How to make sure we’re doing the right thing when no one is looking

How to make sure we’re doing the right thing when no one is looking

Lizzie Ellis | 18 January 2019

NCVO today published the Charity Ethical Principles, a guide which aims to be a benchmark of good practice. IoF Policy Officer Lizzie Ellis explains what the principles mean for the fundraising sector.

The safeguarding stories of 2018 resulted in a lot of soul-searching for the charity sector. As important as our causes are in making a difference for people and communities at home and abroad, it was the right time for the spotlight to be focused on us; looking at not just what we do, but how we do it – a message echoed in the interim report this week from the Independent Commission set up by Oxfam.

The front-page headlines were important: they shocked us and provoked greater recognition, awareness, and action than perhaps we would have given these issues otherwise. But what happens when the stories are off the front page? How do we make sure we learn the lessons needed, and embed meaningful change which endures to guide us in the future? We have to keep it on the agenda, continually reviewing what we do, striving to do better, and asking ourselves difficult questions. As the phrase goes, “ethics is what you do when no one is looking”. (Not that people aren’t looking!)

That’s why the publication of the Charity Ethical Principles by NCVO today is an important step forward. The principles are the result of many months of feedback and development with the sector, and at the IoF we consulted with our Standards Advisory Board to ensure the views of fundraisers were heard in the process. As fundraisers we are used to being guided by principles and values, so we were keen to make sure that the principles would sit comfortably alongside the Code of Fundraising Practice.

The finished product is intended as a tool to enable and guide your internal conversations, so that your decisions and policies (whether complaints, whistleblowing, or environmental policies) will be well-thought through, up-to-date and thoroughly implemented – not created and left to gather virtual dust! What you get out of the principles will depend on how you engage with them; try to actively consider them and reflect on how they apply to your work and your organisation as a whole.

What do the principles say we need to do?

It is worth noting that the principles are more aspirational than prescriptive, often setting out an outcome to be achieved but recognising there’s flexibility in what that means for different organisations. As NCVO puts it, “they do not provide a set of rules that prescribe how one should act in all situations”. The principles presented do not in themselves set rules, or introduce new regulation; it is instead an ‘enabling document’ to help organisations adopt a values-based approach. But, there is an important grounding in pre-existing rules and standards; for example, the principle to ensure “funds are properly protected, applied and accounted for” is an expectation of the Charity Commission.

While the new principles don’t introduce a new standard in terms of fundraising practice, the framework should be used throughout a charity as a helpful guide and prompt to inform all that you do, and a basis to review and check that your processes or procedures are working as you would hope.

We strongly support the document’s emphasis that while following the principles charities should “commit to challenging any instances of sexism, gender inequality and other power imbalances that leave some people at risk of harm” and “value and improve diversity in their governing bodies, workforce and volunteers”. This resonates strongly with our own equality, diversity, and inclusion work at the IoF, which is backed by the belief that to do nothing disadvantages the whole sector with missed opportunities for innovation and new talent. An inclusive culture does not just benefit those that don’t currently feel welcome in our community, but encourages the professionalization of fundraising itself. It is essential that these efforts are weaved into the very fibre of organisational culture, practices and policies.

The media stories of the last year have held a mirror up to the sector and shown us where we are falling short in certain areas. What we need to do is ensure that the lessons learned go way beyond the changes made and action started in 2018, by informing our work for years to come and continually questioning whether we are truly living our organisational values. The ‘Charity Ethical Principles’ is a good place to start.

Lizzie Ellis, Policy and Information Officer, Institute of Fundraising



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