The recent revelations about an organisation called 1st Knight Military Charity, registered number 1158701, highlight the problems of what you might call “pop-up” charities that have appeared on the back of the recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
1st Knight was investigated in 2016 by the Charities Commission after the airing of a TV documentary called “The Great Military Charity Scandal’, and found to be potentially in breach of regulations on a number of counts. The programme made much of the fact that various items likely to be offensive in nature were being sold in the shop and also that views expressed by charity staff were unacceptable. The scope of the investigation – in more official terms, was to look at the following issues:
– administration, governance and management of the charity by the trustees
– conduct of the trustees
– financial controls and management of the charity
– whether or not the trustees have and continue to comply with and fulfilled their duties and responsibilities as trustees under charity law
Depending upon your personal views, some – or all – of what was shown in the BBC programme would be deemed offensive. This included the sale of Nazi-themed items, about which the CEO of the Fundraising Regulator commented: “That is not respectful and ethical fundraising. We would not expect a professional fundraiser to engage in that sort of thing and would certainly be ready to investigate.” That said, it should be noted that the sale of Nazi regalia as such is not illegal in this country. What also attracted the wrath of the Charity Commission were the Islamaphobic comments made by members of the charity’s staff.
However, the Commission also uncovered wider issues that are perhaps more relevant to the huge expansion of military charities that has taken place over the last ten or so years. Namely, the problems of governance and financial management. The BBC documentary featured another charity called “Support the Heroes” whose staff claimed they were unpaid volunteers when caught on camera at a market stall. The managers of the charity later confirmed that they were in fact on commission. However, Support the Heroes was just one of a series of “forces” charities that attracted attention for all the wrong reasons.
Afghan Heroes, also called True Heroes, was supposed to be raising money to support returning soldiers and Army families. It managed to raise well over half a million pounds, but, according to the Charities Commission, only spent £15k of that on good works – that is to say, 3% of its revenues. Another charity, Our Local Heroes Foundation, was also able to raise £500k, but again only spent about £10k – or just 2% of donations. In both cases the charities used “management companies” in the background which took out huge amounts of cash for their work. Both charities were investigated by the Charities Commission.
In the case of Our Local Heroes Foundation, the Charities Commission findings, published on 30th March 2016, included the following statement:
“We identified serious regulatory concerns including a very low level of charitable expenditure, substantial spending outside the charity’s objects, poor governance, conflicts of interest and an insufficient focus on providing grants to beneficiaries. The charity had entered into contracts and agreements without due diligence or proper records and there were poor financial controls. The charity’s income in 2015 was £500,000, but only £10,000 had been used in to further the charity’s objects by providing grants. There were 8 employees, with wages and office costs of £155,000.
The charity had signed a fundraising agreement with Targeted Management Ltd (TML) for a 5 year term which stipulated that the charity would be invoiced for 80% of all the funds they raised. TML managed the charity’s fundraising and claimed that this arrangement did not bring them within the regulations that cover commercial participators and fundraisers. At the time of the visit, the average income was £20,000 a week with a potential income of £1,000,000 a year. There was no evidence of fraud or theft in the charity.
We stated that this was not acceptable and that there was likely to be justifiable public concern and damage to the charity’s reputation if the ratio of income to charitable expenditure remained so low.”
(The Commission allowed the charity to continue on condition it complied with specific requirements regarding cost control and management – but later that year it was again found to have engaged in questionable practises and was eventually shut down.)
Not all fundraising is done under the auspices of a charitable registration – which might make it harder to for the “system” to monitor. In 2015 Marvin Trussell set up a collection-scam called “Army of Heroes”, posing as a charity when none existed; luckily, he was picked up by Trading Standards officials. He also tried to con the public by claiming he was in the process of registering a Community Interest Company (CIC). However, the judge at his trial made it clear he had no intention of actually completing the registration and that none of the money collected had gone to help troops. The judge sent him to prison for three years, saying:
“The organisation was entirely dishonest. You never kept a single record and there has never been any contact with any individual charity. You never had any intention that the money would go to those with life changing injuries as a result of serving in the armed forces.”
One serious concern about these scams is that the public might be put-off giving to genuine good causes that really do help former service personnel and their families. So how do you know whether your money is going to the people and causes you wish to support? The answer is that it is not that easy when faced by a collection box in the street. TMT has contacted some of the larger charities and it is clear that, given the current state of law and technology (the inability in the UK to check a personal ID, etc.), there is very little an individual can realistically do to check whether either the charity or the collector is genuine.
It is not for TMT to advise on which charities anyone should support, but logic says that it might be safest to either contribute to a well-known national charity via their official sites or collections points, or to contribute to a local charity that you know to be genuine. However, even if you meet someone in the street with a collection bucket for a well-known charity, what should you look for if you have any doubts? The Police “ActionFraud” website has some useful advice:
Charity donation fraud
What it is
When fake charity collectors prey on your sympathy by asking you to make a donation to a worthy cause.
- Charities always need to be registered and have a license if they’re collecting in a public place. Check they’re authentic with the Charity Commission.
- If the charity is genuine, check the collection is authorised, too. Call the charity directly or look them up using a phone book or a website (don’t accept websites or numbers provided by a collector).
- If in doubt, tell the collector you’ll donate directly to the charity yourself .
Spot the signs
- Their promotional material or website is badly written or has spelling mistakes.
- The collector is aggressive or intimidating, or uses excuses to explain why their collection is legitimate, such as showing fake ID or falsified documents.
- They’re using topical events, such as a natural disaster, to make it look like their charity has been created only recently in response.
How it happens
A fraudster will either pose as a collector for a charity they’ve made up, or they misuse the name of a genuine, often well-known, charity. They may be collecting sponsorship money for an event that they won’t take part in or doesn’t even exist. In any of these cases, the money you donate doesn’t go to charity; the fraudsters keep it for themselves.
You may be given the address of a fake website, where the fraudsters record your credit or bank account details when you go to a donation page.
Alternatively you may be asked to call a phone number. It could be a premium rate number, taking even more of your money on top of your donation.
If you’re asked to donate clothing or household items, fraudsters sell them on but keep the money rather than giving it to people in need.
How to report it
Report it to us online or call 0300 123 2040.
As a result of contacting some of the main charitable organisations, TMT has been invited to follow-up talks to see what can be done to publicise and avert the risks associated with fraudulent Forces Charites, as well as look at the way in which charitable support for Veterans might be more sensibly co-ordinated and presented to the most important people in the whole equation – those in need on the ground. We will of course publish the result of any such talks – but invite you, our readers, to send in any comments you might have on the whole topic of charitable support to Forces Veterans.