Can the Chartered Institute of Fundraising win back its members’ trust?

The membership body has been repeatedly criticised over its handling of allegations of sexual misconduct. Rebecca Cooney finds out how it can repair the relationship with members

The CIoF's offices in London
The CIoF's offices in London

This article is from the latest edition of Third Sector, which was published on 16 July.  

Each move, announcement or even apology from the Chartered Institute of Fundraising in relation to its handling of sexual misconduct allegations over the past four months has led to expressions of anger, frustration and disappointment – largely from the institute’s own members.

Beth Upton, one of the complainants in the sexual misconduct investigation, has described the CIoF as a “broken organisation” and called for fundamental change.

So what changes can the institute make to mend this tattered relationship with its members?

Many believe improved communications would be a good start.

Matt Zeqiri, a trusts and foundations specialist who withdrew his planned presentation from the CIoF’s annual convention in September over the issue, describes the membership body as “stuck in this cycle of crisis and apology”. He believes “the key is going to be unvarnished honesty”.

Zeqiri says: “The CIoF talks about transparency and openness going forward, but we need to see hard evidence of this and fast – members’ questions need to be answered, even if the answers are difficult.”

He acknowledges that men should not be leading the discussion, but says he would like to see “a radically more democratic and member-led organisation that would better reflect its members and prioritise their safety and wellbeing”.

One fundraiser, who asked to remain anonymous, believes external communications expertise could both improve the organisation’s communications and demonstrate a commitment to putting survivors and members “above its own reputation”.

Similarly, fundraising director Damian Chapman believes the CIoF needs to ask an outside organisation, such as the conflict resolution service Acas, to conduct an independent investigation of the CIoF’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints over the past decade and publish the results.

Safeguarding standards need to be developed for all CIoF activities, including those undertaken by volunteers, he says, and “those found falling below said conduct standards should be stripped of membership and refused opportunities to put others at risk”.

Longstanding concerns

For many members, this critical safeguarding issue is inextricably linked with more long­standing concerns about who the CIoF is seen to be for and who it listens to.

Many fundraisers have complained that for years the organisation has been too London-centric, too top-down, too focused on large organisational members rather than individual members, prohibitively expensive to join and irrelevant to their day-to-day jobs.

They say that these issues would also need to be resolved if the CIoF wanted to regain their trust.

Among them is former CIoF member Jen Hall, who says: “Everything good is done at a local level by volunteers, yet the central CIoF charges large fees to pay to the male ‘leaders’ – I wish the central organisation would learn from the regional committees or even the Facebook groups.”

She argues that speaker line-ups at events are dominated by men who focus on organisations with “huge marketing budgets”.

Meanwhile, she says, many women are doing unpaid but good work to support their fellow fundraisers through social media.

There is a change in leadership on the horizon at CIoF, with a new chair, a new chief executive and several new trustees due to be appointed in the coming months.

But for Dana Kohava Segal, co-chair of the CIoF’s Cultural Sector Committee, the shift required is beyond the current leadership.

“If they continually acknowledge that they need to change and continually fail, why is any continuity important?” she says.

Kohava Segal believes an entirely fresh board is needed, along with a new governance structure that would allow the organisation to be member-led through consultations with committees, volunteers and individual members, rather than the current system of “exclusionary roundtables”.

Sarah Goddard, a fundraising consultant who has been vocal in her criticisms of CIoF’s handling of the allegations, suggests that the “big, bold, brave move” of allowing the new chair to be directly elected by the institute’s members could help.

But ultimately, she is one of many fundraisers who believe the CIoF is simply incapable of the kind of change that will win back member trust.

“We keep giving them chance after chance and they keep messing up – for me, they are out of chances,” she says.

“I think it needs to be burned to the ground and something new built by fundraisers for fundraisers – something that is fast, agile, that doesn’t involve ego or hierarchy and that gets things done.”

For many, this realisation is bittersweet.

The fundraising consultant Caroline Danks says she has “a lot of affection” for the CIoF – both she and her mother received career-defining training through the organisation and, as a result, she says “it stands for so much in my life”.

But she believes change is unlikely to happen, because she suspects those responsible for the sexual assault and harassment are closely connected to people at the top of the fundraising sector, creating a power imbalance that has silenced survivors, who fear for their livelihoods if they speak out.

“Maybe we don’t need the institute to change because its purpose will be fulfilled elsewhere,” Danks suggests, pointing to the numerous alternative providers offering fundraising training and events that, she says, have democratised the market.

“The model is probably outdated and I think that’s OK,” she says.

“There is no room any more for organisations that do not live by a set of very solid social justice-motivated values, and the organisations that have those values will, rightly, rise to the top.”

In a statement, Nadine Campbell, interim chair of the CIoF, said the board was listening and responding to members’ concerns, offering “our deepest apologies for the mistakes that have been made”.

The institute will outline its plans to implement the action plan from March and publish a summary of findings when the ongoing investigation was finalised, as part of a pledge to be more transparent, she said.

She said the CIoF would demonstrate a “renewed focus” on two-way communication with members through a member Q&A session in July, and a planned series of roundtable member discussions “to shape the institute’s future direction”.

Campbell said the new leadership team included survivors, which she said was important “for behaviours and culture to really change”.

She said she was confident that changes that would come with “a new leadership team, updated ways of working and a focus on member engagement” would ensure that all within the fundraising community were “able to operate in a safe and inclusive environment”.

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