Charities must be ‘extra vigilant’ about accepting donations linked to Russia, regulator warns

Charities need to be “extra vigilant” about accepting donations connected to Russia, the chief executive of the Fundraising Regulator has said.

Speaking at a virtual event hosted by the regulator to launch its annual report, Gerald Oppenheim said charities should refer to the Code of Fundraising Practice and to Charity Commission guidance if they were concerned about the origin of any donation.

He said this issue had received “heightened attention” due to recent news coverage of the decision made by Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovitch, who has been linked to the Russian State, to transfer the club into the stewardship of the Chelsea FC Foundation, following calls for his assets to be seized in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“A lot of those issues will be governance issues for the Charity Commission, and its fellow regulators in the devolved nations, to grapple with,” Oppenheim said.

“But where fundraising is concerned, the basic framework is there – you do need to be careful about accepting donations. You’ve always needed to be careful, as a charity, but be extra vigilant now.”

During the event, the regulator discussed the launch of its self-reporting tool, which enables a charity to alert the regulator to any potential breaches in the Code of Fundraising Practice without a complaint from a member of the public being made.

Jenny Williams, a board member at the regulator and chair of its complaints and investigations committee, said the tool, which can be found on its website, would enable the regulator to improve its understanding of issues within fundraising, would allow it to provide advice to the charity and would “help the charity demonstrate its own good intentions about trying to improve its fundraising”.

She said charities would not be expected to tell the regulator each time they received a complaint, but that “where they are aware of a potential breach of the code, where the breach could pose actual or potential risk to the public, and it’s not a technical or trivial one”, they should submit a report.

The regulator is also preparing to launch a review of the Code of Fundraising Practice in the autumn, although this is not expected to mean the development of an entirely new code.

The previous review of the code, which took place in 2019, focused on language and accessibility. The upcoming review will examine how the code could be improved.

Board member Susanne McCarthy, who chairs the regulator’s standards committee, said the review would take into account the impact of the pandemic, and would look at what the regulator had learned from complaints, from research and from changes in legislation and technology to see where the code needed to be updated.

“We will, of course, be consulting with the sector on any proposed changes we want to make to the code,” she said.

The regulator announced it would review the guidance it offers to see whether any additional information needed to be produced, particularly about cryptocurrency, which McCarthy said was “a live issue” for the standards committee.

The regulator will also develop a new internal equality diversity and inclusion strategy, which Oppenheim said would start with the organisation’s internal practices and processes – in particular, the recruitment of the staff and board – before expanding to consider the wider external impact of its regulation.

He also explained that the 42 per cent drop in the cost of the Fundraising Preference Service from £260,000 to £148,000 in the last financial year, was a result of discussions with suppliers. The service enables people to block contact from certain charities, but the discussions had led to changes in how it was run, Oppenheim said.

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