In The Press: How to complain about bad charities

This article first appeared in Asian Voice newspaper online here and in the print version here.

At Charity Clarity, we come across a number of instances of poor governance at charities within the Indian community (as with others) which raise concerns with volunteers, donors and even others within the management committee. This article helps you understand how you can complain about a charity if internal dialogue is not working.

Charity Clarity is a due diligence platform for charities. Our aim is to Empower Donors and Support Charities. Often this means educating trustees and the team how they can better serve their charitable purposes. We find that in most instances, the trustees are well-meaning, but may lack sufficient knowledge about their responsibilities.

There are several ways to complain about a charity.

Trustees are responsible for running a charity successfully and it is appropriate to raise a concern to them first, unless you suspect illegal activity that requires others to intervene.

If you have a complaint around the way you’ve been asked for donations or how fundraisers have behaved with you, you can complain to the Fundraising Regulator, which regulates charitable fundraising. They set standards for best practices of fundraising but also investigate cases.

The Advertising Standards Authority, UK’s independent regulator across all media, can be approached for any advertising campaigns that are thought to be misleading or offensive.

Any individual can raise a complaint directly to the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales, the Charity Commission, about any concerns they might have by simply logging in to their website. The Charity Commission deals with serious concerns, such as the charity not doing what it claims to do, losing lots of money, harming people, being used for personal profit or gain or being involved in illegal activity.

An employee can also raise the same concerns by emailing whistleblowing@charitycommission.gsi.gov.uk. These cannot be personal grievances. The whistleblower is protected by law in case they report any criminal offence, injustice, violation of law by the charity. If you think the charity is doing anything illegal, you can call the Police by dialing 101 too.

What are the types of complaints that the Charity Commission most commonly deals with? This could be: a charity losing significant funds of money e.g. 20% of the charity’s income; losing significant assets, e.g. land or buildings; serious harm coming to the people the charity helps; criminal or illegal activity; terrorist activity; a charity set up for illegal or improper purposes; a person or organisation receiving significant financial benefit from the charity; or not following charity law, with damaging consequences to its reputation and the public’s trust in charities generally.

You would need to inform the Charity Commission whether you would like your name to be disclosed to the charity (or not), and provide full evidence of the attempts you’ve made to contact the charity to get clarity on this already.

The first of these requirements puts off many such complaints, especially when they are within your own community. But remember that you can inform the Charity Commission not to disclose your name.

Your complaint should also not come across as a personal grievance, but instead be properly evidenced.

One recent such example in the Hindu community is that of the National Council of Hindu Temples. In the last five years, according to its regulatory filings, the charity has spent significantly more than it has earnt. It’s General Secretary hold six trusteeships, a number many sector experts would advise may be too many to adequately conduct the duties of each. However, these are not typically the types of issues that the regulator would investigate – these are for trustees and members to deal with internally or at AGMs.

However, a member of the public did complain about the charity in three separate instances in the last two years. In the first, in 2015, the Charity Commission said NCHT’s actions were “not a legitimate activity for a charity”, and in 2017 the regulator asked NCHT to “refrain from making such statements”.

Both related to guidance that charities “must not encourage support for any particular party or candidates.” The Charity Commission is once again looking into the activities of the charity, this time for an unrelated matter.

In the first two instances, a member of the public was able to submit a complaint to the Charity Commission on their website. In the third instance, the individual and several other charities and advocacy groups wrote an open complaint letter, supported it with a PR campaign, and submitted it to the Charity Commission.

The Charity Commission is often overwhelmed with communications from the public. Its advice is often focused on “guidance” – their aim to help the charity became aware of their challenges and therefore improve. Rarely is a charity is shut down.

If you want to find out more, or want to confidentially talk about your concerns with us, then email us at contact@charityclarity.org.uk