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How can you ensure you’re giving to genuine causes this Christmas?

With the public giving to charities more generously in the festive season, the Fundraising Regulator has six tips to make sure your money goes to the right places.

This is a guest post by Gerald Oppenheim. All views expressed are Gerald’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

For many people Christmas is a time of giving and showing appreciation for others – this includes giving back to causes that are personally meaningful. So, it’s not surprising that, during the festive period, the British public tend to be more generous than usual when giving to charities. 

This spirit of generosity takes on even greater significance this Christmas. This year has been challenging for fundraising. Many charities have experienced an increase in demand for their services, coupled with a sharp drop in income after some types of fundraising activity were paused during national restrictions.

While for many of us Christmas is an opportunity to relax, fundraisers are working hard to ensure their charities can keep delivering their important work.

This year, although you will have seen and heard about many inspiring fundraising stories throughout the pandemic, charities still need our support. It is vital for many charities that people continue to give if they can. And, even more importantly, that when a donation is made, the money reaches its intended cause. 

Opportunities for fraudsters

Sadly, the run up to Christmas is also the time when fraudsters see ripe opportunities to try to take advantage of people’s goodwill.

This includes setting up fake charities and even impersonating well-known charity names. Action Fraud has estimated that almost £350,000 of donations intended for charities, ended up in the pockets of criminals over the festive period last year. 

However, by taking time before you donate to make some simple checks, you can be reassured that your money will go to legitimate causes. 

The Fundraising Regulator’s six tips

⚠ Before giving, check the charity’s name and registration number at gov.uk/checkcharity. You can also check the charity is registered with the Fundraising Regulator and committed to good fundraising practice at fundraisingregulator.org.uk/directory

⚠ When donating online, donate directly on the charity’s website by typing the website address into the browser yourself. Be wary of unsolicited emails from charities you’ve never heard of before – don’t click on any links or attachments that might be in them.

⚠ If you’re choosing to donate through an online fundraising platform, check the legitimacy of the campaign, for example, by looking at the activity on the fundraising page. If you have concerns, report the page to the online giving platform.

⚠ If you have donated to or had contact with a charity in the past, they may call you. If you get a phone call, ask who is calling and check if their number is displayed. Genuine charities should identify themselves up front and also provide a contact address or freephone number if asked.

⚠ Look out for the charity’s name, registered number and a landline contact number on fundraising materials – these should be included on materials such as charity clothing collection bags.

⚠ In person fundraising continues to be impacted by Covid-19 restrictions in different parts of the country. If you’re in an area where this may take place safely and you’re approached by a collector on the street or at the door, ask to see the collector’s ID badge. Genuine collectors should also have a permit or license to collect from the local authority. And you should never feel under pressure by a fundraiser into making a donation immediately.

These safer giving tips are not just for Christmas. It is important to be alert and make checks whenever you give to charity. This means you can be confident in the knowledge that you are helping a good cause and supporting their vital work. 

Do continue to support charities this Christmas, but make sure you are doing so sensibly and safely. 

This was a guest post by Gerald Oppenheim. All views expressed were Gerald’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Are you donating to charities this Christmas? Are you confident that your money is going to genuine causes?

Comments

I’ve had a Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) account for a number of years through my employer’s payroll giving scheme (GAYE) and now contribute £100 per month, which comes off before tax and NI. But you don’t have to be an employee to set up an Individual account (£100 minimum contribution, or £10 direct debit).

I was at first reluctant to use CAF, because they deduct a 4% fee from your account. However, my employer pays this for me. I have since set up a personal account as well to fund extra good causes should my employee account run low – usually a last minute request for sponsorship by a friend.

It operates pretty much as a bank account. If you are an Individual account UK tax payer, CAF reclaim 25% of your contributions from HMRC (the Gift Aid) and add it directly it to you account. There is no further paperwork involved, so you know that any charity will receive the gross amount of your donation, without filling in those annoying Gift Aid forms or having to track each donation for higher rate relief (see below).

Originally you had to write out a CAF cheque to donate to your chosen charities, but the CAF website has improved enormously and I now make most of my donations online. (If you can’t find your favourite registered charity, CAF will add it to their system within a few days.)

You can donate anonymously through the website, so no follow up letters or annoying phone calls from charties you made a one-time donation to and are not on your list of priorities.

CAF cheques are still useful if you get callers collecting for a good cause. Unlike cash, you can be certain that your money ends up with the charity concerned, as the cheques are not negotiable through normal banks.

Finally, I find the account helps me keep track of my annual donations. I put in a single claim with HMRC for higher rate tax relief on my CAF Individual account. (My GAYE account is before tax at my highest rate.)

I appreciate this might not be for everyone, but if you are in the habit of donating more than £100 per year and a higher or even basic rate taxpayer, it is well worth considering.

I mainly support charities that I have involvement with and have an insight into what happens with my money. Even in the present difficult times there are many grants available to charities and by filling in a simple form online I obtained a £500 grant for a charity that I am a trustee of. One of my colleagues who works on fundraising has raised considerably more.

I am wary about supporting charities that have a record of high overheads, though I will if friends and family are actively involved in fundraising.

Like many I buy charity cards but the amount of money that many charities receive can be small. Perhaps there should be a requirement that the charity receives a minimum of 50% of the price paid for cards.

This reminds me to have more pads of Gift Aid declaration forms printed for next year. These declarations plus claiming the full amount available annually under the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme (which can be from donors who wish to be anonymous or from collection boxes) have proved worthwhile for us.

Being a registered charity does not make it real, a scam organisation can register itself. I was cold-called and asked if I thought giving to charities supporting children say £25 was good (yes) and agreed to allow them to send me details. The “children” were in Indonesian slums. I was sent literature and was not impressed, registered charity but no accounts. I received an aggressive invoice for money or direct debit which I owed because of the contract on the phone. I ignored this too. Another came a year later when I had time to investigate. Their annual income was just under the amount that required full accounts, very handy. The income, around £20,000 as I recall, matched expenditure to the penny, no float, no bank deposit, and would hardly have payed for a secretary/manager and rented office. The glossy picture on the website showed four or five young, smartly dressed, office/executive staff, probably a stock photo. There were no actual staff names, no examples of children who had been helped. There were addresses and an Indonesian contact. The British address turned out on Google Earth to be the back end of an industrial estate. The European “link” was a very posh Dutch firm with a slightly different name. The Indonesian link was a second hand mobile phone business delisted from the Indonesian equivalent of companies house for failure to communicate. The literature contained a lot of namedropping about meetings, all unverified, with education minister and officials at Asian-Pacific education conferences. The income would have been totally consumed by visiting these conferences. Or did it pay for personal flights to Indonesia?
Not only can scams register as charities, many thousands of companies registered in companies house only exist to help move dodgy money around the world by providing a bank account in respectable UK and generating dubious invoices for internationally traded commodities. There is no investigative policing initiative by the registering organisations, certainly not for a £20,000 a year scam.
One “advantage” of Brexit is that we now have less stringent oversight of international money movements than the EU, which incidentally helps several rich and prominent brexiteers.