the original misdeeds are important, a main criticism of Oxfam from the Charity Commission was that, although Oxfam reported the incident to them, it didn’t provide the full circumstances.
This all emphasises that, as a charity board of trustees, or as a charity leader, you need to think about how you will guard your charity’s reputation both with the public and with the Charity Commission. Often there is a conflict between wanting to keep things private and the expectation to be open and transparent, particularly with the Charity Commission.
Reputation with the public – different expectations
If the public’s trust in charities falls, then it’s feared that a general fall in donations will follow. In the Charity Commission’s recent study into the key drivers of trust in charities, high up this list were transparency and good governance.
Reputation with the Charity Commission – report any incidents
The regulator has been vocal in its criticism of the sector for not reporting serious incidents to them. If trustees report an incident, then the Charity Commission can add their support to ensure that appropriate action has been taken – something they were apparently unable to do with Oxfam.
Why should you report?
When an incident occurs, the onus is on a charity to take action quickly to reduce the risk of further harm and to show that it’s taking the matter seriously. This will demonstrate that it’s protecting its assets, reputation and beneficiaries.
The Charity Commission is responsible for ensuring charities comply with their legal duties and manage the incident responsibly. Telling them in a timely manner means that they may be able to offer advice or guidance which could help you.
What should you report?
The Charity Commission should be told of a serious incident. This is defined as any adverse event which causes significant loss (or risk) to a charity’s assets or money, damage to a charity’s property or harm to a charity’s work, beneficiaries or reputation.
- Significant financial losses
- Safeguarding issues.
If something does happen you need to have a plan in place to manage the incident and to communicate it.
Your plan should include:
- How you will take immediate action and who is responsible for taking it
- Who is responsible for reporting the incident and what will be included in the report
- How staff, the public and the press will be informed and who will be responsible for this
- What form an internal investigation will take and whether additional skills will be needed
- What will be done to prevent it from happening again
Before it gets that far
Prevention is better than cure. You can take steps to reduce the risk of incidents happening:
- Review your governance: Charity Commission guidance called “Charity Governance, finance and resilience”: 15 questions trustees should ask” is a good starting point for this.
- Consider fundraising practices: Especially if you use third-party fundraisers or dedicated websites. Trustees are responsible for the practices used by these agencies and you will need to make sure they comply with the Fundraising Regulator’s code and GDPR.
- Keep up to date: Donors rely on your website and the public record to gather information about charities, so make sure your details are up to date at the Charity Commission and Companies House.