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Are you confident about supporting charities?

How can you make sure you’re donating to authentic causes? Our guest, the Fundraising Regulator, explains how the work it does helps give you confidence.

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

The general public is extremely generous when donating to good causes. Together, we gave a staggering £10.3 billion to UK charities in 2017. 

Fundraising is a big part of how charities connect with the public and create support for their work – but it needs to be regulated so that standards across all fundraising organisations remain high.

People need to know that the fundraising which takes place is for legitimate causes and it is being carried out in the right way. And, even if the fundraising is ethical, the public should be able to stop unwanted contact from fundraisers at any time and in an easy way.

Improving fundraising standards across the UK is the reason why the Fundraising Regulator was established.

We handle complaints regarding fundraising and ensure fundraisers are compliant with the Code of Fundraising Practice. We also operate the Fundraising Preference Service which the public can use to top unwanted communications.

Authentic causes

If you’re feeling unsure about giving to a charity, there are a number of things you can do to help you feel confident that you’re donating safely.

1. Check the charity’s name and registration number – you can verify this on the register of charities in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England and Wales. You can also check if the charity is signed up to the fundraising standards, by checking to see if it’s listed in the Fundraising Directory.

2. When approached by collectors on street or at home, check whether they are wearing a proper ID badge and that any collection tin is sealed and not damaged.

3. Check whether a collector has permission to collect – if raising money in a public place ask to see a ID or permission document as a permit or license is usually required. Collections in private places like train stations and supermarkets need the owner’s or manager’s permission so you can ask a member of staff at these locations about the authenticity of the collections.

4. Be wary of unsolicited emails from charities you have never heard of and do not click on links contained within them – also, you should ignore requests to donate through a money transfer company as this is a popular scam.

5. Carefully review collection bags for clothing and household goods to find out whether they are from a genuine charity. Look for a charity name and number which can be cross checked on Charity Commission website. Look for the name of the company acting on behalf of the charity – this should be registered company and you should be clear about how their collection helps specific charities.

Charity communication

After you make a donation, the charity is likely to communicate with you. It may simply contact you to thank you for your gift. It may also want to keep you up-to-date with the work you have supported, or even its work in other areas.

Alternatively, you might be asked if you’d like to set up a regular donation to the charity. You should be in control of these communications and not feel pressured.

You may be comfortable with this and feel you can turn off the communications you no longer want – whether it is clicking the unsubscribe link on the emails you receive, asking a telephone fundraiser to stop the calls or writing to a charity to be removed from mailing lists.  

Many charities work hard to make sure you can stop communications directly, but if you begin to feel overwhelmed or unable to deal with the amount of communication, the Fundraising Preference Service could help you. 

What is the Fundraising Preference Service?

The Fundraising Preference Service (FPS) is operated by the Fundraising Regulator and it allows you to stop direct marketing communications from charities, which includes fundraising.

You can use it put a stop phone calls, emails, letters or text messages, even if you have previously consented to contact. Since the service launched in 2017, we’ve dealt with over 27,000 requests to stop charity communications.  

The service is available online or via phone. You simply need the name or registered number of the charity from which you want to stop communications. You can switch off a particular type of communication or stop all contact.

You can use it to help other people, too. The service was designed with vulnerable people in mind and requests to stop communications can be made on behalf of another person – for example, those who may not be computer literate, or vulnerable people who need someone to act on their behalf. 

So if you or anyone you know is feeling overwhelmed then you should use FPS to stop the communications. I’ll be at the other end, checking that charities are observing your wishes! 

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

Do you always feel confident when donating to charities? Were you comfortable with the level of marketing communications you received afterwards?


Supporting local charities usually means that the money is used as you intend it to be used and there are many local charities that help the community function in diverse ways. The National Charities need to be taken on trust – or lack of it. I am assured that a donation for a goat in Oxfam will actually result in a goat arriving where it is needed. A specific request asks whether the donation can be used in other ways and there is the opportunity to say “no.” Of course there is no proof that the goat has got there. These big charities have big overheads and these should be as a result of staff doing the charitable work and not an excuse to run the charity for the profit of its management. In the end it comes down to personal choice – be it because of some kind deed to a family member or some desire to help a particular cause. Having made that choice one shouldn’t feel guilty about ignoring impassioned requests for “just three pounds a month” elsewhere. International charities are set up to provide international aid. They must persuade those who give that they are doing that wisely. They should also persuade any independent body who oversees charity organisations.
On a personal level the family donates to a “good cause” as birthday gifts, so, no unwanted socks or aftershave.

