From the CEO: Top tips on donating safely

Our Chief Executive outlines his top tips on how to make donations to your favourite causes safely and some simple precautions we can all take to protect yourself and your chosen charity against fraud.

In my column this week, I wanted to talk about an important subject which rarely makes the headlines and that’s how to make donations to your favourite causes safely.

Fraud is estimated to cost the charity sector £1.9bn every year across the UK, and over the last few weeks we’ve had reports here at The Children’s Hospital Charity of some suspected fraudulent fundraising, which exploits people’s good nature to syphon money which is intended for charities.

Let me begin by saying that most charitable fundraising is genuine. The difference charities make is invaluable to society and they fund much of the important work they do through generous donations from members of the public.

We are no different at The Children’s Hospital Charity, and because we know the impact your donations have to the young patients, families, and staff at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, we make every effort to ensure the public know our fundraisers are legitimate.

The last thing we want is for the public to feel put off donating to the good cause of your choice and helping those in need, so today I thought I’d share with you a few top tips: simple precautions we can all take to protect yourself and your chosen charity against fraud.

Firstly, make sure you check the charity’s name and registration number online with the charity regulator. You can also check if a charity is committed to good fundraising practice by checking the Fundraising Regulator’s online directory.

It is a legal requirement for registered charities with an income above £10,000 a year to state that it is a registered charity when fundraising on a range of materials, from websites, advertisements, and other documents like receipts. If the number is missing or does not match the registered charity, that’s the first obvious way of telling something is amiss.

It is really important to make sure the charity is genuine before giving any financial information, and I would be especially cautious about people collecting for unspecific causes, like ‘local sick children’.

It is easier for fraudsters to collect money in this way, as they do not need to show a connection to a charity, so make more enquiries about what exactly the money would be used for and by what organisation if that is the case. I would strongly consider giving money to the cause directly instead in these instances.

When giving on the street, check to see whether fundraisers are wearing a proper ID badge, can produce a letter of authorisation and that any collection tin is properly sealed.

All of our registered fundraisers have access to a signed letter confirming their activities for us, while all our collection tins are logged when issued and signed back in when the fundraising is complete.

Some charities, including ours, explicitly discourage door-to-door fundraising, so that can also be a quick way of assessing authenticity. If you are in any doubt, you can always give the charity a quick call to verify their information and give you the confidence you need.

A permit or a license is usually required to raise money in a public place or a pub, so you can contact your local authority to check. Collections in private places like train stations and supermarkets need the owner’s or manager’s permission, so you can always check with them too.

A genuine fundraiser should be happy to answer questions and explain more about the work of the charity- and again if you are unsure of their legitimacy, you can always call the cause directly to check they are registered properly.

When donating online, be sure to exercise the same caution as you would when making any other internet transaction. Look for the padlock symbol in the URL bar and that the website address starts with ‘https’. If you’re unsure, donate through a charity’s own website or through well-established fundraising platforms like JustGiving.

If you are called by a telephone fundraiser, the number you are being called from should be identifiable- if the number is listed as private or unknown, you should check their details with the charity before donating. Again, some charities including our own, don’t undertake telephone fundraising so that’s a quick-fire way to verify legitimacy.

Above all, you should never feel under pressure by a fundraiser to donate immediately. While reasonable persuasion is allowed, fundraisers are not allowed to raise money in a way which is an intrusion on a person’s privacy, is persistent or places undue pressure on a person to donate.

Fundraisers must also not continue to ask for support if the person has indicated by words or gesture they do not want to speak to you. This is normally a clear sign of fraudulent activity.

If you have concerns about the fundraising you have encountered, there are several ways you can take action. You can contract the Fundraising Regulator, report it to Action Fraud or contact the police.

Giving to a charity is a wonderful way you can make a difference. I hope some of the ways I have outlined today can give you the certainty to keep supporting causes generously.

This column was first published by the Sheffield Telegraph on Thursday 21st July 2022.