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Protect pilot into Third Sector whistleblowing culture reveals weak spots

Protect’s pilot examining whistleblowing culture in the Third Sector has found key weak spots it believes are symptomatic across many of the 168,000 charities in England and Wales.

Chief Executive, Liz Gardiner said, “The room for improvement in the Third Sector is well documented following the Oxfam and Save the Children scandals. But in recent weeks we have once again been reminded how vital the work of charities is – and how vital speaking up about wrongdoing is to keep us all safe.

She added, “We know charities are very well aware of safeguarding, but we wanted to assess their whistleblowing culture.”

A cohort of 20 mid to large sized charities took part in the pilot between October and January this year to test their whistleblowing culture. Self-assessing using Protect’s Whistleblowing Benchmark, the charities scored themselves across governance, staff engagement and effective operations.

The results, documented in Time to Transform: Insights from Protect’s Third Sector pilot found:

  • Despite over 80% of charities claiming to have a zero tolerance approach to whistleblower victimisation –  none monitored the risk of victimisation through any aftercare process to monitor wellbeing of staff who had raised concerns
  • Only 52% of charities differentiated between whistleblowing and grievances – making it much harder for staff to know where to go with concerns and the impact on the concern being properly dealt with
  • 86% of charities failed to offer whistleblowing training to staff receiving and acting on whistleblowing concerns

“Our findings on attitudes to keeping whistleblowers’ names confidential and on victimisation are revealing.  If whistleblowers are not given assurances about confidentiality, and if no action is taken when victimisation occurs, others will not be encouraged to speak up” said Protect’s Liz Gardiner.

Stephanie Draper, CEO at international development body, BOND, said, “Whistleblowing is an essential component of safeguarding, so it’s encouraging to see organisations taking action to understand how effective their whistleblowing systems are. Many organisations have, or are in the process of appointing whistleblowing champions and teams to ensure the right arrangements are in place for staff to speak up. This will help make staff feel safe and confident that any complaints or concerns raised will be dealt with appropriately and they will not be victimised.

She added, “Getting whistleblowing right starts with having good governance and policies, but it has to go further than that and this means providing training so staff know their responsibilities and by creating a culture where speaking up is championed.”

Time to Transform was shared with ACEVO, who issued a report ‘In Plain Sight’ last year which highlighted bullying in the third sector, and who are calling on the Charity Commission to do more to investigate bullying.

ACEVO Head of Policy, Kristiana Wrixon, said, “I welcome any work that is undertaken to strengthen whistleblowing processes in charities. The findings of the pilot are interesting, however the report looks at a small group of the largest charities by income, representing a tiny percentage of the sector, so generalisations cannot be made from this information alone. I hope that this report leads to further work that will support charities of all sizes that want to strengthen their whistleblowing practice.”

Protect hope to maximise the pilot findings and work with participants to spread the word about their positive experience and benefits of the Benchmark process, but want a wider scale pilot to help raise awareness amongst the 168,000 charities in England and Wales. Protect is also hoping to work more with smaller charities helping them to adopt good whistleblowing processes.

Read the report Time to Transform

#TimeToTransform
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