There are so many charitable causes in the UK today—over 170,000 of them are registered with the Charity Commission.
It’s not an easy process to become a recognised and certified charity. However, to apply for funding, to open a charity bank account, and to reassure donors when fundraising, good causes do really need to apply for registered charity status.
When you hear of charities scamming people out of money, these aren’t people who can’t be bothered to cross the Ts and dot the Is when launching their charity, these are common-or-garden criminals who use the public’s generosity as a way to glean money from their purses and wallets.
Anyone can create a logo for a charity. A criminal also wouldn’t think twice about conjuring up what looks like a bona fide charity registration number for their illegal intentions. In other words, it’s easy to create a charity scam.
How many of us, on seeing a charity logo and/or registration number would make the effort to search for them on the Commission’s database to verify the organisation’s identity?
The vast majority of people would trust that the person asking for their donations is above board; perhaps it’s unfeasible for us to think someone would be so low as to steal or divert funds from abused animals, sick children or medical research into a life-threatening illness.
When the war in Ukraine began, there was a plea to the general public to be careful when donating their money. The number of scam artists that sprung up was worrying. Given that this was a new cause for fundraising with few national organisations geared up to accept financial and practical donations on behalf of the Ukrainian people, it was difficult for even bona fide charities to get help where it was most needed. Amid this chaos, and riding on the huge wave of public generosity and strong feelings of wanting to help, scam artists popped up and significant sums were stolen from public donations.
As a charity, you will probably be able to count on one hand the number of times a member of the public has asked you to verify your organisation. We typically trust that people raising money for a good cause are who they claim to be. This trust is what allows the criminals to get away with their scams, however.
There are ways to ensure the cause you’re donating to is genuine. As an organisation, if you backtrack from these points, and ensure you can uphold what’s recommended, you will always be able to verify your cause and allay any suspicions from the public.
1. Have up-to-date documentation
Fraud experts recommend verifying a charity’s registration number if you’re unsure of their credentials. Scammers could simply copy a number from a registered organisation or make up their own and apply it to their bogus cause. The Commission has a search facility on its website—if the name matches the charity registered against it, the organisation is genuine enough at least.
2. Obtain photo IDs for anyone canvassing for donations
It’s probably a good idea for all your staff and volunteers to have photo ID, to prove they’re from your charity; at the very least, ensure those asking directly for donations can verify who they are. Written ID is not enough, as it could be copied or stolen; photo ID is much stronger as it can’t be transferred.
3. Ensure your procedures and protocols are watertight
Not every scammer is a stranger to the charity they try and rip off; sometimes, fraud can come from within. To ensure this isn’t the case in your organisation, have more than one signatory on your organisation’s bank account, and ensure these people aren’t related. It’s a good idea that at least one of these is the charity’s chair or treasurer.
4. Ensure your website has an SSL certificate
To put your donors’ minds at ease, build a high level of security into your website so that people can feel confident sending their money and/or entering their bank details via your site. The same goes if you use a third-party platform, such as Just Giving, to accept payments; check out the credentials of their company and how secure their systems are before promoting this platform to your network when asking for donations.
5. Regularly Google your organisation
Some scammers will pretend to raise money for a genuine cause, only to pocket the money they raise once the campaign is over. They will choose a recognisable charity to represent, to reduce any suspicion from donors; however, said charity may be oblivious that this fundraiser is asking for donations on their behalf. If you come across a fundraising page for a feat or event you’re unaware of, get in touch with the fundraiser in question and qualify who they are and why they’ve chosen your organisation. Though you still may not get to the bottom of whether they’re a scammer or not until the money is supposed to roll in, at least you’ll be gathering information for the police should the worst happen.
These steps will go some way towards building a trusting, credible and fruitful relationship between your charity and its donors. Some scammers will still slip through the net, unfortunately, but if you’ve done all the above, it’s no slight on your organisation—these will be professional bad guys with plenty of resources to help them break the law for monetary gain. Rest assured, eventually, justice does catch up with them.