Fundraising office of Soldiers Off The Street: update

  1. Two days after publication of my last post, Soldiers Off The Street has now changed what it says on the website about the alleged fundraising office (see para 15 in last post).
  2. The charity has added an asterisk and footnote. The footnote states: “The fundraising office shown in the picture is the fundraising company the charity uses not the charity.” (screen shot in Figure 1).

    Figure 1. “Fundraising office” at 9 March 2016

    Figure 1. “Fundraising office” at 9 March 2016

Advertisements

Where is Soldiers Off The Street based and how does it organise fundraising?

  1. Freedom of Information requests show that although officially based in Rhyl, north Wales, the charity Soldiers Off The Street – or persons acting in its name – has recently applied to two local authorities for a street collection permit specifying as the charity address one of two addresses in Blackpool FY4. Both applications were successful and funds duly raised from the public – days apart – in different parts of the UK. This despite the fact that neither of the Blackpool addresses is on the public record for the charity. There is nothing about Blackpool on the Soldiers Off The Street website at date of publication either. Both local authorities thus failed to conduct due diligence on the applications, it seems. Further details in the applications show that there is an urgent need for clarity and transparency around both where Soldiers Off The Street is actually based and how it organises fundraising, particularly the role of subsidiary Soldiers Off The Street Fundraising Limited. The charity is unresponsive: it won’t even tell me via email the location of the alleged fundraising office in the photo on the website.
  2. The charity Soldiers Off The Street, for homeless military veterans, has received a lot of media attention since registration 26 August 2010 (registered charity number: 1137594). This is because former officials of the far-right British National Party (BNP) set it up. Bill Murray, chairman and founder of Soldiers Off The Street, for example, was the BNP’s former secretary for Wales, according to a March 2012 report in the Observer newspaper: www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/mar/25/soldiers-bnp-charity-links. In October 2015, David Davies MP, who served in the then Territorial Army, criticised the charity for its alleged links to the BNP after coming upon a fundraiser for the charity in his Monmouth constituency: http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/13883522.Charity_hits_back_after_Gwent_MP_s__far_right__BNP_claims.
  3. As you can see, at October 2015 Mr Murray told the South Wales Argus newspaper that Soldiers Off The Street has bases in Rhyl, Scotland, Lincolnshire and the Midlands. Nothing about Blackpool, then. There’s something else the chairman said: the fundraiser Mr Davies met in Monmouth had been employed by an “agency” to collect funds for the charity. In other words, the fundraiser was paid.
  4. Soldiers Off The Street isn’t a member of the official umbrella organisation for military charities, the Confederation of Service Charities (Cobseo). Cobseo director of operations, Cdr Debbie Whittingham, told me in an email that the charity has made it clear to her it will never apply for membership.
  5. On 23-25 November 2015, I encountered groups of people in military camo trousers collecting donations for Soldiers Off The Street in Manchester city centre, on busy Market Street. Two solicitations I repeatedly heard were “collecting for injured soldiers” and “help the soldiers”. Having confirmed with the licensing section of Manchester City Council (MCC) that it had authorised this fundraising, I obtained via a Freedom of Information request the application that the council had approved for the street collection permit. Here is MCC‘s redacted document: http://1drv.ms/1R1iIEM.
  6. On 12-13 November 2015, Soldiers Off The Street conducted a street collection in Dudley town centre, according to a December 2015 report in the Dudley News newspaper: http://www.dudleynews.co.uk/news/14129158.Dudley_shoppers_raise_hundreds_for_charity_that_helps_homeless_veterans/. Again, having confirmed with the licensing section of Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council (DMBC) that it had authorised this fundraising, I obtained obtained via a Freedom of Information request the application that the council had approved for the street collection permit. Here is DMBC‘s redacted document: http://1drv.ms/1M1ntGU.
  7. The first thing to notice is the charity address on the documents. Soldiers Off The Street is located in Rhyl, north Wales, according to both the public register at the Charity Commission and the charity website. Yet the documents specify the charity address as one of two addresses in Blackpool FY4. Both applications were successful and funds duly raised from the public – days apart – in the north west (Manchester city centre) and the west midlands (Dudley town centre). This despite the fact that neither of the Blackpool addresses is on the public record for the charity. There is nothing about Blackpool on the Soldiers Off The Street website at date of publication either. Both local authorities thus failed to conduct due diligence on the applications, it seems.
  8. The application to MCC is the most revealing – because its form is the more demanding. The application to MCC shows the charity or persons acting in its name – without explanation using the term “SOTSFR” in the address for Soldiers Off The Street. This is concerning because Blackpool FY4 company SOTSFR recently advertised for paid “face-to-face fundraisers” on the Indeed jobs website (screen shot in Figure 1). Note the “excellent rates of pay”. Yet the application to MCC states that the collectors won’t be remunerated out of the proceeds of the collection. In fact, there is no company called SOTSFR registered at Companies House.
    Figure 1. SOTSFR face-to-face fundraisers job ad at 23 December 2015

