Many charity trustees across the UK, like the rest of us, have watched with horror the recent events that have unfolded in Ukraine. Some trustees may be wondering if there may be ways in which their charity could help the people of Ukraine.
The Charity Commission has recently published some new guidance for charity trustees looking to respond to the Ukraine crisis. This also contains some helpful links to further guidance where relevant.
We have summarised the answers to some key questions you may have below.
1. Could our charity help directly?
If you are a trustee of an existing charity, the first place to look to check whether your charity can use its resources to assist Ukraine will be your charity’s objects. These will be in your charity’s governing document.
If these cover, for example, relief for the victims of conflict and war, and/or the preservation of health of those seeking asylum, your charity may be well-placed to provide to people in need in Ukraine.
Many anti-corruption non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have warned for years of the risks posed by London and other cities providing safe havens for laundered proceeds of crime from oligarchs, and others have called for sanctions on Russia, in particular on hydrocarbons, both of which have relevance for the situation in Ukraine.
2. Could we raise funds for an existing appeal?
If assisting the people of Ukraine is within your charitable objects, your charity could launch an emergency appeal and raise funds to help people suffering in Ukraine.
The Charity Commission has provided some helpful guidance on how to do this, including advice about collaborating with other charities and managing risks when planning an appeal. See here for guidance on starting, running and supporting charity emergency appeals.
3. Could we set up a new charity?
If assisting the people of Ukraine is not within your charitable objects, or you are not currently a charity trustee, you might want to consider setting up a new charity. The Commission has seen a large number of applications to register charities seeking to alleviate the crisis in Ukraine.
However, it may actually be more helpful and efficient to support an established charity with relevant experience. Existing humanitarian charities know how to get help to those who need it, and how to operate safely in a conflict zone.
The Disasters Emergency Committee, a coalition of 15 UK charities, has launched its collective appeal for Ukraine and many other registered charities are also helping to provide vital services to those caught up in the conflict. More information about this can be found here.
4. …Or change our charity's charitable objects?
You could also consider amending your governing document to change your charity’s charitable objects. But this is a complicated process, so do consider first:
- Whether there are other charities that may be better placed to respond;
- The impact of changing your charity’s objects on your existing beneficiaries; and
- Whether changing your objects is in the best interests of your charity.
In considering the above, don’t forget to refer to the Commission’s guidance on trustee decision-making here.
5. What about safeguarding?
If your charity is able to assist directly by sending staff and/or volunteers to help on the ground in Ukraine, it will be important to consider the risks involved for those operating in a conflict zone, and the charity’s safeguarding obligations in respect of those staff and volunteers.
Protecting people is a fundamental part of operating as a charity, so it will be crucial for your charity to think about the risks involved for its staff and volunteers as well as its beneficiaries. Some useful advice can be found in:
- The Commission’s Safeguarding Guidance;
- The Commission’s Guidance on Managing Risks when Working Internationally; and
- The FCDO advice on travel to Ukraine.
Even if you have read the above advice before, it is worth checking them regularly as they are frequently updated to reflect changing levels of risk.
6. Could we work with a new partner?
If your charity does not have experience of working in a conflict zone, working with a new partner that does is a great way to help. If you are considering this, just remember to carry out due diligence on the individuals and organisations your charity will be working with (the “know your partner” principle).
Whether your charity is making grants to another organisation, or entering into agreements with another organisation to help your charity deliver assistance to those in need, make sure you assess any risks involved, and undertake thorough checks on everyone your charity works with to ensure that those partners are suitable and appropriate to partner with your charity.
This includes looking at the risks your charity’s staff and current partners are exposed to. In relation to Ukraine, you will need to think about risks inherent in a conflict situation and the need for medical and Hostile Environment Training; the pressures on Ukraine’s infrastructure; and the risk of a territory falling into enemy hands. Some parts of the world (particularly Russia) pose significant risks for staff working at an anti-corruption NGO, and their partners.
The Commission has some helpful guidance on the key issues to think about when considering working with new partners, which can be found here.
7. Should we organise an aid convoy?
If you are a trustee of a charity providing humanitarian support, the Commission recommends thinking carefully about whether organising and/or participating in a convoy is the most effective way to deliver aid to those in need. Supporting local economies by buying goods close to the point of need is often a more practical and sustainable way to help people in the longer term.
If your charity is purchasing or appealing for medicines, you should also be aware of the relevant regulations locally, so you can ensure you comply with those.
8. What about financial sanctions?
On that note, don’t forget that, whether or not your charity is responding to the Ukraine crisis, all charities registered in England and Wales are required to comply with the UK’s financial sanctions regulations. This is true even where your charity’s activities are carried out abroad.
The Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) publishes a list of all individuals subject to financial sanctions in the UK, and has produced helpful guidance for charities on how to ensure compliance with financial sanctions. This can be found here.
It is important to check whether any individuals or organisations your charity deals with are subject to financial sanctions, and take appropriate action to ensure you are not breaching the regulations. This includes knowing who your charity’s donors are, to make sure you know the sources of your charity’s funds (the “know your donor” principle).
The Commission has some helpful guidance on the key questions trustees should ask to ensure they know enough about their charity’s donors, which can be found here.
The new Charity Commission guidance can be read in full here. If you have any queries about the topics discussed above, or there are any other issues we can help you with, please do get in touch with Laura Sherratt or Ben Brice.
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