Opinion: Definitive, decisive, but no explanation

One paragraph of a Charity Commission press release caught my eye recently. It read: "It is important that all charities, and particularly those working in difficult economic and political environments, ensure that they follow a robust policy for scrutinising the source of significant donations."

Nick Cater
Nick Cater

Definitive, decisive, tough, clear and surely based on a longer passage giving explanations of what is meant by "robust policy", "scrutinising" and "significant donations", together with guidance about how such policies and methods of scrutiny should operate, especially in "difficult economic and political environments".

Yet go to the original reports -about the Mariam Appeal, the charity set up by the MP George Galloway to provide medical aid for Iraqis - and this is the nearest equivalent passage: "As with all trustees, charity trustees must be vigilant in accepting donations of large sums of money, particularly from overseas sources."

That's it. At no point do the terms robust, policy, scrutinising or significant appear in the nearly 5,000 words of reports on which the press release appears to be based. Neither is there an explanation about how the commission's recommended new policies and practices should operate to match the vigilance of trustees. And suddenly, we are no longer working in difficult economic and political environments, but merely dealing with anyone beyond our shores.

So how robust is robust, how significant is significant and how should vigilant charities scrutinise any aliens bearing gifts?

Answer comes there none. For the future, perhaps the commission will ask its director of communications to set out its policies after deciding its inquiry conclusions and writing up the press releases. He or she seems to be the kind of clear-thinking and tough-minded chap this government needs when the commission is at the front line fighting crime and terrorism.

Meanwhile, charities should consider how to guard against being used to do good things with dirty money - without, that is, frightening off any generous Johnny Foreigner by demanding proof that his cash is not the proceeds of crime.

In these times of fever and fear, it might be easier if the commission, or its press office, prepared a list of overseas and domestic philanthropists so pure of heart and wallet that they match the standard of our charities' innocence.

Nick Cater is a consultant, speaker and writer: catercharity@yahoo.co.uk

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