    Figure 1. SOTSFR face-to-face fundraisers job ad at 23 December 2015

    Figure 2. Charity website www.sotsfr.org.uk at 27 February 2016

    Figure 2. Charity website http://www.sotsfr.org.uk at 27 February 2016

  9. The relationship between SOTSFR and the charity is even more opaque. As the application to MCC and other evidence shows, the charity or persons acting in its name – often uses the domain name sotsfr.org.uk for email addresses. This despite the fact that the Soldiers Off The Street website is http://www.soldiersoffthestreet.org, according to the public register at the Charity Commission. The same charity website is at www.sotsfr.org.uk too (screen shot in Figure 2). Publicly available documents show that Soldiers Off The Street routinely uses the email address events2@sotsfr.org.uk, in particular. The charity did so when it was a trade stand exhibitor at the GWCT Scottish Game Fair (http://www.scottishfair.com), for examplein 2013 (screen shot in Figure 3) and 2014 (screen shot in Figure 4). Note also how the stated location of the charity varies: Preston (see below) in 2013 and Rhyl in 2014. The mobile phone number is nevertheless the same both years.
    Figure 3. Charity listing for 2013 GWCT Scottish Game Fair at 29 February 2016

    Figure 3. Charity listing for 2013 GWCT Scottish Game Fair at 29 February 2016

    Figure 4. Charity listing for 2014 GWCT Scottish Game Fair at 29 February 2016

    Figure 4. Charity listing for 2014 GWCT Scottish Game Fair at 29 February 2016

  10. The registrant of the domain name sotsfr.org.uk is Force10 IT Solutions Ltd: a UK individual at a Blackpool address, according to the WHOIS information. Although the company Force10 IT Solutions Ltd was dissolved in November 2005, sotsfr.org.uk was registered in April 2012. The registered office address of the company was in Preston and one of its directors was William Knight. Mr Knight is now a director of the firm Soldiers Off The Street Fundraising Limited (registered company number: 08361891), registered address also in Preston. The other director is Patrick Jarrett. In November 2012, Mr Knight and Mr Jarrett were two of three men cleared of fraud raising money for wounded soldiers as their Blackpool-based company Wounded Warrior Project UK Ltd: www.blackpoolgazette.co.uk/news/crime/men-cleared-of-soldier-charity-fraud-1-5104735. (The street name for Mr Knight in the newspaper report is the same for the registrant of the domain name sotsfr.org.uk, according to the WHOIS information.)
  11. Note: the registered office address of Soldiers Off The Street Fundraising Limited has never been in Blackpool; both addresses it has used to date are in Preston, according to Companies House records.
  12. Available online, an apparent job ad dated 20 February 2013 from Soldiers Off The Street Fundraising Limited for field sales/fundraiser explains the company is “a wholly owned subsidiary of the charity Soldiers Off The Street” (screen shot in Figure 5). Note both the Preston address and the email address bill@sotsfr.org.uk, which is presumably Bill (William) Knight.

    Figure 5. Soldiers Off The Street Fundraising Limited field sales/fundraiser job ad at 23 December 2015

    Figure 5. Soldiers Off The Street Fundraising Limited field sales/fundraiser job ad at 23 December 2015

  13. Soldiers Off The Street Fundraising Limited was incorporated 15 January 2013 with the charity as shareholder of the single £1 share. In January 2015, the company was nearly struck off the public register, according to Companies House information. Not a good sign. The charity has filed two sets of annual accounts at the Charity Commission since date of incorporation of the subsidiary for financial years end 28 August 2013 and 28 August 2014. Astonishingly, in both years neither the charity trustees’ annual report nor the attached charity accounts refer in any way to the company Soldiers Off The Street Fundraising Limited. Why not?
  14. There is no mention of Soldiers Off The Street Fundraising Limited on the charity website at date of publication and in either of the applications for a street collection permit. The term “SOTSFR” appears without explanation in the address for Soldiers Off The Street in the application to MCC, though.
  15. Soldiers Off The Street is unresponsive. There is a photo on the charity website of what is referred to as the fundraising office, “the hub of all our fundraising around the UK” (screen shot in Figure 6). Its location isn’t disclosed, though. Soldiers Off The Street won’t say where the alleged fundraising office is: I have twice asked in emails to both the address listed on the public register at the Charity Commission and events2@sotsfr.org.uk. I haven’t received a response from either address at date of publication.

