A-SOLDIERS-JOURNEY.CO.UK: The hidden cost of generating funds – and the hidden professional fundraiser

  1. The latest accounts for the charity A-SOLDIERS-JOURNEY.CO.UK hide both the cost of generating funds and the involvement of a professional fundraiser. In doing so the accounts considerably overstate the expenditure on charitable activities. When I queried this, the founder of the military charity, who is both a trustee and public contact, was defensive and obstructive. Finally, he expressly instructed me to contact a named individual at the Blackpool-based charity’s accountants. But this person was obstructive and obfuscatory. It was only when I asked the charity founder why the accountant didn’t seem to want to communicate in writing for the record that I received a very short email response via the founder. Yet this failed to explain why the accounts hide both the cost of generating funds and the involvement of a professional fundraiser. It merely stated that the cost of generating funds was included under “events expenses”. And that was it – one sentence. This response is inadequate because the accounts show “events expenses” as an item under cost of charitable activities. The absence of cost of generating funds is misleading and means that the accounts considerably overstate the expenditure on charitable activities. Cost of generating funds will include those costs incurred in working with a professional fundraiser, among other costs. Cost of charitable activities and cost of generating funds are distinct and should be shown separately. In contrast to the accounts, the charity homepage says it works with a professional fundraiser, MAG Events Ltd, also of Blackpool. But the website fails to specify when the company became official professional fundraiser. In August 2015, the charity founder told me in an email that they’d been working together for “about 15 months”. The latest charity accounts are financial year-end (FYE) 30 September 2014, so these should disclose their relationship and associated money flows. They don’t. Besides the accounts, there’s another concern: the professional fundraiser itself. It’s jointly owned by a leading light at Prize Promotions Limited, the discredited Blackpool professional fundraiser, now in administration.
  2. Registered October 2012, A-SOLDIERS-JOURNEY.CO.UK (registered charity number: 1149233) is a Blackpool-based charity raising funds for charities supporting wounded soldiers and their families. Its founder is former Sgt Rick Clement of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, who was seriously injured in Afghanistan April 2010, aged 30. “I lost both my legs and almost my right arm as well as suffering massive internal injuries that left me unable to have children after stepping on an IED,” says Mr Clement on the charity website, a-soldiers-journey.co.uk.
  3. The charity homepage proclaims the official professional fundraiser, MAG Events Ltd, whose “teams” can be found “in a venue or an event throughout the UK” (screen shot in Figure 1). More about the company later. There are two accounts for the charity, FYE 30 September 2013 and FYE 30 September 2014. Cost of generating funds isn’t specified in either. Expenditure, according to the notes on p.7 of both, is assigned to one of three categories: cost of generating funds; cost of charitable activities; and cost of governance. Yet cost of generating funds isn’t shown in the expenditure breakdown on p.12 of both accounts. Absence of cost of generating funds was the motivation for asking Mr Clement two questions in an email 19 August 2015. First, when did MAG Events Ltd start working with the charity? Second, did the charity work with professional fundraisers before MAG Events Ltd? If so, who and when?

