Commitment, Croydon-style: charity which benefits business

A Croydon-based charity which next month is staging a high-profile fund-raising abseil off Taberner House has been issued with an official warning that it is in default of its legal duties.

Croydon Commitment – with the slogan “Charity is our Business” – is less than business-like when it comes to filing its annual accounts. It is also more than a little reticent in identifying what good causes benefit from its fund-raising.

And according to its latest accounts, only made available today, in 2012 it spent £71,000 on fund-raising, but paid out nothing on “charitable activities”.

Bit vague on detail: Croydon Commitment has been unable to state which volunteer groups and charities benefit

Bit vague on detail: Croydon Commitment has struggled to state which volunteer groups and charities benefit

Based at the Sydenham Road offices of Mott MacDonald, the global engineering firm, Croydon Commitment has strong links with the local council as well as the Whitgift Foundation, Westfield, the mall developers, and Croydon BID, the business improvement district around North End.

Croydon Commitment claims to have raised a total of  £750,000 since it was formed in 2004.

But visit its website, and the page to detail which good causes have benefited from the fund-raising over the past decade is blank: “Information to follow” is the disappointing message there.

Those who have volunteered to take part in the organisation’s next event, Jump Croydon on December 6, have been asked to pay £20 to cover the costs of staging the event and given a sponsorship goal of at least £100 for  abseiling 250 feet off Taberner House. But when we asked a couple of the fund-raisers what their sponsorship cash would go to help, they told Inside Croydon that they had not been told.

Inside Croydon approached Croydon Commitment a week ago for details of the funds raised over the past three years, the causes that have benefited and how much these local charities or volunteer groups have each received. It took until late today for the organisation to make a limited amount of those figures available.

Not for the first time, this year Croydon Commitment’s accounts were late in being filed with the Charity Commission, leading to the formal warning. Since 2008, Croydon Commitment has never managed to file its accounts on time; in one instance they were nearly two years late in filing their financial documents with the Commission.

The 2012 figures were supposed to have been lodged by the beginning of this month. Those accounts, now seen by Inside Croydon, were uploaded to the Charity Commission website this morning, we are told.

According to the figures that are on the official Charity Commission website, for 2011, Croydon Commitment raised £113,000, of which £50,000 – less than 45 per cent – went to good causes.

The year before, £106,000 was raised, with £61,000 handed over to (as yet unspecified to us) good causes.

But the latest accounts, for 2012, suggest that £68,767 was raised through charitable activities, donations and investments, with not a single penny being donated to local causes that year. More than £71,000 was spent during the year on fund-raising activities.

On the face of it, Croydon Commitment is a neat idea, in that under one umbrella organisation it offers local businesses a corporate social responsibility, or CSR, outlet. “Demonstrate and receive recognition for commitment to the community”, they tell businesses on their website.

“Gain access to a cost effective, readily available programme of CSR activities for employees, which will improve morale and help build a greater understanding and stronger engagement with the community in which they work”, they add.

“Cost-effective”, of course, is another way of saying “cheap”, or “paid for by volunteers who jump off tall buildings to raise money”.

Fiona Smout, from the organisation, told Inside Croydon: “Croydon Commitment is not just about fund-raising. It is very much about business-community engagement in the form of generating volunteers from local companies to become involved in projects to help local organisations, be it outdoor gardening for a children’s centre, or painting a reception area, offering work experience and feedback on CVs.

“We are currently co-ordinating the collection of food and distribution of hampers to the elderly of Croydon, assisting in a Christmas lunch and of course drumming up support for the abseil.”

But would the people girding their loins to leap off Taberner House, and their generous sponsors, be quite so prepared to reach into their pockets or go to such lengths if they knew just how little of the money they raise actually gets handed over to good causes?

Croydon Commitment says that it made the following grants to local organisations in March this year:

  • Advice, Support & Knowledge received £3,120
    (improving self esteem & employability skills of young people from BME communities)
  • Rise Media received £4,000
    (work experience for 11-25 year olds by involving them in “Limelight” magazine)
  • Empowered to Succeed received £5,317
    (providing 1-2-1 mentoring, CV help, etc to young people, esp 16-18 NEETs)
  • Lives Not Knives received £4,700
    (roadshows to raise awareness of dangers of joining gangs)
  • African Youth Development Association received £6,000
    (training for young adults to acquire a qualification)
  • Friends of Thornton Heath received £810
    (edible garden project)
  • A grand total of £23,947

Jon Hill, the chairman of charity’s trustees, said, “Croydon Commitment’s primary purpose is as a vehicle for businesses in Croydon to assist with CSR, not to raise money.” 

