Families of the Brave shows how hard it is to “give with confidence”

  1. This is an investigation into the activities of military charity Families of the Brave and their official professional fundraiser, Sterling Support. In June 2013, I began examining both after encountering them apparently fundraising in central Manchester. I quickly discovered that Sterling Support used to raise funds for another military charity – Army of Angels. Hence my 18 February 2014 post on Army of Angels, “Can we trust Army of Angels?” (https://dralexmay.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/can-we-trust-army-of-angels/) I haven’t written about Families of the Brave until now because I’ve been waiting to receive some information about them from an organisation, after repeated requests. On 17 March 2014, hotel Hilton Blackpool finally told me it wasn’t going to answer my public interest question, after all. I must describe my findings on Families of the Brave now after two media reports on the charity, both dated 13 March 2014. Here I reveal three striking similarities between the activities of Families of the Brave with Sterling Support and those of Afghan Heroes with their official professional fundraiser, Prize Promotions Limited. Families of the Brave, Sterling Support and Prize Promotions Limited are all located in the Blackpool postcode area. Families of the Brave shows that regulation both of charities and their fundraising is not fit for purpose.
  2. Andrew Penman exposed Families of the Brave in his 13 March 2014 column in the Daily Mirror newspaper, “Heroes sold short by services charity: draw raises cash for troops… but keeps up to 80%”. (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/families-brave-forces-charity-keeps-3234525) Penman encountered a Families of the Brave stall at “a busy mainline station”. There representatives of the official professional fundraiser, Sterling Support, were selling “prize draw” tickets costing £2.50 each – of which a minimum of only 20% goes to the charity. Unfortunately, he failed to mention use of the same rip-off “prize draws” by Prize Promotions Limited, the official professional fundraiser for military charity Afghan Heroes. (https://dralexmay.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/the-fundraiser-the-comedian-and-the-ex-cabinet-minister-the-tale-of-a-military-charity/) On 20 February 2014, I had brought to the attention of Penman (email) my investigation into the activities of Afghan Heroes and their official professional fundraiser in different parts of Greater Manchester. This was after his 13 February 2014 column on Afghan Heroes.
  3. The other 13 March 2014 media report on Families of the Brave was on the Third Sector website, “Charity Commission quizzes military charities over use of funds”. (http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/go/news/article/1285051/charity-commission-quizzes-military-charities-use-funds/) Sam Burne Jones tells us that the Charity Commission has apparently “raised a number of questions” with both Families of the Brave and Army of Angels over their involvement with Sterling Support. It seems that the commission itself hasn’t announced its actions: there’s nothing in the news section on its website.
  4. Before June 2013, I’d never heard of Families of the Brave (registered charity number: 1151982). On 26 June 2013, I encountered on Market Street, Manchester city centre an organised team of people in Families of the Brave branded clothing selling the charity’s wristbands. Their solicitation was: “Do you want to buy a wristband for the soldiers?” I obtained a leaflet about Families of the Brave, “Support our injured military personnel and their families today”, from one of the sellers. The team was from Sterling Support.
  5. This apparent fundraising activity was illegal: a Freedom of Information request to Manchester City Council showed that on 26 June 2013, the council had not granted a “street collection permit” to any organisation for the city centre (this includes Market Street).
  6. This illegal selling by Sterling Support of charity wristbands on the street is another similarity with Afghan Heroes. It was on Market Street last summer that I repeatedly also encountered teams of people from Prize Promotions Limited in Afghan Heroes branded clothing illegally selling Afghan Heroes wristbands. (https://dralexmay.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/the-fundraiser-the-comedian-and-the-ex-cabinet-minister-the-tale-of-a-military-charity/)
  7. There is a third similarity with Prize Promotions Limited: geography. Families of the Brave and Sterling Support are both located in Poulton-Le-Fylde, Lancashire. Prize Promotions Limited is based in neighbouring Blackpool. All three are therefore in the FY postcode area (also known as the Blackpool postcode area). Blackpool has previous form: see the Wounded Warrior Project UK Ltd, another Blackpool company. (http://www.blackpoolgazette.co.uk/news/crime/men-cleared-of-soldier-charity-fraud-1-5104735)
  8. Both the Families of the Brave leaflet I obtained on Market Street and their homepage (http://www.familiesofthebrave.org) display the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) “give with confidence” tick logo. I confirmed on the FRSB website that Families of the Brave is a member (since July 2013).
  9. What is the FRSB? Established in 2006, the FRSB is “the only independent self-regulatory scheme for fundraising in the UK” (http://www.frsb.org.uk). Members commit to the FRSB’s “high standards” of fundraising (http://www.frsb.org.uk/what-we-do/the-standards); and display the FRSB “give with confidence” tick logo (http://www.frsb.org.uk/what-we-do/the-frsb-tick). Charities pay an annual fee for membership.
  10. Families of the Brave is a new charity (registered 10 May 2013), not yet filing accounts. This means very little information about them is available to the public on the Charity Commission website. But that Families of the Brave is a member of the FRSB encourages the public to be confident in and trust the charity.
  11. Families of the Brave is also a member of the Institute of Fundraising (IoF) (http://www.institute-of-fundraising.org.uk). Yet the charity’s homepage does not display the IoF logo. According to the IoF, Families of the Brave became a member in August 2013. Members commit to the IoF’s Code of Fundraising Practice (http://www.institute-of-fundraising.org.uk/guidance/code-of-fundraising-practice). The Code is informed by four values: legal, open, honest and respectful.
  12. Again, that Families of the Brave is a member of the IoF encourages the public to be confident in and trust the charity.
  13. Professional fundraiser Sterling Support is not a member of either the FRSB or the IoF.
