13 March 2018


You may have seen the Charity Commission’s announcement that yesterday (Tuesday 6 March) it held a summit with domestic charities to discuss the safeguarding challenges they face in their work, and how these can be addressed.

The summit was hosted jointly with the Office for Civil Society and brought together other regulators and agencies, as well as a number of charities whose core business is safeguarding.

NCVO was also in attendance, so I thought it would be helpful to share with you a first-hand account of the discussion.

The aim of the summit was to establish a shared understanding of the safeguarding challenges facing charities working in the UK, and then identify key areas of action to strengthen the capacity, capability and culture around safeguarding.

Key messages

The summit opened with a speech by the new chair of the Charity Commission, Baroness Stowell. This reflected much of what had been said the day before at the summit hosted by the Department for International Development for international aid charities.

Indeed, although Baroness Stowell’s speech at the previous summit was aimed at international aid charities, many of the key messages apply to all charities, regardless of their size and where they operate.

  • Safeguarding is a matter that goes to the heart of being a charity: it’s about treating people with respect, protecting the vulnerable, and doing the right thing.
  • So the safeguarding issues that have emerged are relevant to all charities, domestic as well as international.
  • The answer to the problems that have been uncovered is not just writing more rules and having procedures, it’s about changing attitudes and behaviours.
  • The focus must be on restoring public trust, by demonstrating action to address what has gone wrong.
  • This involves charities improving their reporting: the Commission’s expectation is that both incidents and allegations are reported, not just in relation to the charity’s activities but also if using suppliers. Charities should also avoid the tendency of looking at individual instances on their own, they should think instead about trends and where possible identify red flags. And reporting of serious incidents needs to be timely, done with full and frank disclosure.
  • But there was also a recognition that the Charity Commission itself needs to improve: for example in the past it has failed to report back to people who have made a report about the action it has taken and what has been achieved as a result, so this needs to change.
  • The Commission also needs to make clear its understanding that organisations reporting high numbers of incidents are not necessarily those that are high risk, on the contrary it may be that low numbers of reports need to be looked at.

The Minister for Civil Society Tracey Crouch MP also spoke, drawing a lot from her experience in dealing with similar crises in the sports sector. Again, she reiterated that safeguarding is a responsibility for all organisations: it’s non-negotiable, it’s not a ‘nice to have’, and should not be seen as another regulatory burden.

Key issues

A number of charities around the table, including NCVO, were asked to give their perspectives on what the key safeguarding challenges are. What emerged was a considerable level of consensus on:

  • The importance of having effective vetting and procedures, but equally important is the need to have the leadership and build the organisational culture that will enable and encourage reporting.
  • The need for everyone to understand and accept that better reporting and more transparency will lead to higher numbers of cases, but that higher numbers are not necessarily indicative of bad practice. A number of organisations have already expressed an understandable fear that reporting could have damaging short term implications, such as loss of funding, reputational damage, decline in public trust.
  • The challenge of communicating that stronger safeguarding requires investment and therefore means higher administrative costs.
  • The need for everyone to rethink their understanding and definition of ‘vulnerable people’: the key point is about ‘people in vulnerable circumstances’.
  • The importance of organisations being able to track, monitor and identify low level concerns to identify patterns of behaviours
  • The need to address a number of specific issues that for some time charities working in safeguarding on a daily basis have been grappling with, such as:
  1. A variable knowledge across the sector of what is safeguarding best practice
  2. An unclear definition of ‘regulated activity’ and in turn misunderstanding about when enhanced DBS checks can be carried out
  3. Lack of clarity about what counts as a ‘serious incident’ leading to inconsistent reporting practice

Actions agreed

Despite, or perhaps rather because of, these challenges, everyone around the table was absolutely committed to strengthening safeguarding culture and practices both within their individual organisations and throughout the sector. We may not achieve zero abuse, but there will be zero tolerance.

To lead a response, we identified four key areas of action:

  • Leadership, culture, values
  • Law, regulation and the statutory framework
  • Capacity and capability in charities around safeguarding
  • Responsibilities and reporting, accountability and transparency

NCVO will be leading the work around strengthening the sector’s capacity and capability around safeguarding. This will build on all the resources and advice that we are already providing.

