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Posted by Sarah Brown on 13 Feb '18

The truth about charities betraying our trust

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With over 5000 staff and 22,000 volunteers it is unrealistic that Oxfam would never have people that acted inappropriately. I have supported Oxfam from the first school fete I organised and regularly donate each month. Will I stop and take them out of my will because of their failure to act appropriately in 2011? No, but I think it indicates a wider problem in the sector which is an inability to deal with failure, criticism and problems appropriately and a lack of sharing about these issues.

Unfortunately the lack of sharing is totally understandable, the media imply that charities should be perfect and any problem raises issues about reductions in donations. This makes it hard to share except in closed meetings and events because anything in the public domain is used to beat the sector up. However it is critical that charities share what works and what doesn't if they are to get better. They also can't rely on the people they help to complain, mostly people are grateful for what they get, if it is free.

Most people who work or volunteer in a charity care deeply about it in my experience so to raise problems can feel like criticising your family. Charities and social enterprises need to put in place systems and encourage a corporate culture where people can raise issues. The start is to be really clear about what is most important to the organisation, ranking the values, so, for example, in Oxfam's case a top value about caring for people which was always rigorously implemented would have meant that the behaviour in Haiti would have been taken very seriously to reinforce the value.

Every charity and social enterprise needs to be clear about their vision and values and to strive to get better and achieve more, using the money they have in the best possible way. The betrayal of trust is when they don't do that, not when someone breaks a law or acts badly as no charity can ensure that everyone that works for them is a saint. 

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