The Charity Commission has issued a regulatory alert to 187 recently registered military charities after a review found most had weaknesses in safeguarding and fundraising.
The regulator decided to review military charities after a number of media reports about aggressive fundraising techniques and charities receiving a low percentage of income from the fundraising activity. There were also concerns about safeguarding procedures.
In the report published yesterday evening the Commission said it said was concerned that military charities were at “greater risk of compliance and reputational issues, which could affect public trust and confidence”.
Lack of appropriate oversight of fundraising
The Commission selected a sample of 21 charities to look into further. It said that in 18 charities, the trustees had not taken appropriate responsibility for overseeing the charity’s fundraising” and has provided charities with advice.
In one case, Support the Heroes, the Commission opened a statutory inquiry related to its fundraising.
Other charities were found not to have agreements with professional fundraisers – a breach of their legal requirements - or could not demonstrate a system of controls or monitoring, or had not assessed the reputational risks.
One charity has ended its relationship with a professional fundraiser following the Commission’s intervention.
The Commission found that there was a “concerning lack of safeguarding policies and practices” at some charities and that others needed to strengthen their policy.
It said this was because the trustees had not “considered their beneficiaries to be vulnerable”. It said this was more likely in those dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder than physical health.
The Commission also highlighted that some charities had “insufficient controls in place over their finances” and a “lack of financial planning was also a common factor”.
It also raised concerns about conflicts of interest not being managed effectively and said most did not have adequate complaints procedures.
The Commission is continuing to engage with three charities where regulatory issues were identified.
These are Invicta Foundation and Forward Assist - where there are concerns about conflicts of interest - and Hire A Hero, where the Commission has a follow up case in progress to check advice about fundraising and safeguarding has been acted on.
One charity, Support British Soldiers, had ceased operating and was removed from the Commission’s register of charities. Another charity, Excalibur Unit, is in the process of closing down.
‘A new charity may not be the most effective way’
The Commission has now written to veterans’ charities registered since 2007 to remind them of their responsibilities.
It is working through Cobseo, the Confederation of Service Charities, and is urging each military charity to be alert to vulnerabilities in their client group, make sure it has safeguarding policies in place and check that its relationships with professional fundraisers are appropriate.
Michelle Russell, director of investigations, monitoring and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: “The charities we examined had been set up with good intentions by people with genuine compassion for veterans. And we saw some really innovative work being done in those charities.
“But it takes more than good intentions and a good idea to run a charity properly. The trustees’ role is to govern a charity well. And one of their most basic duties is to take safeguarding seriously.”
She added that: “Charities working with veterans rely on public generosity, and our advice to the public is simple: give with your head as well as your heart.”
Russell urged members of the public who were concerned about fundraising to report their worries to the Fundraising Regulator.
She said: “My message to those thinking of setting up new military charity is to think carefully before doing so; there are other ways of supporting the armed forces community, including supporting with money or time an existing, established veterans charity. Setting up a new charity may not be the most effective way to help.”
General Sir John McColl, executive chairman of Cobseo, said: “We strongly support the Charity Commission’s scrutiny of safeguarding and fundraising practices, not just for the military charities on its register, but across the entire charitable sector.
“Service charities play a crucial, and highly effective, role in supporting the armed forces community. Cobseo strives for the highest of standards among its membership and will continue to work closely with the Charity Commission in pursuit of this goal.”