In addition, NCVO is going to explore two further issues that emerged during the summit:

  • The possibility of developing a system of portability of references across the sector, similar to the idea suggested by Save the Children of introducing mandatory humanitarian passports. This is likely to be a hugely complex issue, with legal implications in terms of employment law, data protection and human rights. But we need to at least identify what the problematic issues are before we can move forward.
  • The idea of a code of conduct or code of ethics for organisations, particularly those whose staff and volunteers are dealing with people in vulnerable circumstances. Similarly to the Code of Good Governance, this would set out a number of principles to which any organisation can pledge its commitment, sending a strong message to the public, our supporters and beneficiaries, that treating people with respect in any situation is a priority for all charities.

In taking all this work forward we will be reaching out to our members and the wider sector to ensure we are listening to your concerns and taking account of your needs. This, and yesterday’s summit, is just the start of a conversation that everyone should be involved in.

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NVF: Volunteers and wellbeing

We might all think that volunteering – through meeting new people, learning new skills and getting involved in your community – is good for wellbeing, but is there any evidence that backs this up? And how can charities measure the wellbeing benefits of their volunteering projects?

On 9 February we brought together more than 50 organisations to discuss all this at our National Volunteering Forum.

What does the evidence say?

First up, we heard from Ingrid Abreu Scherer, programme manager at the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, who talked through the existing evidence on volunteering and wellbeing. You can see all the slides from the day here.

Although volunteering can be linked to increased life satisfaction, happiness and better mental health, the strength of these relationships depends on a whole range of factors, including the frequency of volunteering and motivations for doing so.

Interestingly, Ingrid also highlighted how the relationship between volunteering and improved wellbeing only becomes strong for participants above the age of 40. This impact of volunteering on the lives of older people is something Emily Georghiou from the Centre for Ageing Better also discussed. In her presentation, she explained how although we are growing older, we are not getting healthier. The social connections and a sense of purpose that volunteering brings can go some way to address this.

Despite offering us a huge amount to think about, Ingrid is clear that to get a better understanding of the overall picture, a systematic review of the existing evidence is needed.

Case studies from nature and heritage

Dominic Higgins from the Wildlife Trusts shared insights from a recent report on Wildlife Trusts programmes which found volunteering in nature to be associated with improved health and wellbeing – particularly for those starting with low levels of wellbeing.

Given such strong results, and that some participants are referred by GPs, there are interesting implications for how the NHS could incorporate a natural health service as part of its mental health provision.

We also heard from Danielle Garcia from if: volunteering for wellbeing, who reflected on her experience coordinating a volunteering project across 10 heritage sites in Manchester. The project reached almost 250 people over three years and 75% of participants reported significantly improved wellbeing. Danielle also shared this video of participant interviews, which was genuinely moving and one of the best examples of volunteer stories we’ve seen.

Measuring the impact

Charities are likely to know whether they are making an impact on volunteers’ lives, but proving this to external bodies is difficult. Another impressive aspect of the if: volunteering for wellbeing project is that they were able to measure their impact in financial terms, reporting a social return on investment of £1.97m from an initial investment of £557,200.

Neil Pratt, chief economist at Pro Bono Economics, further explained the different ways charities can quantify the impact of their programmes- including through the subjective wellbeing approach. Their recent report for City Year UK on the impact of their full-time social action programme is an excellent example of showing the impact that volunteering can have.

See you next time

Thanks to all speakers and delegates for a great day of discussion and learning. We’d also like to give special thanks to Elevate for delivering a fantastic wellbeing session for delegates.

We run the National Volunteering Forums three times a year across England. You can see previous topics we’ve covered here.

Our next Forum will take place on 15 May in London and will focus on GDPR and the volunteer journey. Save the date and make sure you’re signed up to updates from the volunteering team to know when tickets are released.


Safeguarding and volunteers

Concerns over safeguarding in charities continues to dominate headlines- long since the first allegations were aired. As well as representing members across national and local media, Karl has blogged throughout the unfolding scandal, while Richard has also produced a useful summary to help charities update their safeguarding practices.

NCVO also attended a summit on safeguarding hosted jointly by Charity Commission and Office for Civil Society. The summit brought together charities, regulators and other agencies to establish a shared understanding of safeguarding challenges and to identify key areas of action.

For any volunteer manager reviewing their safeguarding approach, we have lots of support in place: