Finance Director, Dave Hawes, shares his insights on some of the challenges affecting charities.

While catching the tail end of the recent BBC series, Britain’s Secret Charity Cheats, it struck me how unusual, but valuable this kind of series is. The series both looked at the challenges charities face in the environment they inhabit, while recognising the valuable work they seek to carry out.

Each episode in the series targeted a specific area where people have committed fraud against Charities – the last episode for example looked at people who exploited the Grenfell Tower fire, charity bag collections and sporting charities, but offset this with looking at the positive work that a separate sports charity in particular could achieve.

Good or bad publicity is often discussed in the context of individual charities, but expanding this to a broader perspective suggests a similar impact at a national level. Similarly the importance of a strong culture to combat fraud is often correctly identified at a local level, but much less on a broader national scale.

The impact of the broader culture is often referred to indirectly; it’s widely recognised in the sector that general criticisms and vague implications are far from helpful, particularly when they can be a result of very specific issues. Even if the criticism is valid (and valuable) when applied in a focused manner, much wider implications can often be incorrectly drawn, undermining general confidence and fundamental understanding of the sector, its achievements and its challenges.

A charity’s focus will be on their charitable objectives, vision and mission. Part of this message may be around the environment in which they operate, but there will be a natural aversion to negative challenges, such as fraud. So while there have been a number of negative stories about the charity sector in  recent years, there has been little discussion of the increased challenges which charities face, for example from fraud.  So all the positive charity stories are good and all the negative stories are bad, which doesn’t help people understand the true context.

Discussing the good in hand with negatives (such as the challenges in the environment) can help illustrate the inherent ethnical issues of stealing from charities and their beneficiaries. This can help build mindsets where fraud isn’t acceptable, not just by yourself but by others, and to be alert to it being attempted.  It may be overly optimistic to think that all the fraudsters in Britain’s Secret Charity Cheats may have been deterred from fraud, but a number of the cases would have been identified much earlier if those impacted had been more aware of the possibility of fraud.

This mindset is a big shift from thinking that charities are perfect entities operating in a parallel utopia, separate to the real world. This view makes it difficult not to feel misled when negative stories and broad criticisms are (rightly or wrongly) applied to the sector.  By being encouraged to better understand a charity and its environment, people are more likely to get behind charities that provide what they want to support.  As is often the case, increased transparency helps the charity move nearer to its vision.

We see on a daily basis the importance of working with, within and being a part of the local community, and the mutual value it delivers to both the community and the charity.  It’s important that as individual charities and also as a sector we apply this perspective to the national context with a professional, compassionate and knowledgeable input.

Media coverage such as the BBC series was interesting to see, and it was encouraging that such a number of charities were happy to take part in the series, which not only showed their valuable contributions to society, but also discussed the issues they have encountered.  Fraud is a constant and evolving challenge, so the wider recognition and support against it are the initial yet most fundamental steps that need to be taken and not just by a few, but by many.