Charity watchdog advises potential donors to do research before giving

A charity watchdog is warning potential donors to do their homework when non-profits come calling.

'If somebody's asking you for your $20 or your $200, you have a right to ask questions'

The group Charity Intelligence says potential donors should do the research necessary to understand how their money will be spent. (CBC)

A charity watchdog is warning potential donors to do their homework when non-profits come calling.

"Be informed and be aware of other organizations doing similar work," said Kate Bahen, managing director of Charity Intelligence. "Don't just give to the charity that's asking you for money. Think about who else is doing this work and find the best among them."

Bahen's advice comes on the heels of a CBC News story in which critics raised concerns about the qualifications of those leading the Canadian Fentanyl Prevention Society, a new Edmonton-based non-profit engaged in a local fundraising campaign.

The society has said it wants to heighten awareness about the opioid crisis unfolding in Canada, and is collecting money with a long-term plan to establish a treatment centre. But those at the helm have no experience in health or addictions.

A new venture

The Canadian Fentanyl Prevention Society registered with Service Alberta in July under the Charitable Fund-raising Act. The legislation requires organizations that intend to collect more than $25,000 in donations to register.

The society is not a registered charity with the Canadian Revenue Agency. It does not get special tax privileges and cannot issue tax receipts.
Kate Bahen is the managing director of Charity Intelligence.

Bahen, whose focus is on registered charities, said she is not familiar with Canadian Fentanyl Prevention Society.

In general, she said, having clear, specific goals on a timeline is particularly important for new organizations that won't have track records potential donors can refer to.

"If somebody's asking you for your $20, or your $200, you have a right to ask questions," Bahen said. "You  have a right to understand how your money's going to be used."

Right amount of regulation

While registered charities are regulated, Service Alberta spokesperson Neil Levine said non-profits registered in the province are also subject to a set of rules. One such rule requires non-profits to produce financial statements if potential donor ask for them.

However, the province does not keep track of those financial statements, he said.

Bahen said having varying degrees of regulation is useful to allow people to respond quickly to changing circumstances.

I don't think you want to regulate and stop innovation from happening.- Kate Bahen

"I don't think you want to regulate and stop innovation from happening," Bahen said.

"Anybody who has a good idea should be able to register and get out there and raise money. The emphasis — the responsibility — is with the investor, is with the donor."

Fighting fentanyl

After reading the initial CBC News story about the Canadian Fentanyl Prevention Society, Calgary-Elbow MLA Greg Clark said he felt uneasy.

"There should be rules against fundraising for something you're not qualified for," said Clark.

He also said he is not familiar with the new non-profit.

There is a need for qualified addiction treatment facilities in Alberta, Clark said.

But he said he's concerned that donors who give to charities that can't deliver services might turn away from giving altogther.

Calgary Elbow MLA Greg Clark says he felt uneasy after reading a CBC News story about a new charity called the Canadian Fentanyl Prevention Society. (CBC)

The Canadian Fentanyl Prevention Society has said it was founded because not enough is being done to combat the alarming rate of opioid overdoses and overdose deaths.

"This fentanyl crisis needs more funding, but you want to make sure that your funding goes to the organizations or the registered charities that have the capability to do the most good, to achieve the best results," Bahen said.

'How does this charity save lives?'

Bahen founded Charity Intelligence 10 years ago. It reviews registered charities and rates them on impact, transparency and need for funding.

Bahen said experts have been able to measure results in the area of addictions, and cited 14 research reports on addictions centres across Canada, including the Fresh Start Recovery Centre in Calgary.

"At the end of the day, the [people] who came into your program, how many are now living clean and sober one year later? You really can measure what is the impact your donation has," Bahen said.

"Here in Edmonton, you have a group that has the best of intentions, they want to raise money to address opioid addiction, which is wonderful and a worthy cause. They have no track record. They have no experience. They have no expertise in dealing with rehab counselling.

"At the end of the day, how does this charity save lives?"

roberta.bell@cbc.ca

@roberta__bell