A scathing Charity Commission report  has condemned the circumstances of an event in the New Year that led to the disbandment of the Presidents Club Charitable Trust.
As a News & Views blog earlier this year explained, the charity’s flagship, annual event of 18 January had an all-male guest list, attended to by a 130-strong, all-female hosting crew. Amid an alcohol-fuelled programme of auctions – many of which had distinctly misogynist flavour – guests subjected the female hosts to lewd, suggestive remarks and inappropriate contact throughout the evening, with the resulting press coverage of the behaviour rendering the Presidents Club unsustainable.
In a statement, the Commission focused on issues of authenticity, saying: “the trustees’ failure to put in place clear or adequate procedures and policies to deal with harassment or improper behaviour at the event was in stark contrast to the measures they took to protect the privacy of the guests. The Commission is clear that any event organised by a charity should aim to provide a safe environment for everyone involved.”
The Commission’s chief executive Helen Stephenson added: “The allegations made about the event were entirely at odds with what we would expect from any charity when raising funds for such important causes. Our report should serve as a warning to others that raising funds for charity does not absolve trustees of their legal duties or moral responsibilities.
“The public expect the highest standards of conduct from registered charities. When a charity fails to meet those standards, it can risk the very reason it was set up in the first place.”
What does all of this say about the processes, procedures and thought processes that charity leaders must set in train in order to maintain their duty of care to their organisations’ stakeholders?
The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “The Charity Commission’s website includes a list of guidelines and duties for trustees to observe in their management of charities,  so as a one-stop shop, that material is all absolutely clear and unambiguous. Essentially, it reminds charity trustees – who are responsible for all governance-related matters – that they must i) act in the charity’s best interests at all times, and ii) manage the charity’s resources sensibly and appropriately.”
In Cooper’s assessment, “those basic points are clearly what trustees lost sight of amid the Presidents Club scandal. The overarching message from this is that charities must remember what they’re there for – and that means all the time, not just when it suits them. It is imperative to remind trustees and charity staff that they are there for the chosen charitable purpose, and not for any other purposes.”
She adds: “the whole banner heading of ‘It’s all for charity’ can sometimes be misused as a fig leaf – or even an excuse – for undesirable conduct. We have already seen from the Oxfam story earlier this year that the behaviour of charities is under increasingly heavy scrutiny. And much like the firms that HMRC recently named and shamed for underpaying staff, you have to get informed about which rules you’re meant to follow, and then follow them. Access the information, understand it – and then put it into practice.”
For further thoughts on aligning values and purpose, check out these learning resources from the Institute