Hill, who runs DMC Business Machines on Imperial Way, explained: “If you look at Croydon Commitment’s website you will see countless examples of the types of things we do. All our corporate members (again as listed on the website) pay an annual fee to cover the costs of providing these services and our day-to-day activities.

“Certainly in pre-recession days the membership fees more than covered our costs. Unfortunately that is no longer possible but remains a primary objective of the board. Clearly attracting new corporate members is a key to achieving this.

“Events like the abseil are run to raise additional funds to cover any shortfall in members’ fees and of course also allow us to support worthy causes, currently focusing on youth unemployment, clearly an important issue to employers in the borough.”

For the past three years, Croydon Commitment has spent far more on staging fund-raising events than the amount it actually distributes.

The Charity Commission has no guidelines on what proportion of a charity’s income should be spent on administration and other costs. But they do have strict rules about financial accountability.

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commissioners told Inside Croydon: “We are aware of and concerned about the charity’s poor filing history.”

Steve Phaure, CVA CEO: charity trustee

Steve Phaure, CVA CEO: a charity trustee

Speaking before the 2012 accounts were submitted today, the spokeswoman said, “We have repeatedly reminded the trustees of their duty to file annual information and, most recently, have written to the trustees to ask why they are currently in default of their legal duties and responsibilities under the Charities Act 2011 to submit information and documentation to the Commission as the regulator.

“We have also reminded the trustees that the charity’s entry on the Commission website currently shows a red banner indicating that there is an issue with the submission of important financial documentation.”

As well as Hill, Croydon Commitment’s trustees include Katharine Glass, from Croydon Council’s favourite PR agency, White Label; Stuart Yeatman, from John Laing, the partners with Croydon Council in the £450 million CURV property scheme; and Steve Phaure, the former council employee who is now chief executive of Croydon Voluntary Action.

The Charity Commission offered this advice to anyone when considering raising money for charities generally: “We encourage funders, donors and beneficiaries to use the online register to inform their decisions.

“If a charity’s entry shows it has been persistently late in filing its annual information, this might adversely impact on its ability to raise funds.”

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3 Responses to Commitment, Croydon-style: charity which benefits business

  1. “Croydon Commitment has raised over £750,000 towards our Grassroots Trust that we award to local charities in our borough”

    So how much of this total has actually been received by local charities? The website news clearly suggests that that money all has gone to local charities.

    According to John Laing accounts 2012:

    “All the money raised for Croydon Commitment’s Grass Roots Trust has been matched pound for pound by the Government, providing a total legacy for the Grassroots Fund of £440,000.”

    So that is £220,000 of corporate giving by John Laing, match-funded by the taxman (£220,000) on the understanding it was going to benefit grassroots Croydon charities. So where is that money? And precisely how has it benefited Croydon grassroot charities?

    If you follow the notes to the accounts the good causes seem to be to a fund managed by CVA and The Capital Community Foundation – but it is difficult to see very much actual disbursements of funds.

  2. And who are The Capital Community Foundation? CVA’s accounts for 2010 describe them as:

    “Capital Community Foundation (CCF) is the sole corporate trustee” ….of “The Croydon Community Fund’ for the benefit of the communities of the London Borough of Croydon” …”CCF being the lead Charity”.
    BUT when you search for a charity called: Capital Community Foundation on the Charities Commission website no such charity exists.

    It all seems an extraordinarily convoluted way of giving money to support Croydon’s grassroots charities. Which leads one to ask the standard question: Who is actually benefiting from this maze of transactions?

  3. markracers says:

    What worries me that the CEO of the local charity supporting the charity world and I would think setting a good example, and is a key director of such a weirdly set up charity, which as Charlotte says is so convoluted. Where the checks and balances regarding Capital Community Foundation?

    Why did it rake so long to get their accounts on the Charity Commission website?

    A lot of mysteries which need answers.

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