Gift charities seek joint approach

Stephen Cook

Charities that solicit 'beneficiary gifts' - often livestock or household items for the developing world - are meeting in a bid to develop a common approach to questions of transparency.

The Institute of Fundraising is attending the meetings because it is drawing up a section on beneficiary gifts for its code of practice on accountability and transparency.

Some charities that offer beneficiary gifts guarantee that the stated gift will definitely be made, but many include a proviso that the money might be used for related purposes or other aspects of their work.

The clarity and prominence of this small print has been one of the main topics of discussion among 18 representatives from a dozen charities who met last month and are due to meet again in June.

Some participants have argued that if people are asked to give a goat to an African family, for example, the money should be treated as restricted funds and used for no other purpose.

Others say it's reasonable to include a proviso that the specified purpose may not always be possible, in which case the money will go to a related purpose or the purpose for which it's most needed.

Vickie King, fundraising manager for Send a Cow, said ethical gifts were relatively new and each charity had a slightly different approach. "That's partly why we're having the meetings - to decide on best practice," she said.

"We think the way we do it is good, but there is always room for improvement - we listen to what our donors say all the time."

Megan Pacey, director of policy and campaigns at the institute, said beneficiary giving had grown rapidly in recent years.

"The technique has been picked up by a large number of charities and in some cases they may be running before they can walk. Some are transparent and accountable and are leading good practice," she said. "I'm concerned that they all come up to that standard.

"It needs to be communicated as clearly as possible what the donations are used for, and it's emerging that there's a range of ways for that to happen. It's not a case of 'one size fits all'."

The institute's draft code of practice is due to be published next month for a 12-week public consultation.

KEY POINTS

- Charities that provide beneficiary gifts are meeting to develop a shared approach to transparency questions

- Not all charities offering such gifts guarantee that the stated gift will be made

- The meetings are being attended by the Institute of Fundraising, which is developing a section on beneficiary gifts in its code of practice on transparency.

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