If 2020 reminded us of anything, it’s that charities can often face bumps in the road that risk disrupting even the best laid plans. Many responsible funders acknowledge that rather than jumping out of the car at the first sign of trouble, the most effective response is to stay and help re-route the journey. But what do you do when it goes beyond bumps in the road? What do you do when instead, the charity you fund faces massive ethical and safeguarding potholes – potholes that risk harming your fundamental charitable purpose? As a funder, can you stay in the car without being complicit?
In October 2020, multiple allegations of racism and bullying within the charity Versus Arthritis were uncovered. Here’s just one of the many horrific incidents:
One employee’s account described an exchange in which a colleague “discussed the reintroduction of slavery to the UK, arguing that it would improve the economy”, and refused to stop after they expressed their discomfort with the topic.
Whilst deeply abhorrent, this isn’t the first and won’t be the last time racism rears its ugly head in our sector. When racism and discrimination fester within a charity, it inevitably seeps into service design and delivery. One-size-fits-all services, culturally insensitive comms, or altogether disregarding whole communities as “hard to reach” are just some of the insidious ways a racist culture manifests externally.
With that in mind, what can funders do to prevent such incidents happening in the first place? And how should funders respond when significant harm has already been inflicted?
Do your homework
As external stakeholders, there will always be a natural limit to what funders can know about their funded partners. This means we can’t always prevent harm from taking place. However, what we can control is whether appropriate checks and balances are in place to mitigate safeguarding risks. Here are a few prompts to help shape your due diligence checks:
- Go beyond the D&I policy; does the organisation have a genuine understanding of anti-racism?
- Is there an anti-racist action plan with clearly defined SMART objectives?
- Have the voices of people of colour been centred in anti-racist work? Effective interventions are rooted in lived experience #NoWhiteSaviours
- What does representation look like at all levels of the organisation? Who does and does not hold power?
- What do news and employee review sites such as Glassdoor tell you about the organisation?
- Has the organisation carried out equality impact assessments on their work? What mitigations have they taken as a result?
Interrogate crisis comms
In cases like Versus Arthritis, where staff have already experienced significant harm, funders must be ready to interrogate. When assessing your funded partner’s response to a racist incident, ask yourself:
- How quickly have they responded to the incident(s)?
- Are you talking to people who are invested in highlighting the truth, or hiding the truth?
- Are the people you’re talking to representative of the people that have been harmed? (Or are they in fact more likely to be representative of the perpetrators?)
- Look out for accountability (or lack thereof); a sombre tone and hopes for an inclusive future mean very little without genuine accountability for what has happened
- What immediate measures have been put in place to reduce the risk of further harm and look after those who have been hurt?
- How are staff feeling? Is there a way to engage with those beyond leadership, whilst prioritising their safety?
By this point you have hopefully begun a meaningful dialogue with the funded partner. Using information gathered from these conversations, assess whether there is a need to invest additional resources to help build the organisation’s capacity. For example, additional funding to cover the costs of:
- anti-racism training
- an anti-racist Programme Manager
- support to diversify the board
You can also set meaningful conditions to your grant. Conditions could look like asking your funded partner to commit to an anti-racist action plan or ensuring that the internal race equity network has adequate protected time and budget.
When monitoring an organisation’s progress towards anti-racism, it’s important that the central narrative is one of truth, not corporate spiel. To seek out truth it is important to prioritise:
- The voices and experiences of people of colour: An all-white leadership team cannot accurately report on the progress towards anti-racism/ Though it is crucial to note that capturing the voices of people of colour needs to be done in a way that does not put them in harm’s way e.g. ask to see key themes from staff surveys, invite staff to send feedback to you directly.
- Comprehensive reports: Consistently track indicators such as: the number of people of colour at every level, rate of turnover amongst staff of colour, ethnicity pay gaps, key themes from staff surveys/exit interviews, the make-up of people accessing services, regular and updated equality impact assessments.
- Conversations that go beyond the sanitised and ineffectual language of “diversity and inclusion”: Start interrogating issues of power, privilege, white supremacy, and negligence.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
And if, after all this, your funded partner continues to cause harm, withdraw funding. By knowingly supporting an organisation that consistently jeopardises the safety of its people, you yourself become complicit.
As we continue to see the sector invest directly in communities of colour, let’s bring all our funded partners with us on the journey toward racial equity. And as we raise the bar, let those organisations who are unwilling to fight injustice fall away. There is no room in this sector for complicity.
A longer version of this piece was first published by Grant Givers Movement on 2 February 2021.
Aanchal Clare is an organising member at Grant Givers Movement, part of the Learning and Fund Design team at Comic Relief and a Trustee at Peter Minet Trust and the Association of Charitable Foundations.