Fundraising Fraud Warning

CHARITIES are warning people to be careful to check the credentials of fundraisers who claim to be collecting money for good causes because they do not have the time or money to monitor the collectors’ activities themselves.
Charities report continuing problems with fundraisers using the names of reputable organisations to collect money from the public and then keeping some or all of the cash. There is no central agency to check the references of collectors and any monitoring has to be done by the charities.

John Kingston, director of fundraising for the Save the Children Fund, said: ”We have hundreds of people raising money as volunteers and we couldn’t check them all. There is no register and it would be impossible to keep one. So the public needs to be careful. It would be naive to expect there will never be any problems. But collecting money under false pretences is fraud.”

The Charity Commission confirmed last week that ithad investigated complaints by a London charity that two organisations had set themselves up as fundraisers with names that gave the impression they were charities.

The commission only has limited powers of investigation and most concern registered charities. A spokesman said that the two organisations were not registered and so fell outside the commissioners’ jurisdiction. But he added: ”People write in complaining about the activities of fundraisers, and although most of our powers are directed towards the activities of registered charities, if people go around pubs, for example, pretending to collect for charity then walking away from it, this would concern us.”

Tighter controls over fundraising, which would include strengthening the commissioners’ powers, were proposed in a Home Office white paper in May 1989. But charities now say there is little chance of a bill being announced in the Queen’s Speech on November 7.

The white paper spelt out the findings of a working party appointed by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) in 1985. The abuses it disclosed included ”excessive sums retained by some fundraising practictioners, claims that part of the proceeds from the sale of goods or services will go to charity when, in fact, the amount given to charity is much smaller than donors might suppose, and dubious fundraising practices carried out in a charity’s name but without its knowledge or approval”.

If proposals in the white paper became law, fundraisers would have to provide donors with a breakdown of how much of the net profit, gross profit or money received would go to the named charity.

Already, fundraisers making house-to-house or street collections have to obtain permission from the local council or police, but the white paper proposes that collectors should have to apply a month in advance for a licence.

Anyone collecting for charity on ”private property to which the public has unrestricted access”, such as a pub, would also need a licence.
But the government rejected the working party’s plans to require all fundraisers to obtain the charity’s written permission in advance on the grounds that it would discourage law abiding fundraisers.

Hospitals, such as the Royal Brompton and the National Heart Hospital in London have central fundraising departments. But people also approach individual departments.
Dr Michael Rigby, director of paediatrics at the Royal Brompton, said: ”People approach us because they are known to us from being treated at our hospital. A lot of small amounts of charitable donations come through these sources and about 80 per cent is from grateful patients. Every effort is made to check that bigger donors are registered charities, but perhaps we don’t always check as carefully as we should. The potential for fundraising fraud is enormous.”