Refuge quits Chartered Institute of Fundraising

Ruth Davison, the charity's chief executive, has also resigned as a fellow of the membership body, citing its failure to 'meaningfully change' following complaints about its handling of sexual misconduct allegations

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The domestic violence charity Refuge has renounced its membership of the Chartered Institute of Fundraising because of concerns about the membership body failing to keep women safe at events.

Ruth Davison, chief executive of Refuge, also became the second fellow of the institute to quit in the space of two days.

In a statement issued last week, Davison accused the CIoF of “not taking action to ensure it keeps women safe” and failing to “meaningfully change” following complaints about its handling of sexual misconduct allegations last year.

As a result, she said, the charity was resigning its organisational membership and she was personally resigning as a fellow.

The resignations came the day after Beth Upton, who was one of the complainants in the sexual misconduct case, publicly resigned her fellowship over the fact that the CIoF’s annual convention next month will be an in-person-only event, with no option to participate remotely.

In March last year, allegations surfaced on social media that the CIoF had been made aware in 2019 of reports of sexual assault by one of its fellows at one of its own events and had failed to act.

An investigation commissioned by the CIoF eventually upheld four allegations of sexual harassment against a CIoF fellow, who was not identified, and found “clear organisational and governance failings” in the institute’s “culture and processes”.

The CIoF was criticised throughout by witnesses, survivors and members for how it handled the investigation and in January 2022, the membership body’s newly-appointed chief executive, Katie Docherty, said in an interview with Third Sector that she would give a “cast-iron guarantee” that changes would be made.

But the membership body came under fire last week over its decision not to offer a virtual attendance option for its annual convention, which is due to take place from 4 to 6 July.

In February, Nikki Bell, co-founder of the online fundraising events company Fundraising Everywhere, tweeted an offer to help the CIoF offer the event in a hybrid format, and the CIoF’s director of people and engagement Ceri Edwards replied that he would be interested in a conversation.

But on Monday last week, Bell tweeted that the offer had been withdrawn because of the CIoF’s “inability to collaborate with us in a way that we feel is fair”.

In the statement on behalf of herself and Refuge, Davison said she was saddened by the convention decision as there would be those “who no longer feel safe to attend events in person”.

She said: “As an organisation which addresses domestic abuse and violence against women and girls, it is entirely incompatible with our values to remain members of an institute who are not taking action to ensure it keeps women safe.”

She said her efforts as a fellow to help address serious concerns about the CIoF’s culture had been “fruitless, as – even under new leadership – there appears to be no organisational desire to meaningfully change”.

The decision for Refuge to renounce its organisational membership had been made by the fundraising department and supported unanimously by the charity’s fundraising leadership team and chair of trustees, she said.

“Sadly, the institutes values have moved too far from values that Refuge and I work to uphold within our profession.”

The charity declined to answer further questions from Third Sector about the decision.

Upton shared her resignation letter on the networking website LinkedIn, and said the convention decision had been “the final straw” following “appalling treatment, gaslighting and bullying… from staff and trustees at the Chartered Institute of Fundraising, including the utter debacle that continues to be the handling of my live complaint”.

She said that in place of the promised “transparent, open and communicative” new approach, “all that anyone sees from CIoF is defensiveness or silence in the face of challenge”.

In a statement, Docherty said: “Our members and volunteers are the lifeblood of our charity, which is why it is particularly sad when respected colleagues step away.

“We wholeheartedly agree that fundraisers need to learn in the most safe and inclusive environment.

“This is why we have, over the last 12 months, introduced a significant range of measures to do this including mandatory safeguarding training for all staff and volunteers, and a code of behaviours that all event attendees must agree to.”

She added that the organisation’s academy training was now delivered solely online.

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