Seek advice from us before returning donations, Charity Commission warns

With the Presidents Club scandal still rumbling, the regulator says some charities might need its authorisation to return donations

The Charity Commission has said charities should seek its advice on whether they need authorisation to return past donations made by the scandal-hit Presidents Club Charitable Trust.

In a statement released today, the commission said it did not necessarily expect charities to return the funds raised by the Presidents Club, but it understood why they might consider doing so.

The President Club held annual all-male fundraising galas for more than 30 years, but an undercover reporter from the Financial Times who worked at a hostess at this year’s event last week alleged that female hostesses, selected for being "tall, thin and pretty", had been groped, had hands put up their skirts and been invited into bedrooms by male attendees.

The charity subsequently announced it would be closing down.

Several charities that have previously received donations from the club have pledged to return the money after discovering how it was donated. Among these are the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity and the Evelina London Hospital, which will lose out on more than £1.1m worth of funding.

They were joined today by Child Bereavement UK, which has said it will return £27,500 worth of donations.

The NSPCC, which received £25,000, the British Olympic Association, which had been given £10,000, and the Children’s Trust UK, which received more than £71,000, all said they would not accept future donations from the club.

In its statement, the commission said it was up to a charity’s trustees to decide whether or not to refuse or return a donation based on the charity’s best interests by weighing the potential reputational damage of accepting it against the financial impact of turning it down.

"Different charities may legitimately come to different decisions, and trustees can approach the commission for advice if they are unsure about their approach," the statement said.

It added that, depending on the terms of the donations and how they were raised, there might be restrictions on whether they could be returned and whether the commission would need to authorise doing so.

"Charities should seek the commission’s advice about whether our authorisation is required in their specific case," the statement said. "Trustees may wish to seek their own legal advice.

"The commission does not expect trustees to return funds raised for charitable purposes in the circumstances, but understands if they wish to consider doing so."

A City investor is organising a gala dinner to raise money for the charities that have felt compelled to return or refuse money in the wake of the scandal.

Dame Helena Morrissey, head of personal investing at Legal & General Investment Management, said in an online column for The Daily Telegraph newspaper that she was working to hold a fundraising dinner with an equal number of men and women in attendance.

The event would be hosted by the Lord Mayor at Mansion House in central London, she wrote.

"We need to work together with men and put the attitudes that have led to these recent events firmly in the past, where they belong," she wrote.

"As a start, a group of us in the City – men and women involved in the fund management industry’s Diversity Project – are putting together an alternative dinner at the Mansion House, with a 50:50 gender split in the attendance and very different ‘entertainment’, to raise funds for those charities that felt compelled to turn down the Presidents Club's donations."

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