Conned by National Charities

You know you might think I rant and moan a lot, but I didn’t just develop that out of thin air myself, I inherited it. My Father is the champion complainer and taught me everything I know. Over Xmas we talked a lot about world events, news and life in general (or rather ranted) and his biggest annoyance was the conning of the UK public into donating to charities which call themselves National and yet don’t cover the UK. In this instance he was manipulated by a Scottish TV advert into paying money into a National charity, only to find out later that they don’t serve Scotland, that’s handled by another charity!

So let me step aside and pass this post over to my Father who will let you know the full story. It’s worth reading for you might think you’re helping a charitable cause but not realising you’re excluding your own country. Ladies and Gentlemen, my Father…

Many months ago, I was persuaded by the emotional content of the TV advert for the NSPCC (the National Society for the Protection against Cruelty to Children) to make a donation over the phone. This Charity claims on their web site to be “the UK’s leading charity specialising in child protection”.

I later found out that that there is a corresponding Charitable body in Scotland, entitled Children 1st, (the Royal Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children)

When I saw the TV advert again later on, I realised that for a short period, wording similar to “We cover England, Wales and Northern Ireland” appears on the screen. However, I am sure that, like me, many people’s attention would be concentrated on the emotional aspect of the advert, and not such wording.

Now I am unhappy about this for a number of reasons – first, that it must inevitably take money away from the Scottish Charity which deals with the same problem in Scotland; second, that it was shown on a commercial tv station (Grampian) which covers the North-east of Scotland; third, that the said Charity are now sending me regular requests for funds through the post and re-enforcing their “intrusion” into Scotland, and fourth, that (in my opinion) their TV advert almost falls in the category of misleading advertising.

What have I done about this? Well, a description of my success rate so far must include the words “head”, “banging” and “brick wall”.

An email to the Charity Commission produced a reply, and I quote from their letter:

“As you will appreciate the charity’s name is of long-standing (the society was founded with the name in 1889). The Commission expects charities including the word “national” in their name not to restrict their operations to any one part of the country. The trustees of the charity have chosen to operate within England, Wales and Northern Ireland and, as the limit to their area of operation is reflected clearly on their website and television adverts, I do not consider that there are any regulatory concerns for us to address with the charity in this regard.”

Well, I disagree with them, but they suggested that I should contact the Advertising Standards Agency, which I did, and their reply included the following:

“I should explain that the themes of advertisements are chosen by the advertisers. What we require of the broadcasters is that they ensure that the advertising they carry complies with our Advertising Code. We can consider intervention if there is evidence that it is likely to cause harm, mislead or provoke widespread offence.

We don’t feel that the content of this advertising breaches our rules, and it’s not unusual for charity advertising to make an appeal beyond its “home” base. However, we have not received any formal complaints from organisations in Scotland devoted to child welfare but we would be willing to consider any such complaints made to us, and judge them on their merits.”

So, the ASA appear to be unconcerned about “Joe Public” complaining about matters such as this, but would wait until the Scottish Society complained – would such a complaint not create a strained relationship between the 2 Societies?

Am I being unreasonable in wishing to restrict my charitable donation for this cause to Scotland, and expect that an English Charity should not “trespass” into Scotland to do their fund-raising, or was I particularly gullible in responding hurriedly to an emotional advert?

11 comments on “Conned by National Charities”

  1. ghani Reply

    I see what you mean, if a charity is “national” then it should cover all of the UK, not just the southern bit. Surely if they were linked to the Scottish charity, they could work out some advertising arrangement for the various regions? As you mentioned, it’s not like you were watching an English channel!

  2. Simon White Reply


    My job is to buy the TV commercial space on behalf of the NSPCC, in order to raise further funds for the cause. I can asure you that no TV commercials have been bought or transmitted on Grampain or Central Scottish UTV, on Channel 4 Scotland, or five Scotland. The only commercial transmissions visible in Scotland by the NSPCC are those bought on Satellite, Cable or Freeview channels.

