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The sector has a duty to be more open about the problems with charity bag collections

Two things in particular struck me when I was doing research for this week’s feature on charity clothing collection theft and fraud.

Firstly, the good news. There does seem to be a genuine attempt by many organisations and bodies to try to tackle the problem in a meaningful way. From the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to the Trading Standards Institute, and the Fundraising Standards Board to the National Association of Licensing and Enforcement Officers, a lot of work has been done and is continuing.

In my short time reporting on the sector, it is one of the most coordinated and wide-ranging responses to a problem I have seen.

But the second thing is not so good. It is the extent of the problem. By extent I mean both the seriousness of it, particularly the shocking violence that has been found happening within the gangs stealing the clothes, and the millions of pounds lost to the sector because of fraud and theft of
bags. And I mean the wide-ranging different types of problems beginning to slowly emerge.

We have the issues of: gangs posting fraudulent charity bags through doors; gangs picking up full bags on doorsteps opportunistically; companies taking advantage of small charities by promising to raise them a certain amount of money but never delivering that said figure; charities allegedly taking bags that belong to other charities; licensing issues; charities with shops rallying against charities that use commercial companies to collect their clothes; saturation of the market; and the rising rag prices.

It seems like there are so many problematic areas to this issue, a lot of them still wholly or at least in part shielded from public knowledge, that it is going to be very hard to coordinate a successful response without a lot more clarity.

I think the sector has a duty to be a lot more open about the various issues, even if it is to blame for some of them.

It’s understandable that there may be fears of public perception issues arising if there is more openness about these problems, but there seems to be a real crisis here anyway. Only with more clarity will suitable initiatives be  devised that are strong and high-level enough to really tackle this evidently huge issue.

  • Alistair McLean

    Sophie, an excellent blog and one that challenges the sector to continue the good work done so far and kick on from here.

    We need to make sure the public understand that it is important to continue to give their old and used clothes and goods to charity and how to do that safely and with confidence. Charities, with or without retail outlets, need to work together to continue to make this a successful fundraising method and I feel that the FRSB working along side the Institute and many other stakeholders have an important role to play to coordinate and build strong clear and easy to understand messages for the public.

    The sector needs to understand that the Elephant in the room is organised criminal gangs running fraudulent collections and stealing bags. We need to work together to avoid creating confusion for the public and destroying credibility of the fundraising mechanism. It is more important than ever in the context of household collections, that the actions of charites and commercial collectors are whiter than white.

    The recent symposium was only a stop on the journey. We have still have a long way to go and there are more plans we are developing with stakeholder support to keep up the pressure on Bogus Collections and help educate the public as to what to look out for and avoid inadvertently supporting the criminal fraternity rather than the charity of their choice.

  • A Smith

    As I’ve said before, there are surely two distinct issues here: Criminal activity, which must be taken seriously and acted on and the freedom of charities (large or small) to enter into commercial arrangements with profit driven companies.

    If the charity sector is to break away from the common perception that it’s run by well meaning but naive do-gooders, then regulating authorities must allow individual charities to make their own decisions (and, indeed, mistakes)….. Incidentally, I have absolutely no vested interest.