Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Who should a charity accept money from?

28 January, 2012 - 15:09 -- John Burton

Under Charity Commission guidance, a charity has a duty to accept all donations unless there can be shown a serious conflict.

The general principle is that:

“A decision not to accept a donation, grant or other support offered to the organisation should only be made by the governing body, and only after careful consideration.

“Charity trustees must act in the best interests of the charity and must be able to demonstrate clearly to the Charity Commission, if required to do so, how the best interests of the charity have been served in refusing a donation.

“Difficult issues may arise if what seems ethically or morally right is not necessarily in the organisation’s financial interest.”

This is a direct quote from the Voluntary Sector Legal Handbook, which is my bible on such matters. In principle, therefore, World Land Trust (WLT) should refuse any donation, grant or contract if the donor’s activities or aims are contrary to those of the WLT and acceptance could negatively impact support from other sources. Also, if the conditions placed by the donor are unreasonable or contrary to the aims and objectives of the WLT. Furthermore, if the funding is from monies derived from an illegal activity, the WLT should refuse. The Trustees should endorse a general policy and delegate appropriate powers to the Executive and the A & F Committee to operate.

Although yet to be formally adopted, the Trust's policy is along the lines of – The WLT will accept all donations, grants and contracts, provided:

  • the activities of the donor and/or the sources of the money involved are not in conflict with the aims and objectives of the WLT;
  • the acceptance of such funding is not likely to bring the Trust or its partner organisations into disrepute;
  • the deliverables within a contract or grant are within the capabilities of the Trust.

So much for policy, but how to implement?

It is always a case of where to draw a line. The WLT was approached by a large supermarket chain not so long ago and I felt there was a serious reputational risk; the supermarket in question was often building in places where there was strong opposition from local residents (one of the places in question being in the Suffolk town of Halesworth where the WLT office is).

Also they were one of the biggest retail outlets for products containing palm oil, and they also sold mass produced meat products. While the latter is largely an ethical issue, I felt it also was likely to be viewed negatively by many of our supporters.

Finally, the amount of money although large in terms of the WLT, was miniscule compared with the company’s turnover; I believed this was not commensurate with the green credentials they were clearly aiming to acquire by an association with us.

The issues of association are absolutely critical, particularly since we have several extremely high profile conservationists associated with us, and it could be seen that a corporate is wishing to associate themselves with our Board Members and Patrons.

With figures such as David Attenborough, Mark Carwardine, Bill Oddie, David Gower, Sir Kenneth Carlisle and others closely associated with the Trust in one way or another, it is vital that we make sure the corporates who support us are doing the most they can within the field of environmental responsibility.

With this in mind we carry out due diligence on all proposed corporate supporters, so that if any criticisms are levelled, we feel confident of being able to respond positively.

We are always interested in hearing our supporters’ views, so please share your opinion in the comments box below.

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