  14. Although there are many issues with the Sterling Support website (http://www.sterling-support.co.uk), here I want to consider two pages only.
  15. First, the “Our clients” page. This specifies just two charities: existing client, Families of the Brave and former client, Army of Angels. It shows a photo of copies of the Families of the Brave leaflet, “Support our injured military personnel and their families today”, I obtained on Market Street from Sterling Support. At the top of the page, it says in red: “This page is currently being updated. Sorry for any inconvenience”. Yet the page has always said that since July 2013 when I first looked at the website.
  16. Second, the “Our people” page. Here the three paragraphs are highly similar to the three paragraphs on the “Our people” page of the website of company Home Fundraising (http://www.homefundraising.com). First paragraph (Sterling Support vs. Home Fundraising): “Our staff are your staff from the publics [sic] perspective so we spend a great deal of time and effort finding, retraining [sic] and motivating the right people.” vs. “In the public’s eyes, our staff are your staff. So we spend a great deal of time and effort finding, keeping and motivating brilliant people.” Second paragraph: “We are the only face to face fundraising company of our type that offers a national reach.” vs. “We are the only door-to-door fundraising company with national reach that…”. Third paragraph: “The successful applicants receive ongoing training, a fair rate of pay and plenty of opportunities to move up. Most of our team managers started on the ground floor gaining essential experience to pass onto new starters.” vs. “Only one applicant in five passes our selection process. Once they’re on board they receive ongoing training, highly competitive pay and plenty of opportunities to move up. Most of our management staff started on the street – giving them a unique insight into the sharp end of the campaigns they manage.” It is clear that Sterling Support plagiarised Home Fundraising.
  17. Even after the Mirror’s Penman instigated removal of the official Armed Forces logos, there are many issues with the Families of the Brave website, too. I want to highlight the “Events” page, where the charity states that on 20 December 2013 it held its “Christmas Ball” at hotel Hilton Blackpool. There are no other details and only one photo – of what seems to be a generic function room, empty (without people) and unidentified. It could be anywhere. Searching online for reliable, independent references to this purported event – media reports, for example – was (is) unsuccessful. This made me suspicious. But there was another way to check this claim, or so I thought: ask Hilton Blackpool, as the claim was public.
  18. On 7 February 2014, I emailed the events team at Hilton Blackpool, with the link to the “Events” page on the Families of the Brave website. I asked them to tell me whether that event really did take place at the hotel.
  19. On 14 February 2014, I called the events team, not having received a reply. I spoke to Izzy Taylor, who told me that she couldn’t find the email in their inbox. I then told her the query, emphasising that the claim from the charity is public and offered the link to the page. She said she couldn’t answer because of “data protection”, adding: “if the charity says it held an event at the hotel, I’m sure it did.” After I protested at the credulity, she said I could forward the original email to her personal address at the hotel. In her immediate acknowledgement, she said that she’d pass my message to “our legal team”, telling me that they will need to know “in what respect this information is required”. So, I sent another message that day explaining that I was a member of the public, currently investigating the charity because it had aroused my suspicions in several ways. I repeated that the claim from Families of the Brave was public, and as such my strong belief that it was in the public interest for me (or anyone else) to be able to verify the claim independently.  I concluded by providing a link to my investigation into Afghan Heroes.
  20. On 28 February 2014, I sent a reminder to Ms Taylor, having heard nothing. She replied immediately: “I have forwarded your e-mails onto our legal team who are looking into this matter and will be in touch in due course.”
  21. Another two weeks later, 14 March 2014, I sent another reminder to Ms Taylor. In her 17 March 2014 reply, she said: “…I have considered this matter with our legal department. It is our policy not to give out information regarding any guests or clients that have stayed with us, nor any event that may have taken place at the hotel. I can only suggest contacting Families of the Brave directly once again.”
  22. Why has Hilton Blackpool acted against the public interest? We deserve to know whether Families of the Brave really did hold its “Christmas Ball” at the hotel on 20 December 2013.
  23. Here I have revealed three striking similarities between the activities of Families of the Brave with Sterling Support and those of Afghan Heroes with Prize Promotions Limited. (https://dralexmay.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/the-fundraiser-the-comedian-and-the-ex-cabinet-minister-the-tale-of-a-military-charity/) Families of the Brave, Sterling Support and Prize Promotions Limited are all located in the Blackpool postcode area. Families of the Brave shows that regulation both of charities and their fundraising is not fit for purpose. A new charity, it has not yet filed accounts. So, very little information about them is available to the public on the Charity Commission website. Yet Families of the Brave seems credible: it is a member of both the FRSB and the IoF, after all. The Charity Commission tells Third Sector that it has “raised a number of questions” with both Families of the Brave and Army of Angels over their involvement with Sterling Support. But the public is in the dark: there’s nothing in the news section on the commission’s website. Finally, does the fact that a charity is a member of either or both of the FRSB and the IoF really help the public?
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5 thoughts on “Families of the Brave shows how hard it is to “give with confidence”

  1. Pingback: Accessible Aid For Heroes: a new Blackpool “heroes” military charity | Dr Alex May

  2. Well I feel truly ripped off now. How can they continue to operate legally as a charity. I bought £20 worth of raffle tickets from them at Richmond, Surrey station. Grrrr really cross! Thanks for your blog

  3. Pingback: Army of Angels: From TTS Promotions to Vale Promotions | Dr Alex May

  4. Pingback: Families of the Brave removed from the charity register | Dr Alex May

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