The Presidents Club has come under fire from the sector after an FT investigation into its men-only Charity Dinner revealed sexual harassment of the women hired as hostesses for the night.
The black-tie event took place last Thursday at the Dorchester in Mayfair hosted by David Walliams. 360 men from British business, finance and politics were present, attended by 130 hostesses. Financial Times reporter Madison Marriage and a second reporter went undercover as hostesses at the event to investigate. In Marriage’s report in the FT, she reveals how the hostesses were asked to wear short, tight black dresses, matching underwear and high heels, and were propositioned and groped during the course of the evening.
SEE ALSO: City event announced to fund charities affected by Presidents Club dinner scandal (26 January 2018)
Some of the evening’s auction prizes have also drawn criticism, and included plastic surgery that could be used to ‘add spice to your wife’, and a private night at Soho’s Windmill Club, including a free lapdance.
Reporter Madison Marriage goes undercover at one of London's most successful but secretive charity dinners. The Presidents Club Charity Dinner is a fundraiser like ‘something out of the 1970s’.
— Financial Times (@FinancialTimes) January 23, 2018
In a statement published in the FT’s story, the Presidents Club said that the organisers were appalled by ‘the allegations of bad behaviour at the event’ and that they would be investigated fully with ‘appropriate action taken’. David Meller, a non-executive board member of the Department for Education who helped organise the evening has since stepped down from his Government position.
— Jane Bradley (@jane__bradley) January 23, 2018
Charities that have benefitted from donations in the past have expressed their disappointment and shock, with some saying they will return funds received.
The Bike Project, one of the charities listed as a beneficiary of the event, issued a statement on the Presidents Club event, saying they were shocked and appalled and would not be accepting any further donations from it.
Our official statement in response to the reports regarding the Presidents Club pic.twitter.com/uZCdpMsXE0
— The Bike Project (@The_BikeProject) January 23, 2018
Teenage Cancer Trust said:
“We were disappointed to read about the details of the events hosted by The Presidents Club. We have received donations from the trust in the past, under good faith. As a charity, we are strongly opposed to the activities described in this report and fully support the position taken by the Institute of Fundraising.”
Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity responded:
“We are shocked to hear of the behaviour reported at the Presidents Club Charitable Trust fundraising dinner. We would never knowingly accept donations raised in this way.
“We have had no involvement in the organisation of this event, nor attended and we were never due to receive any money from it.
“All monies raised in our name go to support vital work. However, due to the wholly unacceptable nature of the event we are returning previous donations and will no longer accept gifts from the Presidents Club Charitable Trust.”
— HuffPost UK (@HuffPostUK) January 24, 2018
We are shocked and appalled at the revelations from the #PresidentsClub. We fully support women’s rights to a safe workplace, particularly when carrying out this work for a charitable organisation. We stand against the abuse of power in all circumstances.
— Charity Women (@CharityWomen) January 24, 2018
— Charity Commission (@ChtyCommission) January 24, 2018
— NCVO (@NCVO) January 24, 2018
The decision by some charities to return their donations could give rise to a peculiar situation if no other similar charity steps forward to accept the donation(s):
So here's an interesting thing. What if a charity event raises funds which nobody will take? They become like 'unclaimed assets' in dormant accounts & eventually get appropriated? #charity #PresidentsClub https://t.co/LLlb6D106V
— Caroline Fiennes (@carolinefiennes) January 24, 2018
Call for action
The event is a reminder for charities to review their acceptance and refusal of donations policies. The Institute of Fundraising has acceptance and refusal of donations guidance on its site and in a statement on the event, Peter Lewis, Peter Lewis, CEO of the Institute of Fundraising directed charities towards the guidance and said:
“The behaviour reported in the Financial Times’ undercover investigation today is absolutely unacceptable and has no place in charity fundraising whatsoever. No staff, attendees, or volunteers at fundraising events should ever have to put up with the reported actions that took place at this event. There can be no excuse – no amount of money raised would make this kind of behaviour acceptable.
“All fundraising has to be legal, open, honest and respectful and at all times must follow the Code of Fundraising Practice. Every charity should always consider whether to accept or refuse any donations if those donations are from sources not in line with the charity’s values or long-term interests.”
