Whistleblowing in NGOs and charities

Whistleblowing in NGOs and charities


If your employees do not feel they can report wrongdoing, there is a risk that a possible scandal will reach the media and thus destroy the organization's reputation, reputation or pose a tangible risk to employees or those in need.

This, combined with the new Whistleblower Act, makes it a good idea to implement a whistleblower function for your NGO or charity to avoid problems. In addition to avoiding concerns, it provides additional security for your employees and volunteers, which is always a good thing – not least in this type of organization.

The biggest problems for charities and NGOs

One of the biggest concerns for these types of organizations is, sadly, fraud in various forms. For example, it can be anything from misuse of money or false expenses, to outright theft. In fact, a 2018 study by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners shows that charities lose an average of $75,000 once they fall victim to fraud — and surprisingly many do.

Fraud can happen in any industry, and it can be particularly easy for fraudsters to take advantage of charities. Fraud in this industry occurs for numerous reasons, such as a high cash flow, which makes it more difficult to detect suspicious transactions; the goodwill and trust of many volunteers working with a charity; and the fact that some organizations do not have good audit systems or whistleblowing functions.

Fraud can happen to charities of all sizes and shapes, and new ways to do it are emerging all the time. The following are some of the most common types of charity scams.

Abuse of money given to charity

It's never nice to think that someone who works for your charity might be a fraud, but the truth is that this happens in many places around the world. There are many ways to misuse charity money, such as taking cash or using charity credit cards for personal use. To avoid this, finance departments and the people who run them should be audited regularly and by independent parties. Especially for non-profit organizations, the lack of proper review can be great.

False expenses

Internal fraud is also often done by claiming expenses or overtime that are too high, do not exist or are not correct. Ensure that all compensation claims match what is written on the claim form, come with a receipt and are submitted within a reasonable time. These too should be reviewed regularly and by an independent party to avoid problems.

How you can ensure that whistleblowers dare to act

Making it easy for your staff and any volunteers to report issues (either to senior management/administrators or to external case management) can help you find faults, but only if they really trust the mechanism and process. It is important to make it as easy as possible for people to speak up.

  • Organizational: Are employees confident that their concerns will be heard and that the response will be quick, strong, and effective? (They won't take the risk if they think their claims won't be taken seriously.)
  • Cultural: Is it difficult for some employees to talk to senior colleagues about private matters? (Differences in age, gender, seniority, and status can all be barriers to open communication.)
  • Personal: Should someone who wants to speak out worry that they or someone else will be punished in some way, such as being held back, losing their job, or being forced to leave the workplace or their current role? (It is important to understand that even if the employer would obviously not subject the whistleblower to reprisals, from the employee's perspective there may still be a risk of this happening)
  • Knowledge: Does everyone know enough about the reporting process and how to use it? (They will need to be reminded often, uncertainty about the process can make people not dare to report. We usually recommend that you inform about your whistleblowing function and procedures approximately every quarter, but at least every year.)

Also read: 3 ways to encourage employees to report malpractice

Get started with a whistleblower function for your NGO or charity

1. Create a policy

This should explain how the organization handles whistleblowing matters and whistleblowers, and how significant it is to you that people do so. This is where you decide what counts as “whistleblowing” (if you don't follow the definition under the Whistleblower Act), who can report, how and what happens to cases, and so on. Include a step-by-step plan for what happens after a report is made, including the possibility that any police and/or enforcement agencies may be contacted before or after an internal investigation has been carried out.

To make people more likely to trust the whistleblower function, emphasize that any information received is kept strictly confidential. It should also be possible to be anonymous when reporting. If you would rather not have to develop your own policy from scratch, Visslan offers a standardized whistleblower policy that makes it easy to implement a whistleblower function within the organization.

2. Talk about the whistleblower function

To get staff and volunteers to use the whistleblowing feature, make sure it is well known and easy to understand. Make a staff guide (or use Visslans templates) that tells people what to report, why, where, how and to whom.

Investigate how to find out how confident staff are in the whistleblowing function. Emphasize (over and over again) how important it is to raise concerns and resolve issues if the charity (or nonprofit) is to remain financially healthy and achieve its long-term goals.

3. Appoint a whistleblower/whistleblower function advisor

Make someone or a few, preferably independent and independent (according to the Whistleblower Act), responsible for receiving reports and handling them. They should be senior enough and good at listening to match the responsibility.

They should also have a good reputation for being trusted to do the job quietly, in confidence and in line with policy, as well as know how to investigate whistleblowing reports properly. If this is carried out internally, it is common for HR personnel to be appointed to this task; otherwise it is also common for an external, specialized, lawyer, such as one of the partners Visslan has.

4. Create a plan

When someone raises a concern, there should be a clear way to raise it, investigate it, and then decide what, if anything, needs to be done. The whistleblower should also be informed of how, where and when they can expect feedback. If you are covered by the Whistleblower Act, there are clear and important guidelines to adhere to.

5. Monitor whistleblower functions

By keeping an eye on (anonymized) data, we can learn a lot about how well the whistleblower function is working to reduce risk and how to improve it. Ensure staff and volunteers have confidence in the function.

Questions about the blog post or whistleblowing?
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