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October 2014 Print Issue

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thumb 0Contributions hindered as some question where their money goes

Fraudulent causes, donation pocketing and untrustworthy volunteers.

These may be a few reasons why some Canadians aren't donating to non-profits and charities.

Aisté (Pixie) Bickuté, a former Ace 1 Advertising and Acquisitions  employee that represented Third World aid agency Plan Canada, experienced that first hand.

"People sometimes questioned my position, thinking I'm just going to put the money in my pocket or something," Bickuté said.

"The stigma of people falsely using donation money has had a major effect on people supporting the less-fortunate."

Bickuté quit her job with the company because the rejection from potential sponsors was so disheartening that she found it too emotionally draining to handle.

Although Bickuté's hunt for finding child sponsorships came to a halt, Canadians still hold on to the fear of their donation money ending up in the wrong hands.

A recent survey, conducted by Capital One in partnership with CanadaHelps, suggests that 51 per cent of Canadians are concerned about being a victim of a fraudster representing a false charity. Meanwhile, 18 per cent of Canadians have been a victim or know someone who has been a victim of this.

A never-ending battle

STARS, a charity that provides air ambulance services, was the victim of fraud in 2007 when, according to the Calgary Herald, its accounts payable clerk, Olaronke Fakunle, pocketed $210,600 from the organization.

In an interview with the Calgary Journal, Cam Heke, manager of media and public relations at STARS, said sponsors and volunteers have been great supporters and are very thankful to still be in the air helping the critically ill.fraudPotential donors may be wary about giving to charities. However, doing a bit of research can help you make better decisions about donating.

Photo by Jordan Kroschinsky

"It's so unfortunate when any charitable organization or its donors are the target of dishonest activity," he said.

However, he added, "We are very confident that STARS funds are well protected and it won't happen again."

Fakunle pleaded guilty for two counts of fraud on Sept. 2, 2010.
Nevertheless, the concern over fraudsters is even shared by those whose work partially relies on charitable fundraising activities — such as Chilliwack Métis Association President Jim Middleton.

"I have a lack of confidence in the charity sector and the protocol it has to keep people's money safe," said Middleton.

The association he heads was the victim of fraud.

Through raffling tickets, silent auctions, fundraisers and government grants, the Chilliwack Métis Association supports aboriginal education, health, social services and employment assistance.

But Marc Colman, the former treasurer of the association, was found guilty in late June 2012 for defrauding the charity of more than $33,000, according the Chilliwack Times.

"It was money saved throughout a long period of time, and it was all just gone," said Middleton.

What can be done?

According to the online Press Center of Capital One, in 2007-2008, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre (PhoneBusters) reported over $328,000 of charitable contributions went into the pockets of fraudsters rather than going to charities in need.

However, there are ways to protect your money when approached by non-profit organizations, according to the executive director of CanadaHelps.org – an organization that allows anyone to search up to 89,000 registered charities in Canada.

Owen Charters, the executive director, said, "It doesn't take much to protect yourself. Don't ever feel pressured — it can be a huge warning sign."

Sponsors also trustingly donate money to organizations hoping funds fall into the right hands.

{acepolls 27}

However, not all that money may be properly tracked and accounted for said Charters.

As a result, Charters said he feels the non-profit sector isn't necessarily the perfect system, but it's still a good one.

"We've moved away from cash, which can be harder to track," Charters said. "More people are using credit cards."

Using plastic instead of cash lets donors see what organization the money was donated to when reviewing transaction history.

Charters expressed his sympathy to charities that have had experiences with fraudsters.

"It's really sad when these happen, but it's a double whammy because you're taking away the money from the people that need it most."

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