23 October 2020 - Article
The Fundraising Regulator has published its quarterly summaries of investigations it has carried out.
The most recent summaries concern investigations into five charities. Amongst these there were issues such as charity bags being delivered to a ‘restricted address’; a campaign for people to nominate their manager for a bungee jump; and a direct debit set up by a potentially vulnerable person.
Of particular interest was a complaint made against Crawley Open House on the basis that the charity had not provided appropriate support and guidance to the complainant when they organised two fundraising events for the benefit of the Charity. When the complainant, who was also a service user, first approached the Charity about running a bingo event in its name, the Charity agreed and provided a letter of authority to use when collecting prizes. They also provided a volunteer to assist. However no written agreement was put in place.
Three months later the volunteer stepped down from assisting the complainant and the Charity decided to withdraw support for the event until another volunteer could be appointed. The complainant then held the event without the Charity’s knowledge. Some months later, the complainant held a second event in the Charity’s name without its knowledge and donated the £250 raised from both events to another charity.
The complainant complained directly to the Charity as they claimed to have been called a ‘fraudster’ during a meeting with the trustees and also said they had not received appropriate support from the Charity when organising the event. The Charity apologised and said they had not considered the complainant to be a fundraiser. The complainant then escalated the complaint to the Regulator.
The Regulator commented that despite the lack of a written agreement, the Charity had issued a letter of authority and therefore had acknowledged that the complainant was fundraising on its behalf. However the Charity had provided adequate support to the complainant in providing a volunteer.
The Code of Fundraising Practice does not require charities to have written agreements with ‘on behalf of’ fundraisers but the Regulator noted that it is beneficial, as it prevents confusion in situations such as this. The Regulator recommended that the Charity put in place a template written agreement for such arrangements to use in the future.
A second investigation of interest concerned a donation of £4,000 to a fundraising campaign run by LifeSpring Ministeries for an ‘Evangelistic Event’ due to take place in India in July 2018. The event was postponed four times and had not taken place at the time of the Regulator’s report. The complainant requested a refund of their donation on the basis that the time for holding the event had expired. The Trustees of the Charity declined the request, but after taking legal advice agreed on a without prejudice basis to repay to the £4,000 in four instalments over four months. The complainant declined and escalated the complaint to the Fundraising Regulator.
The Regulator noted that a refund of a charitable donation can only be considered in certain circumstances, and the Regulator does not have power to instruct a charity to return a donation in any case. In terms of breaches of the Code of Fundraising Practice, there was no breach regarding the Charity’s use of the funds as they did still intend for the event to take place. However, the Charity had breached the code by failing to explain the risks of donating to an event which may be postponed. Furthermore, the Charity did not explain what would happen to the funds if the required amount was not raised, or was exceeded.
Although the return of donations is typically within the realm of the Charity Commission, this case demonstrates that the Fundraising Regulator can also be involved regarding the information given to donors. The Regulator expects charities to explain the potential outcomes of a donation to the donor, particularly if there is a risk that it will not be used in a certain way. With Government guidelines currently changing regularly due to Covid-19, charities should aim to explain any risks regarding events or activities to donors.