This is written during the Ukraine crisis following the invasion of that country by Russian troops and artillery. It has caused a huge wave of sympathy for Ukrainians and the news bulletins and newspapers are dominated by the plight of people being bombed. Yesterday was news of the bombing of a children’s hospital although maternity hospital seems a more accurate description.
On the lunchtime World at One on the BBC, a Rabbi was interviewed who was busy setting up a help scheme offering a home to refugees. He had phoned ‘several agencies and unfortunately, none of them seemed to be doing anything’ he said. Their response he said was ‘let’s wait and see’ which he felt was not good enough so he started his own scheme and received offers from hundreds of people.
We do not know of course who he phoned or quite what ‘agencies’ he meant but let us assume he phoned some charities or not for profit organisations during his initial quest. One of the problems existing organisations face is issues of safeguarding and managing risks. We are talking here of offering homes to people who are extremely vulnerable. There may be children and since most men are staying in Ukraine to fight, mainly women. Existing organisations will be all too aware of the risks and will want to ensure that proper safeguards are in place. Without them, it might not be long before stories of abuse or bad treatment appear.
It was a problem which cropped up during lockdown when people were keen to help the vulnerable with shopping and fetching prescriptions and the like. Existing organisations have to take great care ensuring their volunteers are properly vetted and DBS checks made. Such was the wave of sentiment that none of this happened and groups sprang up – with the very best of intentions – without such controls in place.
Charities are at something of a disadvantage in these circumstances. The wave of criticism which followed scandals such as Oxfam in Haiti has led to an increase in controls and charities are being especially cautious and taking safeguarding very seriously. This acts against swift responses. It may indeed act against doing anything at all.
Another feature of the current crisis is the donation of clothes and other materials which is a perfectly natural response. But they have to be transported hundreds of miles to be of any use. Existing charities need money and may even regard piles of clothes and blankets something of a problem.
Perhaps the problem with Captain Tom are salutary. Huge sums were contributed and a wave of publicity turned his modest initial desire to raise £1000 for the NHS into over a staggering £32 million. But problems have surfaced and the charity is being investigated following a number of complaints about misspent monies. Whether true or not we don’t know but it is often not realised how expensive it is to set up a charity and a system to manage and distribute sums on this scale.
The big problem is that emotions generated during a crisis can lead to a desire for people to help immediately and the slow pace of existing organisations can seem frustrating. But however much good will there is, there is still a need for proper management, controls and for issues of safeguarding to be carefully considered. The repercussions of bad behaviour, which might surface long after emotions have died down and people have moved onto the next crisis, can be severe.
Author if How to be a Successful Trustee