The reporting of the ‘most un-pc event of the year’ by the Financial Times’s undercover journalist Madison Marriage has thrown charities in the spotlight again, for all the wrong reasons. Whilst no charity would ever condone the behaviour that went on at this men-only charity fundraising event, was there anything that they could have done to prevent it?
The Presidents Club Charitable Trust is a charity itself so there is some trust - from charities benefitting from the club’s money - that this charity is conducting itself ethically and according to the Code of Fundraising Practice. What’s important to note about this event is that it was a fundraising event for the Presidents Club who would then, as a trust, donate money to various charities according to their charitable objectives, which is ‘children and young people’. The benefitting charities, therefore, would have had no involvement in organising the event and most likely would not even have been invited to attend and represent their charity.
If a fundraising event is raising money specifically for a charity – and in their name – then they absolutely should do their due diligence. In the case of the Presidents Club dinner, they were fundraising for the trust who would then distribute the funds to their chosen charities. But don’t think I’m letting the benefitting charities off lightly. All charities, no matter their size, should have a clear ethical policy that sets out what gifts they would and would not accept and The Institute of Fundraising has clear guidance on the acceptance and refusal of donations on their website. If necessary, and certainly in this case, the trustees should be informed so that they can understand where the gifts have come from, carry out the necessary due diligence and ensure that by accepting the donation, it’s in line with their charity’s values.
This brings us on to the question of whether the money should be returned and just how far should you go back when the Presidents Club is 33 years old and has raised over £20 million? I’ve spoken with lots of people within the sector and it’s a divided issue. Some are adamant that the money should be returned because fundraising should not be at any cost. Others feel that there’s no point returning the money because it’s best in the hands of causes that will use it to do good work.
Good Morning Britain asked their Twitter followers whether the charities should return the money and over 80% said ‘no’. Yet there was pressure on GOSH, one of the benefitting charities, to return the money and issue a statement. It seems we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
There’s also the issue of big charities versus small. Whilst it’s commendable that GOSH returned the donation, it could be argued that they could do so because they have the means to. What about small charities who may have benefitted by a much smaller donation of, say, less than £10,000 (GOSH received £305,000 in 2016 and 2016) but giving that back may mean the closure of their own charity. Where do you draw the line?
This event was so abhorrent, it’s forced the closure of The Presidents Club. This means that any money in their accounts will have to be distributed to charities. Well that’s a bit of a predicament, isn’t it? What charities would want to accept it? There’s been a lot of talk amongst my peers as to where the money should go. Many feel that it should go to charities who support women, whether that’s inequality, domestic violence or sexual abuse. However, knowing how the money was raised would that not surely go against their values in accepting that donation? Fortunately it’s not up to the charities to decide who will receive any of the money but it is up to them to decide whether to accept it or not.
It’s hard to find any positives in this story but one issue that’s very clear is that time’s up for sexual harassment and the objectification of women. Unfortunately, female fundraisers have been subject to inappropriate behaviour from male donors for years. But enough is enough. As Daniel Fluskey, Head of Policy and Research at the Institute of Fundraising, told the Guardian, “No amount of money could justify any charity staff, volunteer, attendee, or employee of the venues that events are held at, being subjected to this kind of behaviour. No more “it’s ok, that’s just how he is”. No more “grit your teeth and bear it”. Charities have a duty of care to their employees and volunteers. That has to come first.”
I believe that real change is coming. Women are finding their voices – from the film industry to those amazing women who testified against doctor Larry Nassar. The demise of the Presidents Club Charitable Trust is perhaps the charity sector’s defining #TimesUp moment.