Charities “refusing” Presidents’ Club donations

A picture of four people sitting around a table at the Dorchester hotel, with a large circle of hanging lights dangling from the ceiling behind them. The people are silhouetted. There is a small candle in the foreground.In light of the revelations about sexual harassment of hostesses at the men-only Presidents’ Club dinner, an annual event for very wealthy men at which expensive prizes (e.g. flash cars, cosmetic surgery, flights in private jets, the chance to name a hospital wing after oneself or characters in a David Walliams book named after their children) are auctioned for charity, which were aired in the Financial Times in a free-to-read article (and aired on BBC’s Newsnight last night) as a result of a sting in which one of the FT’s female reporters worked as a hostess, the BBC reports that a number of charities have refused the donations and two London children’s hospitals have said they will return previous donations from the annual dinner. The guest list included CEOs and owners of big corporations, some sportsmen and some politicians (e.g. Tory minister Nadhim Zahawi, who has been called in by the Tory chief whip to explain himself) and lords. The club has closed down as of this evening.

I’m personally rather suprised that two NHS hospitals can refuse or return donations from events which are unethical, or that they would do so when they may well previously have turned a blind eye to why or how the money was obtained. As it happens, the Moorfields eye hospital in London (not one of the two involved) has a children’s wing named after Richard Desmond, the Daily Express proprietor whose past publications have included Penthouse and Asian Babes. As I understand it, organisations that are publicly funded cannot make financial decisions on these grounds; they cannot choose to bank with one company or another because they object to one bank’s investments in arms deals or whatever. When I was active in the student union at university, people proposed that the union join the then Lloyds and Midland bank boycott, but it was defeated because the union was not allowed to choose which bank to bank with on those grounds; it had to take the best available deal, and the same should be the case here, and not only for directly publicly funded bodies but also for charities, as they enjoy tax advantages and Gift Aid.

A front page from the Daily Express, with the headline "How migrants snatched our homes".If GOSH or Evelina hand back money for this reason, it stands to reason that this money will not be spent on caring for sick children, or their families (accommodation for families of children who are undergoing treatment for things like cancer are funded by charities) or on some bit of research which could save lives (or relieve some chronic illness that blights lives) in the future. Hospitals are currently notoriously underfunded and dealing with the fall-out from the collapse of Carillion; children’s hospitals have the advantage of being the focus of large-scale fundraising, but if they’ve got money to throw away, perhaps they could hand it to another NHS hospital which needs the money rather than hand it back to the wealthy donor who will spend it on himself (though if the donation is contingent on the wing being named after the donor, they are justified in not agreeing to that).

Of course, charity is no excuse for running an event at which sexual harassment is an open secret but once the money is raised, handing it back makes no sense. And frankly, the idea that nobody at any of these charities imagined that any all-male society dinner would involve a lot of “wandering hands” doesn’t ring true for me; did they really have nobody working for them that knew a thing or two about these society events? Don’t they have patrons and honourary presidents who are members of the same nobility whose men attend these gatherings? Where the money is fraudulently obtained and rightly belongs to someone else, handing it back (or to the authorities) makes sense but doing so merely in response to a passing public outrage does not; it will not benefit the victims of the harassment and the only people to suffer will be the sick children — if I had a relative in one of these hospitals, I would be furious if they gave back donated money. Let’s have no more of these events, for sure, but giving it back, unless there is a conflict of interest, benefits nobody.

Dorchester hotel image source: Jessica Spengler, via Wikimedia. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.

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