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I recently received a letter from my son’s school saying that they had chosen to support Operation Christmas Child as their chosen Christmas charity. This involves pupils filling a shoe box with items such as hats and gloves and small toys, and wrapping it up in Christmas paper to be distributed around the world to needy children.
It’s the second year the school has chosen this particular charity and my son really enjoys gathering up good quality football kit he has outgrown, pens and notebooks and knowing the items are going to a boy somewhere in the world the same age as him who really needs them. However, this year’s request struck a chord, mainly because charities and ethical investing are big themes in this month’s issue. So, for the first time, I looked at the charity’s website to find out more about them.
It was a fascinating exercise in how our perceptions of a charity can be completely out of line with what the charity is set up to do. In the case of Operation Christmas Child, by digging around on the site I discovered this was a Wrexham-based children's charity that in 1995 merged with Samaritan's Purse, a charity originally launched in the UK by the legendary Dr Billy Graham. The charity’s main aim is to spread the Gospel, and children receiving their Christmas shoe boxes also receive religious literature and are invited to attend a local church.
While this particular insight may annoy unwary donors who disagree with the religious aspect of the charity, it does not make it legally wrong simply because the donor has assumed the charity’s only purpose is to provide a good Christmas to children in need. Nor does it change the fact that, as one of the world’s largest children’s Christmas appeals, the charity provides a drop of happiness and relief to millions of children worldwide at a time of year when they would otherwise receive nothing.
What it does do is highlight the importance of understanding the distinction between the legal position of the charity’s purpose or ‘objects’ and the responsibility of the trustees to ensure that the charity fulfills those charitable purpose. As we hear in this month’s sector report on charities, the two are often misunderstood. In the case of Operation Christmas Child, while the trustees are indeed fullfilling the aims of the charity as stated, the one area of criticism would be not making those aims crystal clear so donors can make an informed decison about whether to give or not to give. Indeed, it's an area many charities could improve on.
Allied to this theme, this month’s issue also takes a look at ethical investments. With the latest figures from the Investment Management Association (IMA) confirming that gross retail sales into UK ethical funds were up by 25 per cent in the second quarter of 2011, compared with the same quarter in 2010, we explore how a company can define an ethical investment strategy.
We hope you find this month's topics of interest and, at the very least, they provide food for thought.
If you would like to comment on any of the issues raised, or would like us to cover a particular topic in future issues then please let us know.
Deborah Benn, Editor.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of Mazars.