Spot on from @danielfluskey on @BBCNews channel – charities exist to make a difference in society, and no amount of money can justify this kind of unacceptable behaviour #PresidentsClub pic.twitter.com/KrGCuXZvmW
— Steph Siddall (@stephsiddall) January 24, 2018
Beth Upton, CEO of Money Tree Fundraising also commented on the event, calling for action to change the attitudes that lead to the behaviour seen at the dinner, and to stop events like this taking place in the future:
“I read the story in the FT last night with increasing dismay and disgust; my heart went out to the women who felt uncomfortable and unsafe during their work. It goes without saying that this is unacceptable, doesn’t it?
“But this morning I am left with the sense of futility. Once this outrage dies down will anything actually change? Sure, a couple of charities might tighten up their policies on acceptance and refusal of donations… but systematically, structurally, culturally – when will we see real change and who is meant to lead it? I am sure all of our professional bodies will condemn this activity, will defend “professional” fundraisers as having nothing to do with such activity… but will they do the difficult and hard work of looking to themselves to lead real change that will change attitudes within our sector? I very much hope so!”
2) I left immediately after I had finished my presenting on stage at 11.30pm. I did not witness any of the kind of behaviour that allegedly occurred and am absolutely appalled by the reports.
— David Walliams (@davidwalliams) January 24, 2018
Trade union Unite also called for change, and asked for the Charity Commission to investigate. Its national officer for the not-for-profit sector Siobhan Endean, said:
“The events at the Dorchester once again underline why it is imperative that the third party harassment provisions which were axed by the Conservatives from the Equality Act must be immediately reinstated. Their axing has allowed employers to ignore this form of harassment and effectively gives customers a free pass to sexually harass hospitality workers.
“Unite also believes that the Charity Commission needs to launch an urgent investigation into the Presidents Club. Unite has members at some of the charities which have received grants from the Presidents Club and who are horrified by the circumstances through which the money was raised.”
— Jo Swinson (@joswinson) January 23, 2018
The Presidents Club Charitable Trust was founded 32 years ago to raise money for underprivileged children, and has supported a long list of charities in that time, many of which are listed on its site. It has raised millions for charity with Thursday’s event said to have raised over £2m.
It is not alone in holding such fundraising events. A similar event, the Boys Lunch Out event held by The Saskatoon chapter of the service organisation Canadian Progress Club was discontinued late last year in the wake of the #MeToo campaign, with one local hospital foundation, St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation, returning the $25,000 donation it had received from the last event, which had featured women dancing in G-strings.
Journalist India Knight confirms that the tone of the London fundraising event was reported on in 2010 but no actions appear to have been taken:
From the Independent on Sunday, 24 Jan 2010. "Tucked into the girls". No one gave a toss, apparently. pic.twitter.com/u0Kxq8m77i
— India Knight (@indiaknight) January 24, 2018
Ogilvy One Deputy Director Karin Robinson suggests that the story was picked up this time round primarily because it was told by a woman journalist:
we've read this story before, in various versions, but it wasn't a KICK ASS piece of journalism until it could be told by a young woman. Diversity in journalism, as in all things, changes the types of stories we can tell. It means important work can get done. Which makes it 5/
— Karin Robinson (@karinjr) January 24, 2018
The FT’s story is certainly attracting a lot of attention. It received 400,000 page views in 12 hours, and the paywall has been removed to enable more to read it:
For those keeping track: Per source, the Presidents Club investigation just passed 700k views making it the most read FT online story ever.
— Mark Di Stefano ???????? (@MarkDiStef) January 24, 2018
• This men-only charity gala is a stain on the sector by Daniel Fluskey, Institute of Fundraising
• Should charities accept contrition cash from rich but dubious donors? by Beth Breeze, Centre for Philanthropy
• #timesup for abusive donor behaviour by Simon Beresford, All We Can
• Pity the ‘hostesses’ at this revolting gropefest dressed up as a charity do, by Suzanne More, The Guardian
Update: 24 January 2017, 17.34
The BBC reports that “the Presidents Club says it is to close following allegations that hostesses were groped at its men-only annual charity dinner.”
It quotes a statement from The Presidents Club that says: “The trustees have decided that the Presidents Club will not host any further fundraising events. Remaining funds will be distributed in an efficient manner to children’s charities and it will then be closed.”
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