IoF to review processes after sexual harassment claims multiply in sector

An article by Ruby Bayley-Pratt on inappropriate sexual behaviour in fundraising sparked a large number of messages on the issue on social media

(Photograph: Getty Images)
(Photograph: Getty Images)

The Institute of Fundraising is reviewing its processes after a number of reports of sexual harassment and assault in fundraising, its chair Amanda Bringans has said.

The move comes after Ruby Bayley-Pratt, fundraising policy and research manager at the British Red Cross, wrote an article in a personal capacity in Fundraising magazine  about the prevalence of inappropriate sexual behaviour in fundraising, which sparked a large number of messages on social media from fundraisers with similar stories.

Bringans and Peter Lewis, chief executive of the IoF, said on Twitter on Friday that the IoF was looking at how it could contribute to creating a safe space for those who had experienced harassment or assault to come forward.

Bringans wrote: "I am committed to ensuring there is a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment within the fundraising community."

She added that representatives of the IoF had met Bayley-Pratt this week and were "reviewing our processes and wider role to stamp this out, and will discuss at board next week".

Lewis said that one of the issues the organisation would be looking at would be its own reporting and complaints process.

"We are taking professional advice on our approach as we have to get this right, and we will communicate the outcome after the meeting," he wrote.

Speaking to Third Sector in a personal capacity, Bayley-Pratt said she had been amazed by how many people had responded to her article.

"Every single female fundraiser that I know has a story," she said.

"And that will range from sexualised comments right up to sexual assault, so I’m not saying everybody has experienced it at the worst end of the spectrum."

The most commonly reported issues, she said, had been caused by donors, although there were also many reports of harassment of fundraisers by their peers and colleagues.

In cases perpetrated by other fundraisers, she said, women were often deterred from coming forward by fears of not being taken seriously or damaging their careers. But in the case of harassment by donors, she said, they were also concerned about the impact on the charity and beneficiaries if a gift was withheld.

Bayley-Pratt said she had been contacted by people at management level asking what they could do, which suggested there was an appetite for change. She said it came down to managers "walking the walk" when it came to zero tolerance.

Many of the issues between colleagues, she said, occurred at conferences or events, in settings away from direct oversight and where there was confusion about who might be responsible for holding perpetrators to account.

She called for clarity on such situations to be built into charities’ policies and said the IoF could play a role by holding member organisations to account.

Some of those contacting her on Twitter made reference to "gurus" in fundraising who had behaved inappropriately.

When it came to publically identifying such figures, Bayley-Pratt said, it was important to focus on what would effect the most change.

"If there is an individual from whom several people have experienced poor behaviour and they decide that they want to name and shame someone, then I support that," she said.

"But I don’t think it's necessarily helpful to name and shame for the sake of naming and shaming. We have to be strategic about it and think about what naming names will actually do."

She said it might be more helpful to focus the conversation on what behaviour was acceptable, rather than on particular individuals.

"At the same time, I very strongly feel that these people shouldn’t be in our sector if they’re doing this kind of stuff," she said.

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