    Figure 6. Charity “fundraising office” at 19 January 2016

    Figure 6. Charity “fundraising office” at 19 January 2016

  16. Soldiers Off The Street has received much scrutiny because of the charity’s alleged links to the BNP. But here I show that there is an urgent need for clarity and transparency around both where Soldiers Off The Street is actually based and how it organises fundraising, particularly the role of subsidiary Soldiers Off The Street Fundraising Limited.

The Royal British Legion: “To our knowledge we have not been offered or taken receipt of any funds from either Dove or Open Doors”

  1. Professional fundraiser Dove Promotions and linked charity Open Doors have been using without permission the names of three high-profile military charities to lend credibility to themselves and their fundraising activities. The three are: The Royal British Legion; ABF The Soldiers’ Charity; and SSAFA. Open Doors in its fundraising and website misleadingly creates the impression that it’s a military charity, when it isn’t one. Dove Promotions raises funds for the charity, claiming that Open Doors “in turn” supports the three high-profile military charities, along with two others. All three have now independently told Dove Promotions to remove their names from the company’s homepage, after I brought my findings to the attention of each. Two of them, ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and SSAFA, confirmed that they’ve accepted small donations from Open Doors. But The Royal British Legion has not: “To our knowledge we have not been offered or taken receipt of any funds from either Dove or Open Doors”, it said.
  2. Dove Promotions is the official professional fundraiser for charity Open Doors (registered charity number: 1006623) and its “Supporting our Heroes” campaign. For the background on Open Doors, see https://dralexmay.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/why-is-the-army-endorsing-the-unnecessary-non-transparent-and-unaccountable-charity-open-doors/. And the next post, https://dralexmay.wordpress.com/2015/07/20/professional-fundraiser-misrepresents-open-doors-as-a-military-charity-more-evidence/. Neither charity nor professional fundraiser is open or transparent about fundraising costs. The costs are hidden, inviting suspicion – and potential abuse. Rip-off fundraising costs are particularly common for dubious military charities, as this blog has exclusively revealed.
  3. The published business model (money flows) for Open Doors and its “Supporting our Heroes” campaign is: public -> Dove Promotions -> Open Doors -> The Royal British Legion and others. So this is the Dove Promotions homepage at 20 July 2015: http://web.archive.org/web/20150720102035/http://www.dovepromotionsltd.co.uk/. Here Dove Promotions claims that Open Doors “in turn” supports five military charities, including three high-profile ones: The Royal British Legion (registered charity number: 219279); ABF The Soldiers’ Charity (1146420); and SSAFA (210760). These three are members of Cobseo, the Confederation of Service Charities (https://www.cobseo.org.uk); the other two are not. Unsurprisingly, Open Doors isn’t a member of Cobseo either.
  4. The three Cobseo members have now independently told Dove Promotions to remove their names from the company’s homepage, after I brought my findings to the attention of each. Two of them, ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and SSAFA, confirmed that they’ve accepted small donations from Open Doors. But The Royal British Legion has not: “To our knowledge we have not been offered or taken receipt of any funds from either Dove or Open Doors”, said the Legion’s Guy Upward, Assistant Director of Fundraising: Individual Giving.
  5. Now the bad news. Named serving soldiers from the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment are still endorsing this opaque and unaccountable set-up. Unbelievably. One such is quoted in the announcement of the 17 August 2015 prize draw results on the Dove Promotions website. This after I’d written to the regimental secretary three times on this matter. (https://dralexmay.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/why-is-the-army-endorsing-the-unnecessary-non-transparent-and-unaccountable-charity-open-doors/)
  6. Well done to the three Cobseo members for independently acting to protect their reputations; and for being accountable to the public. Each has also acted in the public interest by taking public protection seriously. It isn’t only about their organisation and name. What a shame that the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment doesn’t seem to care.

Professional fundraiser misrepresents Open Doors as a military charity: more evidence

  1. In my last post I described how Open Doors in its fundraising and website misleadingly creates the impression that it’s a military charity, when it isn’t one.
  2. Here I provide evidence of Dove Promotions, the official professional fundraiser, going further than creating the impression. In June 2015, Dove Promotions was advertising jobs for fundraisers “to represent a military charity” on the Fish4jobs website (screen shot in Figure 1).

    Figure 1. Professional fundraiser job ad at 20 July 2015

    Figure 1. Professional fundraiser job ad at 20 July 2015

  3. Dove Promotions works with Open Doors only, according to the company’s website.

 

Why is the Army endorsing the unnecessary, non-transparent and unaccountable charity Open Doors?