National charities are extremely worrying. Last year the NSPCC admitted that it spends at least 50% of its total income on publicity, campaigning and administration. But it’s not alone. Stories about major charities building roof gardens while losing vast amounts of money on poorly thought-out and run enterprises abound.

Most of the major charities spend far more on advertising than they do on the charities’ objectives.

This chart shows how charities make their money.

The top ten bring in £2bn+

The first time I became aware of the overheads of running large national charities was probably 30 years ago when Oxfam was heavily criticised, though this may have been typical of the sector.

Nowadays, most of my contribution to charities (both financial and in other ways) is to smaller charities with no employees and involve people who I know will not waste money. I’m always happy to support friends or their kids when they are collecting on behalf of charities and try to forget how much will never be used for the intended purpose.

I am far from happy that in our affluent (at least by world standards) country we often need charities to do what should be done by government.

I find it disconcerting the number of businesses that claim charity status by giving a miniscule donation to charity.

Many businesses with recycling banks like you see in car parks that are basically in business to make money claim charitable status. Their merchandise is donated for free, they can make big profits, they are not charities, so why should they get tax concessions?

It is not just businesses that claim charitable status to gain tax benefits. So do most fee charging schools. This is usually ‘justified’ by the awarding of a few scholarships to non- fee paying students, or sharing their Supposed expertise with state schools whose situation, particularly financially, are totally different. It is not likely to be challenged by government as so many went to fee paying schools, or are currently sending their children there.

‘Educational purposes’ is one of the three original objectives of charitable status, the others being the relief of poverty and the propagation of religion. Health, welfare, life-saving, and other good causes have been added to the mix over time so there is a variety of ways in which commercial organisations can purport to be serving the community in a charitable way.

To the extent that fee-paying schools take pressure off the state education system, and do indeed in many cases provide resources that the state sector cannot match, charitable relief has its plus points.

I am aware that the Charity Commission does now keep a more watchful eye on the correct use of charitable status but it is a very wide field and, from a public policy point of view, it would be madness to curtail or choke off charitable endeavour when so many essential services rely on voluntary and charitable input that the state would struggle to supply so economically and effectively.

I agree with other commenters that the input to output ratio for many major charities is a cause for concern. I see no need for the competition that appears to take place between charities with similar aims and objectives. How many cancer charities do we need? Why are there not any pan-European cancer charities ensuring that research is optimised instead of being siloed? Should not the ultimate aim of all charities be to become extinct through achievement of their purposes? Self-preservation is a powerful motive that infects the executives of all organisations especially charities; I have never heard one say “our job is now done; we can leave the rest to others”.

fee-paying schools take pressure off the state education system,“. But they also put pressure on the state system by taking teaching staff. On balance I am in favour of a private educational system running alongside a state system. We should have the choice as to how we have our children educated. I would, however, suggest removing their charitable status and have them stand on their own feet financially, unless there are persuasive arguments to the contrary.

But don’t only the really wealthy have such a choice?

I have a list of 10 private day schools that charge between £12k and £17k a year. You do not have to be “really wealthy” to afford this. If you believe that going without other discretionary purchases – new car, holidays, for example will benefit your child then I believe you should have the choice. If a local state school has a poor record why should you have to penalise your child by sending them there, if you can manage to afford an alternative?

I’m not sure most families have £17,000 per annum to spare, plus the associated costs – uniform, special kit, activities, days out and several children. With three children, that could very easily add up to £60,000 per year and I think most people would see that as only a really wealthy option.

The big danger – the threat, if you like – of having private education is that it allows those who wield power and influence over politicians to ignore the desperate cash-starved situation of the state sector.

The range is from £12k. Some may well be prepared to make a sacrifice in their living standard to support their child. Indeed, they already do as these schools seem to prosper. Should we remove all choices from how people spend the money they have – private healthcare, size of house, holidays………. ?

