Military Fundraising; Where is My Money Going?
March 15, 2012
We all want to help. We see the funeral corteges and heartbreakingly brave stony faced widows on the news. We see the fallen soldiers’ coffins draped in the Union flag carried by their friends, the pall-bearers’ jaws set and eyes glazed, concertedly struggling to disguise their aching hearts. The red top papers are filled with the plight of amputee soldiers and their planning permission struggles; young people whose lives have been turned upside down by the chaos of armed conflict. We know the government are not doing enough and we are told that we as individuals can do something to help these people. More importantly, we want to.
In our hurried desire to ease the problems of our mentally ill, elderly and wounded veterans and those of their bereaved families, are we overlooking the most glaringly important part of helping in the first place – where our money is actually going? Donating to good causes can be a confusing process, organisations who seem entirely credible online may not exist in real life, and paradoxically that earnest chap in army uniform with a collecting bucket going door-to-door may never have served a day in his life and actually bought his outfit in a surplus shop.
Since the 1990s when PR campaigning by red top newspapers was combined with new charities such as Help for Heroes, the Armed Forces have increasingly gained in popularity and public support has increased thousand-fold. Being in the military is far more respected now than it has been at any time since support waned after the end of WWII. I call it the ‘hero’ tag. Labelling our entire military as people to be admired and idolised has done wonders for the willingness of society to join, support and donate to forces charities.
The side effect of this fantastic publicity is that unfortunately the more perfidious members of society see pound signs and jump on the bandwagon. Fake charity collectors pop up. Fundraising ‘organisations’ appear out of nowhere, with corporate sponsorship, merchandise for sale and branding galore.
There are real fundraisers too, run by honest people and they really will pass on money to charities, but they have overheads and costs of their own. Your donation of £10 may result in as little as £1 going to the charity you wanted it to, and you have little to no control over it. Unless it’s a fundraising event like a rugby game or a sky dive, why not simply donate to the charity they are raising for directly?
What sort of people ask for your money? Here is a (very) brief overview of some of the sort of organisations you will have come across:
These are ‘middle men’. Why give your money to someone who is potentially going to spend some of it on their own costs before handing the remainder on to a registered charity? Certainly some WILL pass over 100% of your donation, but as they are wholly unregulated how can you check? Fundraisers who post details of how much they spend annually online are great, but figures are very easily fabricated. Fundraisers are individuals and therefore are not accountable to anyone. They do not submit accounts to the Charities Commission or Companies House. Some of them do it professionally, and I do not need to explain that the fact that they can make a living from it suggests that not 100% of donations are passed on.
We are familiar with charitable trusts as they are often set up in the memory of a fallen service person. They are controlled by a ‘trust deed’ which forms their constitution. This sets out the framework within with the trustees must operate, i.e. who will be helped by the trust, and how the money is spent. The purpose of the trust must by law be charitable for the public benefit.
Unincorporated associations are ‘social enterprises’ and do not need to register with or be regulated by either Companies House or the Financial Services Authority. They enjoy greater freedom of operation than a company. For example, they don’t have to submit annual returns. This makes accountability and transparency harder.
Charitable Incorporated Associations
This is just another word for charities. Charities have to be registered with the Charities Commission and must submit annual accounts, which can be looked up via the Charities Commission. You can find out exactly how your chosen charity spends your money, if you want to.
Companies are registered at Companies House. They have a company number and you will be able to request their accounts using the Companies House Webcheck service using purely their name. From this you can find out who the directors are, where the registered address is. Companies can be private or public. Lots of charities will also have a company set up in exactly the same name. This protects liability and means they can run one side of their dealings as a business. This also means they can make profit.
How Do I Tell The Difference?
Look for a charity number, company number or details of the trust deed on their website. Don’t be shy about asking the person who controls the organisation (trustees, directors) for a full breakdown of how they spend donations – after all, it is YOUR money and you are VOLUNTEERING to part with it. If you are in doubt, don’t donate.
What to Watch Out For
Charities who are also companies and who, in the small print, state that when you buy merchandise you are buying it from the company and not donating to the charity, unless of course you are happy with this. Watch out for organisations with no charity number, no company number but who say they are ‘raising for charity’ and give little to no transparency about what will happen with your money, or make claims without showing proof. PayPal accounts linked to websites asking for donations are also a red flag.
I have the name of the organisation I wish to donate to, and they say they are a military charity. How do I make sure that they are 100% legit?
I recommend clicking here and visiting the COBSEO website. COBSEO are the Confederation of Service Organisations and by typing the name of the organisation you have found you can see if they are recognised by COBSEO. If they are registered, they are approved by them and have signed up to a charter. If they are not registered, it does not mean that they are not legitimate, but that you should do more homework first.
It’s Your Call
Ultimately the decision is yours. If you are happy that you know your money is going where you want it to, donate with confidence. Don’t let a friendly face, a well-known name or expensive branding fool you though. Research, research, research!
If you suspect that the person you donated money to is not all they seem, or if you are a charity and a fundraiser has claimed to raise money for you but you have never received it, report them. Your hunch is probably right. There are cases going on in the courts over the UK right now, and many publicised convictions of military charity scam fraud.
Details of charities I support can be found on my ‘charity’ page. Don’t let me put you off donating or volunteering for a charity, it is the most rewarding thing you can ever do. Happy safe donating!