The general manager responsible for marketing and communications at Guide Dogs Victoria – which was caught lying to donors – has left the embattled group, along with its chief financial officer.
It can also be revealed that over seven months after the charity announced an “internal investigation” over its then CEO Karen Hayes appearing in political advertisements, it is refusing to release the findings.
Guide Dogs Victoria General Manager, Marketing and Communications, Charlie Spendlove – who briefly acted as CEO after Hayes was ousted in May – left the charity about six weeks ago, searches show.
Two weeks later, Guide Dogs Victoria’s chief financial officer Rachel Knight, who had been with the group in key finance roles since 2015, also departed, to take a “career break”.
Also to depart at around the same time was Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Head of Strategy and Transformation, Lauren Peacock.
Spendlove, Knight and Peacock all declined to respond to requests for comment.
After repeated request for comment, Guide Dogs Victoria interim CEO Iain Edwards said Spendlove and Knight were both “highly valued and respected members of Guide Dogs Victoria” and had “left the organisation voluntarily for new opportunities and personal circumstances”.
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT CEO, Dale Cleaver, said Peacock was a “much valued and respected member of our executive team” who had “decided to move on” following the completion of the charity’s new headquarters in Sydney’s St Leonards, which were an “incredible legacy of her time at Guide Dogs NSW”.
Last month The Klaxon revealed Guide Dogs Victoria had been lying to members, including blaming its surging wages bill on increasing clients, when client numbers had actually fallen substantially over a decade.
The Klaxon has previously revealed a string of concerns regarding Guide Dogs Victoria, including that it provided just 35 guide dogs in the 2020-21 financial year, and had missed every guide dogs target since 2016.
The Klaxon has revealed:
– Taxpayer funding is up from $1m to $4m
– Over $10m in “redevelopment” grants
– Wages bill up 40% to $9.44m
– Delivering just three-quarters the total “services”
– Only 35 guide dogs provided in FY21
– Missed every guide dogs target since 2016
– CEO paid $299,000 in 2014 – salary a secret since
Following those reports, Guide Dogs Victoria “General Manager, Fundraising & Philanthropy” Evan Gordon sent an email to concerned donors containing multiple false claims about the charity’s performance and associated media coverage.
It has now emerged those false statements appear to have been part of a coordinated effort.
A statement issued to media in June, attributed to then Guide Dogs Victoria chair Iain Edwards (now interim CEO), contains false claims and is strikingly similar – in many cases word-for-word – to Gordon’s email.
The media statement was provided to, at least, the ABC, 7News and The Klaxon.
The media statement from Iain Edwards (left) and part of the email from Evan Gordon.
Reporting on Guide Dogs Victoria was “based on fundamental inaccuracies and misrepresentations of the information we share publicly”, the Edwards and Gordon documents both falsely state.
Gordon’s email to donors is longer than Edwards’ media statement and makes even more false claims (a shortened version is above right, the full email is here).
As revealed in detail last month, the claims are false.
As General Manager, Marketing and Communications, Spendlove was responsible for overseeing public statements made by Guide Dogs Victoria.
Iain Edwards (left) and Evan Gordon. Source: Supplied.
Spendlove has repeatedly refused to provide comment to The Klaxon over many months, during which time Guide Dogs Victoria has faced the biggest scandal in its 50-plus year history.
Her LinkedIn profile states she has been appointed “Chief of Marketing, Communications and Media” of the Victoria 2026 Commonwealth Games.
Victoria 2026 Commonwealth Games did not respond to requests for comment, including when Spendlove had started that role.
In April it emerged Guide Dogs Victoria’s then CEO Karen Hayes had appeared in advertisements spruiking then Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg for re-election.
It is illegal for charities to endorse political parties or political candidates.
Edwards and Guide Dogs Victoria chair Dr David Cochrane have repeatedly refused to say what the investigation found, who conducted it – or to even confirm that it’s been completed.
Charlie Spendlove with then CEO Karen Hayes in 2021. Source: LinkedIn
In Guide Dogs Victoria’s latest annual report, chair Dr David Cochrane makes a range of statements about “governance processes” but provides no specifics of any changes made.
Cochrane said the charity had “reviewed and improved our already strong governance framework in a number of specific areas” which had meant “tightening our governance processes focusing on new policies, staff training and Board and Leadership team interactions”.
“There are new and enhanced policies on the most appropriate way to thank and acknowledge volunteers, donors and supporters and how the Board, and employees can express their support towards individuals and organisations,” Cochrane says.
“Tighter arrangements will be introduced around branding, grants and donations, media and social media arrangements, and government interactions.”
Again, no specifics are provided.
Guide Dogs Victoria announces the “internal investigation” in April. Source: ABC
In a statement, Cochrane said the departures of Spendlove and Knight were “in no way connected to the governance update provided by (the) Guide Dogs Victoria Chair” and “to suggest otherwise would be completely false”.
Spendlove’s LinkedIn profile states she was General Manager of Marketing and Communications of Guide Dogs Victoria from May 2015 until November 2019 when she also took on that same role at Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.
Knight began at Guide Dogs Victoria in March 2015 as Finance Manager, before becoming CFO in October 2019. She was the charity’s company secretary from March last year until her departure last month.
At Guide Dogs Victoria’s recent annual general meeting, Cochrane said the board was working on appointing a new CEO.
In the annual report, Cochrane says Guide Dogs Victoria has been “liaising” with charities regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC).
“We have been liaising with the ACNC and they are comfortable with the approach we are taking to strengthen our organisation’s governance processes,” Cochrane says.
“We have been liaising with the ACNC and they are comfortable with the approach we are taking” – David Cochrane
As previously revealed, the ACNC has made false public claims that it is prevented from commenting on, or even naming, any individual charity.
Rachel Knight. Source: Supplied
It can be revealed the ACNC is continuing to falsely suggest it is gagged from commenting.
In an emailed response (which is not attributed to any person) the ACNC said: “There have been no changes to the laws which prevent the ACNC from disclosing information about the circumstances of a particular charity”.
Since the scandal broke in April the ACNC has refused to say whether Hayes appearing in the Frydenberg advertisements was a breach of the law – despite the law clearly stating that endorsing political candidates is illegal.
Responding to a request regarding Guide Dogs Victoria, the regulator said: “The ACNC cannot comment”.
Cochrane has repeatedly refused to stand by the claims made by Gordon in his email to donors.
Gordon is “General Manager, Fundraising & Philanthropy” for both Guide Dogs Victoria and Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.
Gordon has repeatedly refused to comment when contacted by The Klaxon regarding his false claims.
Cleaver said Spendlove had been employed by Guide Dogs Victoria but had also been Head of Marketing and Communications for Guide Dogs NSW/ACT “as part of our shared services facility”.
The close connections between the two charities at the executive level suggests some of the problems at Guide Dogs Victoria may also exist at Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.
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