MPs may resist influence when at the 2017 general election 52% went to comprehensives, 17% to grammars and 29% were privately educated. (That leaves 2%, presumably uneducated?). I’d suggest it is money that is influence, not whether you are state or privately educated.

However, my contention is we should be allowed choice in education.

I suggest we take this discussion somewhere else and get back to discussion about charities.

Many private schools have charitable status. 🙂 Examples of charities, and a discussion about their role, is pertinent to a Convo headed “Are you confident about supporting charities?” although I suspect this particular line of discussion, introduced quite reasonably by FrisbyG, has reached a natural conclusion.

Agree with wavechange on this. Let’s get back to the initial discussion. Thanks all.

George: as Malcolm has pointed out this topic is about charities and supporting them. I would argue the topic of private schools (and private health care are both completely relevant to the topic header.

From the topic header perspective (Are you confident about supporting charities?) it then becomes integral to the debate as to what specific charities do and how they conduct themselves and – for want of better terminology – how they influence society.

I think some corrections to the debate arguments are also needed. Private day schools are in decline nationally. They have been since 2008, and may recover, but that’s currently unknown.

The schools that remain are also failing to meet more rigorous standards introduced three years ago across a range of areas, including quality of teaching and leadership.

Only 60 per cent of private schools inspected this year (2018) have been judged as good or better, the figures show. Three years ago, three-quarters (75 per cent) of schools were good or better.

“The decline in inspection outcomes for independent schools has been quite stark,” said Ofsted’s report.

But these schools benefit from charity status. As a letter to the Guardian in February this year noted: “It is ridiculously inappropriate to compare “luxury homes, cars, exotic holidays” with the fees for private schools. Good education is not a luxury but an essential provision that needs to be equally available to all children if we are ever to have a properly functioning society. Parents are not to be blamed for seeking the best for their children, but the private school system encourages the wealthiest to do this at the expense of the great majority. For example, 14% of the teaching force, trained mainly at public expense, is employed in schools that teach 6.5% of the nation’s children.

Second, the fact that private schools meet the criteria required for charitable status is merely a reminder that these criteria are inadequate. The charitable status enjoyed by private schools represents a subsidy to the wealthiest from the majority of taxpayers, whose own schools are poorly resourced.”

The continued existence of private schooling perpetuates a class-based stereotype that permeates and influences society. Parents do not buy better education, either, as OFSTED has revealed. What they do buy, however, is exclusivity, membership of a small elite and acceptance by their wealthy peers.

Should they continue to have charitable status seems to me a very valid question.

My earlier proposal on private schools was “I would, however, suggest removing their charitable status and have them stand on their own feet financially” which seemed a very relevant comment when discussing “supporting charities”.

As is often the case with Convos comments can lead to discussions around a point and, providing they do not overwhelm a Convo and lose sight of the original theme then I do not see “shutting the discussion” down as appropriate. When we discuss the appropriateness of supporting any charity we will inevitably, and quite properly, examine what that charity does and how deserving it is. If we do not do that then there is, it seems to me, little purpose in this sort of discussion.

Here is one of a number of articles about loss of trust in charities: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/may/07/fewer-britons-donate-charities-after-scandals-erode-trust

The article gives statistics about the confidence people have in charities, but without any indication of whether this applies to national charities or includes small charities.

Kevin says:
6 September 2019

First check the charity website to see if their accounts are reasonably prominent, easy to access, fully transparent, and demonstrate some accountability for the senior staff. Too many just have graphics-rich PR material, with some trivial social media nonsense.

Second check the trustees and directors to see whether they have some kind of relevant qualification, and aren’t just, for example, homeless politicians killing time after being voted out and waiting for a new constituency to get back to their full time gravy train.

BTW I’d also apply such scrutiny to governmment, the public sector, and academia, as well as any private sector company which benefits from the public sector (ie all companies – since they all use roads, education, health cover etc).

I think I carry a bit too much charity worker baggage with me to make a big contribution to this convo as I have worked most my career in fundraising charities.

But it is sad for me when I see people’s trust being eroded by high profile scandals. Everyone I have worked with have been 100% dedicated to the cause they were working on and would do anything for the charity.