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Constantly criticised, nitpicked, sidelined, marginalised, undermined, overruled, undervalued? Read this

Bullying in the charity sector, voluntary sector
and non-profit sectors

The fastest growing group of callers to the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line during 1998/9 were from the voluntary and non-profit sector. Some of the worst cases involve charities which care for emotionally, sexually and physically abused children, and social housing, especially of the elderly. Nursing home abuse also featured frequently.

In general, the caring professions are over-represented by people who are suffering or have suffered their own pain; such people have greater empathy and can gain relief from their pain by helping others. However, the serial bully (click here for full profile) is attracted to this role not only for these reasons, but for the opportunities to abuse power over vulnerable clients (control and subjugation) as well as the opportunity to show publicly how caring they are (attention-seeking). This narcissistic urge is common to many serial bullies (especially females) who are oblivious to the discrepancy between how they like to be perceived (as wonderful, kind, caring individuals) and how they are perceived (as aggressive, immature, inadequate and incompetent).

Given the serial bully's learning blindness, they never resolve their own pain, but instead add to the suffering of others. The serial bully can be identified by their abusive attitude, unhealthy narcissistic need to be seen as wonderfully caring, blindness to the inappropriateness of their behaviour, and by the fact they after joining the profession, they rapidly put as much distance between themselves and their clients as possible, usually by getting themselves promoted up the management chain.


The NCVO's Survey of Job Roles and Salaries found that there are around 130,000 charities and not-for-profit organisations employing nearly half a million paid workers and using around 3 million unpaid workers; around 75% of workers are female. The wage bill stands at around 4.5 billion, much of it paid for by public donation and bequests.

Union recognition, set working hours, income levels, and pension provision vary enormously. Whilst some variation is to be expected, the opportunities for using guilt to manipulate workers are great, especially with employment legislation weak. Responsible charities will have conditions of employment similar to those of any reasonable employer; however, many charities have few or no conditions.

Disparity in salary between charities is greater than the public and private sectors which is unsurprising given the nature of business. On average, a Chief Executive might expect a salary of 40K; however, this might be as low as 20K if turnover is below 100,000, or as high as 60K or more if turnover is above 10 million.

Highest paid is Geoff Armstrong, Chief Executive of the Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD), who earns 192,000 a year. Perhaps the time has come to separate "charities" (who work for the benefit of the disadvantaged and to alleviate suffering) and "not-for-profit" organisations which are run on business lines for the exclusive benefit of members.


The Labour Government's Fairness at Work White Paper will force employers to recognise a union when 50%+1 employees want union recognition. Charities such as the Natural Childbirth Trust will have to change their policy of denying union recognition.

In all cases of bullying in charities, the Charity Commissioners should be informed of the scandalous waste of charitable donations through the use of bullying behaviours designed to hide incompetence.


In 1998 an Industrial Tribunal found the Stillborn and Neo-natal Death Society (SANDS) guilty of failing to follow procedures and subjecting her to shabby and shoddy treatment when they unfairly selected Mary El Rayes for redundancy. Ms Rayes was awarded only 1643 compensation as she found alternative work quickly. This is the second Chief Executive of SANDS who has had to sue the charity for unfair dismissal in recent years.

In early 1998 bullied employee Betty Shiel won her case against Cats Protection League under the Disability Discrimination Act and was awarded 8K.

See case histories from the voluntary sector.

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