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What can charities learn from the Captain Tom Foundation enquiry?

| Niall Kingsley | 18 September 2023

Charitable giving is waning in the UK, according to a recent report. Under the cost of living crisis and sky-high inflation, people in the UK have donated £500 million less than in 2022.

Of course, some fluctuation in charitable giving is to be expected, with wars, disasters and public interest each playing a part - but recent allegations against well-known charitable causes will certainly not help inspire confidence.

The Captain Tom Foundation: tarnishing a legacy?

In April 2020, Captain Sir Tom Moore captured the heart of the nation.

The then 99-year-old ex-serviceman raised an incredible £32.8 million for the NHS charity Better Together by walking around his garden a hundred times before his 100th birthday.

The news ignited a media frenzy, which ultimately saw Captain Sir Tom knighted by the late Queen Elizabeth II as well as landing a number one smash hit with his rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ featuring Michael Ball.

After his death in February 2021, the charity The Captain Tom Foundation was set up by his family to support causes close to his heart. Unfortunately, the Foundation has recently found itself in the news for very different reasons to that of its namesake.

What are the allegations?

The charity is surrounded by accusations of mismanagement and allegations that the family of the late Captain Sir Tom has benefited financially from the charity for their media appearances.

Hannah Ingram-Moore - the daughter of the late benefactor Captain Sir Tom - was until recently the interim chief executive of the foundation. In what seems to be a conflict of interest, she reportedly received an appearance fee for speaking at the Virgin Media O2 Awards; critically, this wasn’t paid to the Foundation but instead to a private company owned by her and her husband. It is also reported that she did not attempt to gain the approval of the charity’s board before entering into this commercial arrangement - which could prove problematic.

The family has also been criticised for building a spa pool complex at their home. While initial planning application which was accepted listed the structure (named the ‘Captain Tom Foundation Building’) for use by both the charity and the occupiers, it was later reportedly amended to be strictly private use with the word Foundation being removed from the buildings name - the council then refused the retrospective planning permission.

As widely reported, the allegations are so serious that the Charity Commission has opened a statutory enquiry and the charity has now ceased accepting donations.

What can charities learn from this?

While the charity says it will cooperate fully with the ongoing inquiry, it can’t be ignored that the news is unwelcome for the charitable sector as a whole because it threatens to further undermine public confidence.

Without taking a view on whether Captain's Tom's family and the reported transactions were right or wrong, this is a reminder of how risky it is for trustees; they can easily incur personal reputational damage if things even appear to be handled slightly out of turn.

Transparency and accountability are crucial when operating a charity and trustees must ensure that they embed clear safeguards to protect assets, including a broad selection of trustees and robust conflict of interest policies. Avoid having close-knit group or family circles, and ensure your board is made up of trustees with different skills, backgrounds and experience to get those vital impartial voices in the room.

How to resolve conflicts of interest

The government guidelines on dealing with conflict of interests are clear. The three fundamental steps are: to identify a conflict of interest before it becomes a liability, clearly document it and deal with it through appropriate measures.

Of course, this is easier said than done, so trustees wishing to re-familiarise themselves with the guidelines can access them here.

If you’d like guidance on how to best manage your own charitable cause, get in touch with our expert team today.

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