Charities could have avoided losing money to the Dove Trust, which ran the suspended donations website CharityGiving, by checking the Charity Commission website, which would have shown that the charity had failed to file its accounts since 2006, the Charity Finance Group and the Institute of Fundraising have suggested.
The CFG and the IoF make the observation in a new, free guide to help charities choose the online giving platforms they work with. The guide has been in the works since the Dove Trust’s bank accounts were frozen by the Charity Commission in June 2013 and an interim manager appointed because of concerns about the charity’s trustworthiness, governance and financial management. More than 1,800 charities were left short of a total of £1.7m.
"Simple due diligence of checking the Charity Commission website would have shown that the charity provider had not fulfilled its obligation to file audited accounts for a number of years," the guide says about CharityGiving. "If the provider is late in making payments or is unable to make full payments in line with the agreement, this should not be glossed over as it may be indicative of underlying problems."
The guide, called Making the Most of Digital Donations: A Practical Guide to Selecting and Using Online Giving Platforms, advises that charities that want to select an online giving site provider should review financial statements to ensure that donated funds are held as restricted funds and that the organisation has sufficient liquidity to be able to make payments.
Charities should also ask what bank the organisation is using to consider whether it is appropriate.
The guide warns charities about the cost of online donation sites, warning that they should look at the small print before signing up, because many of the bigger sites charge monthly fees and charge per donation. There might also be VAT and card-processing charges, it says.
It says these sites might be more suitable for use in multiple campaigns, on a longer-term basis and where a larger budget is available.
The guide points out that some unnamed websites list a large number of charities and collect donations for them without letting them know they are doing so, or without an agreement in place.
If a site refuses to pay this money to the charity, this should be referred to the Charity Commission for investigation, the guide says.
Charities wishing to be listed on these sites should consider setting up a formal agreement with them – because the sites are likely to be advertising their own services on the back of charity brands, for example – while those that do not should make a formal request to be removed.
"Online giving continues to grow rapidly," said Peter Lewis, chief executive of the IoF. "It is important that our members, and all charity fundraisers, feel confident in understanding how online giving platforms work so that they can make an informed decision about which ones they want to use. We hope that this guide will help charities engage with online platforms and enable them to fundraise most effectively."