  1. A charity is using named serving soldiers and their Army regiment to lend credibility to itself and its fundraising activities, yet it is neither open nor transparent about fundraising costs. The official professional fundraiser doesn’t routinely disclose the information either, and – again – won’t do so on request. Further, the charity in its fundraising and website misleadingly creates the impression that it’s a military charity, when it isn’t one. But even after I brought these and other issues to the attention of the regimental secretary, soldiers from his regiment are still endorsing the charity, which isn’t a member of Cobseo, the Confederation of Service Charities.
  2. Dove Promotions is the official professional fundraiser for charity Open Doors (registered charity number: 1006623) and its “Supporting our Heroes” campaign: http://www.dovepromotionsltd.co.uk. Although the campaign name creates the impression that Open Doors directly supports “heroes”, it isn’t a military charity. This is misleading. The charity in turn donates an undisclosed proportion of the funds it raises this way to actual military charities, according to the Dove Promotions homepage.
  3. But this business model isn’t disclosed on the “Supporting our Heroes” page on the Open Doors website. Here is that page at 6 July 2015: http://web.archive.org/web/20150706161929/http://www.open-doors.org.uk/supporting-our-heroes/. It says: “Our immediate aim is to provide support to our returning heroes and their families in whichever way we can.” This statement is misleading because – again – it implies that the charity directly supports “heroes”.
  4. I last wrote about my concerns about Open Doors and Dove Promotions in March 2015: https://dralexmay.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/stafford-or-stamford-lincs/. There I summarised multiple unsuccessful attempts to discover fundraising costs, including contacting Andy Pilley, the chairman of Fleetwood Town Football Club, who has conducted prize draws for Dove Promotions. (Dove Promotions is based in Thornton-Cleveleys, part of the Blackpool Urban Area.) How much of the £2.50 prize draw ticket price goes to charity Open Doors? Mr Pilley also declined to answer the legitimate question, not replying to emails at the end of 2014.
  5. The Army first publicly endorsed Open Doors and Dove Promotions, to my knowledge, on publication of the 16 February 2015 prize draw results. Here are those results on the Dove Promotions website at 17 February 2015: http://web.archive.org/web/20150217151915/http://www.dovepromotionsltd.co.uk/dove-promotions-latest-news.php. The named serving soldiers there are from the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, two males. This endorsement prompted me to write to the regimental secretary (email). (http://www.army.mod.uk/infantry/regiments/29504.aspx) Col Chris Owen replied that day (17 February 2015): “Thank you, we will look into the mater [sic].”
  6. On 16 March 2015, I sent a reminder to Col Owen after hearing nothing four weeks later. Still no reply. I then wrote for the third and last time, 10 June 2015. There I stated that Dove Promotions continues to associate itself with the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, citing the 18 May 2015 prize draw results on the firm’s website. (See those results on the professional fundraiser’s website at 3 June 2015: http://web.archive.org/web/20150603160734/http://www.dovepromotionsltd.co.uk/dove-promotions-latest-news.php.) I also explained why I was still concerned about this fundraising, with a link to my latest blog post on this set-up from March 2015. I said that this would be the last time I’d contact him on this matter. Again no response.
  7. Open Doors isn’t a military charity, as we know. On this the charity’s latest accounts, for 31 July 2014, are revealing. There in the one-page annual report David Papagavriel, trustee and public contact, writes: “From April 2014, we appointed an outside promotions company to raise funds on our behalf. Their sole activity was to run a prize draw in our name. From the period between May-July 2014, we netted a profit of over £9 500.” So Dove Promotions isn’t even identified. More importantly, there is no mention of the military “heroes” in whose name Open Doors and the professional fundraiser are raising funds. Here the accounts don’t even state that the charity in turn donates a proportion (undisclosed, remember) of the funds it raises this way to actual military charities. The charity’s business model for its “Supporting our Heroes” campaign is only specified – incompletely – on the Dove Promotions homepage. The accounts don’t mention the armed forces anywhere, let alone “Supporting our Heroes.”
  8. But it’s not just the accounts. The entry for Open Doors on the online charity register (at Charity Commission website) says nothing about the armed forces either.
  9. Because the Army is endorsing Open Doors it is reasonable for the public to assume that the charity is credible and worthy of support. Yet it isn’t a member of Cobseo, the Confederation of Service Charities: https://www.cobseo.org.uk. Has the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment really done its due diligence?
  10. Whatever the exact fundraising costs, it is already clear that this is an inefficient way for the public to support military charities. It has to be, by definition. There are unnecessary intermediaries, Dove Promotions and then Open Doors, between the public and the military charities. Both intermediaries take a cut (whatever it is for each).
  11. Disintermediation is the answer. Anyone wishing to donate to military charities should do so directly to Cobseo members, bypassing these unnecessary, non-transparent and unaccountable intermediaries. That way more of their money will reach the intended recipients. So why is the Army endorsing Open Doors and its misleading “Supporting our Heroes” campaign?