    Figure 1. MAG Events Ltd on charity homepage at 20 August 2015

    Figure 1. MAG Events Ltd on charity homepage at 20 August 2015

  4. In his same-day reply, he told me: “I’m not wishing to divulge any information over email. I would be happy to arrange a meeting with both myself and those running MAG Events to gain a greater knowledge of who you are and why your [sic] asking these questions.” On 20 August 2015, I explained the interest: I’d been reading the accounts for the charity, adding that these are publicly available. The questions in my first message are simple and clear, I said. They’re legitimate questions for a charity trustee. I finished by saying I was surprised, asking: “Why don’t you want to answer those questions in an email?” Again, Mr Clement responded that day. He now invited me to call to “discuss” the questions. On 21 August 2015, I thanked him in an email for the offer to speak on the phone, but said I didn’t think it was necessary. He knew my name.
  5. I next heard from him 25 August 2015, when he decided to answer the questions in an email: “MAG Events have been our fundraising partner for about 15 months. This is the only company we have ever used and only did our own fundraising events before that.” In my reply 27 August 2015, I explained that cost of generating funds isn’t specified in either accounts; and asked him to account for the absence of cost of generating funds. Cost of generating funds will include those costs incurred in working with a professional fundraiser, among other costs. At August 2015 A-SOLDIERS-JOURNEY.CO.UK had been working with MAG Events Ltd for “about 15 months” – so where is cost of generating funds in the latest accounts?
  6. On 9 September 2015, for an answer to the question, Mr Clement in an email expressly instructed me to contact a named individual, Dominic Donleavy, at the charity’s accountants, Crossley & Davis of Blackpool. That day I emailed Mr Donleavy the question with all necessary background. Yet his same-day response invited me to call “to discuss further”. On 10 September 2015, I wrote: “Let’s do this in writing for the record, please. Email.” His second message (11 September 2015) was obstructive and obfuscatory: “As you will appreciate all of our client’s details are confidential and therefore any information released has to be authorised. Additionally I am unsure of who you are, please can you contact me before I prepare a response.” My third and final message (14 September 2015) dealt with his latest points. I wasn’t seeking personal data and/or information relating to the charity. None such were required to answer the question. As to my identity, I reminded him that he knew my name. I explicitly stated that I write a blog at dralexmay.wordpress.com, as Mr Clement had observed in his first email. The blog confirms my identity and email address. But I finished: “Yet who I am isn’t actually relevant anyway. I could be anyone. That’s the point. Charities must be accountable to the public. I’m a member of the public with a legitimate question for trustee Mr Clement. Your client has expressly instructed me to contact you for an answer.”
  7. On 30 September 2015, I contacted Mr Clement to confirm that I’d received nothing from Mr Donleavy at Crossley & Davis after my third email to him 14 September 2015. I then asked: “Why doesn’t Mr Donleavy seem to want to answer the question in writing for the record?” On 5 October 2015, Mr Clement wrote in an email that Mr Donleavy “was ignoring you but as you can imagine is very busy.” But even less satisfactory was the enclosed response from the accountant: “Further to your query in respect of the charities [sic] filed accounts I can respond. The costs you are referring to have been included under ‘events expenses’. I trust this answers your question.”
  8. So the latest accounts for the charity hide both the cost of generating funds and the involvement of a professional fundraiser. In doing so the accounts considerably overstate the expenditure on charitable activities. But what are the exact figures? Charity income was £106 900 FYE 30 September 2014; while expenditure on charitable activities is reported as £109 073. Yet the latter includes “events expenses” of £36 198. In fact, “donations to charities” of £63 026 is the only item under cost of charitable activities that is unambiguously a charitable activity.
  9. Now I turn to another concern: the professional fundraiser itself. It’s jointly owned by a leading light at Prize Promotions Limited, the discredited Blackpool professional fundraiser, now in administration. For a review of Prize Promotions Limited, see my 11 August 2015 post on Targeted Management Limited, another Blackpool company owned by the same person (Tony Chadwick). So who is MAG Events Ltd? Well, for a start, the company has recently changed name to A Soldiers [sic] Journey Events Limited – as of 28 August 2015, according to Companies House records (registered company number: 08897182). But you wouldn’t know from the charity homepage: at date of publication MAG Events Ltd is still listed as official professional fundraiser. A Soldiers Journey Events Limited has two directors: Darren Mason and Zachary Griffin. Like the notorious Prize Promotions Limited, their company doesn’t have a website. For information or enquiries about the professional fundraiser, the charity homepage says to call Darren (no second name) on a mobile number. Absence of a landline contact number doesn’t inspire confidence. The Charity Commission explicitly warns the public not to donate to charitable collections where fundraising materials only bear a mobile number – see the fourth of nine checks the commission recommends in the London-wide safer giving campaign: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/commission-backs-london-wide-safer-giving-campaign. Here it’s even worse: the professional fundraiser itself only uses a mobile number. In fact, it’s the same mobile number Mr Mason used in the name of Prize Promotions Limited on fundraising materials when it worked with failed military charity Afghan Heroes (registered charity number: 1132340): see Figure 4 in my 6 January 2014 post. As you can see, he also used his first name only then (2013) for an official leaflet distributed by highly misleading, organised teams of paid street-sellers of Afghan Heroes wristbands. Further evidence of Mr Mason’s senior role at Prize Promotions Limited is on the website of Bo-Concepts, the self-styled “experts in promotional space management”. Mr Mason for Prize Promotions Limited praises the company on its testimonials page (screen shot in Figure 2).

    Figure 2. Darren Mason on Bo-Concepts website at 9 October 2015

    Figure 2. Darren Mason on Bo-Concepts website at 9 October 2015

  10. On 13 October 2015, I emailed Mr Clement to ask: “Does it not concern you that Darren Mason is or was a leading light at Prize Promotions Limited, the discredited Blackpool professional fundraiser, now in administration?” In his same-day reply, he wrote: “I am aware of Darren Mason working for them and that this company had a bad reputation.” But Mr Clement was “confident with myself overseeing that nothing untoward will happen and that should it, I would identify it within a week and cut ties.” He finished by saying how proud he was of the charity, and then: “I won’t let anyone or anything damage that reputation as it would jeopardise my ultimate goal of helping those who need it.”
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