Knowing your own vulnerabilities is the key to beating the fundraising fraudsters

By Stephen Service, the Fundraising Regulator‘s Policy Manager

When you think about it, donations are as much a gift of trust as generosity. Giving money to a stranger for a good cause, without expecting anything in return, is an act of faith for a member of the public that their donation will do more good in the collection tin than in their pocket.

Charities understand this, which is why the skills of the best fundraisers are so highly prized. These are the paid and volunteer staff who can build trust from a standing start and know how to turn donor altruism into action to benefit their cause.

Sadly, the conditions that make selfless acts possible are also the conditions that can allow those with dishonest aims to thrive, especially around Christmas time. Where fundraisers appeal to the public’s good nature, fraudsters prey on it. Where fundraisers know how to build people’s trust, fraudsters trick people into believing them. That’s why this UK Charity Week, we want to shine a spotlight on safer giving and beating fraudsters.

Scams that make victims of donors and charities come in all shapes and sizes, for instance:

  • The fraudster can create a fictional charity and trick donors into making contributions
  • A real fundraiser for a real charity could misrepresent how the money will be used or skim cash so that not all the money raised is received by the charity
  • The fraudster may pose as a real charity worker and trick individuals into donating through a fake appeal, such as a door-to-door or street collection
  • A fake fundraising website might be created, or the fraudster could use a charity’s logo on fake third-party websites or fundraising materials

The charities I speak to are passionate about the work they do for their beneficiaries and are justifiably proud of the amount they achieve through fundraising, often with minimal resources. But there is also a reluctance in some charities to acknowledge where their weaknesses lie, and how these could be exploited by fraudsters. While donation fraud may not be a big cost to the charity in financial terms, the reputational impact on the charity and on fundraising more widely can be substantial.

To ensure public trust in giving stays strong, charities need to be fierce about closing off the opportunities for fraud, requiring reflection about where weaknesses may lie. Here are just a few ways charities can work towards achieving this goal:

  • If you give people who fundraise for you official charity material, such as identity badges, collecting tins and official charity tabards, make sure you collect everything back as soon as you can – you should check that nothing is missing, and that collection tins and buckets haven’t been tampered with
  • Make sure that people who fundraise for you by conducting street or door-to-door collections have a licence to do so, and make clear to them that they need to comply with the fundraising code
  • If people fundraise for you, consider providing your volunteers with a basic information pack or leaflet about what they should and should not do if they are collecting on your behalf
  • If your charity never uses or does not want to encourage donations in the form of cash or street collections, let your donors and supporters know this by making it clear on your website
  • If you are made aware that supporters are collecting on your behalf without a licence, do not ignore it; contact them to let them know this is not permitted and that they need a licence – under the provisions of the Charities Act 1992 a charity may also apply to court for an injunction to prevent a person from fundraising without its consent
  • Set up online search engine alerts so you can monitor your online presence. If a fake page goes up, you’ll receive a notification
  • If you suspect collectors are collecting fraudulently in your name without permission, contact the police – if you think the collection is fraudulent you can do so through Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or through their website at

No one can eliminate the risk of fraud entirely. But by reflecting on where their vulnerabilities lie, charities can make it easier for the public to give safely – and harder for criminals to profit