The PCC of The Ecclesiastical Parish of St John Cove: March 2021

Name and type of organisation: The Parochial Church Council of The Ecclesiastical Parish of St John Cove - (registered charity no. 1132865)

Topic of the complaint: Events

Code themes examined: Restricted funds and complaint handling

Code breach? Yes 

The complaint 

The complainant was concerned that the charity was using restricted donations, raised specifically for the running of a monthly event, for general purposes.

What happened?

The charity invited some of its parishioners to make a regular monthly donation to help with the running costs of a monthly event called ‘Ignite’. The standing order form that the parishioners were required to fill out stated that a donation of £15 a month from 30 people would ensure that the Ignite event could continue. 

The complainant believed that the form was proof that the donations were for a restricted purpose. However, the complainant told us that equipment was purchased with these donations, which was used for general church purposes and events across the Parish. The complainant believed that the regular donations for the Ignite event were merged with general Parish funds without the permission of the parishioners.

As the complaint had not yet been put to the charity, we asked the complainant to first contact the charity about their concerns before we intervened. The charity told the complainant that:

  • the donations for the Ignite event were kept in a separate fund, which was reported in its accounts;
  • donations to the Ignite Fund had only covered part of the total costs of the event and most costs were paid for from general Parish funds;
  • the Ignite fund had not been merged with general Parish funds; and
  • the equipment it purchased was owned by the charity. 

The complainant remained dissatisfied with the charity’s response, so we stepped in to help resolve the matter. 

The charity provided us with evidence to show all the donations paid to the Ignite fund and how the funds were spent. The charity told us that although the equipment purchased was also used for other Parish events, the equipment was still owned by the charity.

Our decision

We found that the standing order form completed by parishioners explained the purpose of the donations and did not mislead donors about the cause for which they were intended, so did not breach the Code of Fundraising Practice (the code) on this matter.

We found that the charity had kept the donations to the Ignite fund separate from general Parish funds and that the funds were used for the purpose for which they were donated. In addition, as the charity used the equipment bought for the Ignite event on that event, we found that it had used the donations for their intended purpose, despite utilising the equipment for the Parish in general. Therefore, we found that the charity had not breached the section of the code regarding how donations are used.

However, we found that the charity had breached the code by not explaining what would happen to donations if the fundraising target was either not met or exceeded.

We also found the charity did not have a complaints policy and although it has confirmed it is in the process of drafting one, this is a breach of the code. Nonetheless, we found the charity investigated the complaint thoroughly and responded appropriately, so it had not breached the code with regards to its complaints handling.

Recommendations

We recommended that the charity review future fundraising materials to ensure that where fundraising is for a particular purpose, it includes a statement on what will happen to donations if a fundraising target is not met or is exceeded.

We also asked that the charity provide us with a copy of its newly drafted complaints policy.

Outcome

The charity has accepted our recommendations. We asked that the charity write to us within two months of our final decision to outline the action taken in response to our findings and recommendations.