    There is no way of buying or transmitting multichannel (sat, cable, and freeview) regionally in the United Kingdom, otherwise this would be done to avoid confusion. Close scrutiny of the commercial will also reveal on screen text that clearly states that the NSPCC does not opperate in Scotland.

    I think the NSPCC do an incredibly important job, and the more work I do for them the more I find out about what they do, and the work is far more widespread and varied than one would expect. I would hate to think that the NSPCC were annoying members of the Scottish public, but advertising on multichannel stations is essential as it contributes to a higher volume of new donors coming in, at an efficient rate for the charity to afford – and is therefore a necessity.

    Increases in donors mean more staff on the NSPCC’s child helplines, more care workers and facilities for them, and more financial support for areas of child and parent care that the govornments fund fall far short of.

    Thanks for your time, I just wanted to clear this up.

    Simon White

  3. Malcolm Reply

    In Simon’s reply to my posting, he has pointed out an error in what I said, and I thank him for making this point. It certainly had not occurred to me that the adverts which are transmitted on the satellite version of the local commercial tv channel are not the same as those on the same terrestrial channel, and I was obviously mistaken as to whether I was viewing terrestrial tv or satellite tv. I now accept that I must have been viewing the latter.

    Simon is right to express his support for any organisation which protects children, but my concerns still stand that the Scottish Charity may well be deprived of some funding. Mind you, the title of the Scottish Charity perhaps does little to show that they are the Scottish counterpart of the NSPCC. Their website states that the charity changed its name to reflect a change in role, adopting the campaigning name CHILDREN 1ST in 1995. Why did they choose to drop the word “Scottish”?

    Finally, I must say that Simon’s assertion that “Close scrutiny of the commercial will also reveal on screen text that clearly states that the NSPCC does not operate in Scotland” This is not actually the case in the adverts I have seen – what they say is wording along the lines of “we cover England, Wales and Northern Ireland”. The whole purpose of the advert is to get you to concentrate on the abuse of the child in the advert, which it does very successfully, and “small print” could well be missed (as it was in my case) due to the content of the advert.

  4. Mafe Marwick Reply

    Dear Malcolm,

    You are right that donating to the NSPCC in the belief that they cover the whole of the UK results in CHILDREN 1ST, and therefore vulnerable children across Scotland, losing much needed help from concerned supporters like yourself. As you say, CHILDREN 1ST works to help Scotland’s children and families while the NSPCC works elsewhere in the UK.

    We work successfully with the NSPCC in various ways, for example sharing information and liaising on areas of common policy and campaigning as well as jointly approaching and receiving funds from corporate supporters who wish to donate funds to UK-wide organisations.

    However publicising the distinction between the charities is an on-going challenge. At CHILDREN 1ST we cannot as a rule afford television advertising. It is very expensive, and we obviously want to dedicate as much of our funding as possible to our services for children and families. You are therefore unlikely to see an advert on screen for CHILDREN 1ST. We try to reach supporters in other ways.

    On the other hand, given that advertising on many channels (ie through satellite, cable and freeview) cannot be targeted to specific regions, it is possible, as has been the case here, that you will see an advert for the NSPCC.

    Thank you for helping us raise awareness of CHILDREN 1ST’s work. If you would like to know more about how CHILDREN 1ST is helping vulnerable children and their families in Scotland, or how you could support us, please see our website – or ask us to send you information which we would be more than happy to do.

    Mafe Marwick

    Director of Fundraising


  5. Richard Reply

    Here’s another twist to this side of the story. I walked into a Wallis store ( in Edinburgh, Scotland today and saw on their counter a charity box for green wristbands to raise monies and awareness for abuse of children. The charity was NSPCC.

    So Scottish shoppers are walking into stores and buying these green wristbands to promote and raise money for English, Northern Irish and Welsh abused children while the Scottish Charity caring for Scottish abused children goes without.

    That’s not only unfair it’s on the verge of indecent in my mind. False advertising is clearly being used to get Scottish shoppers giving money to an English, Northern Irish and Welsh only charity, and they have no idea they are specifically excluding the Scottish charity. This is in a Scottish store in the middle of Edinburgh, with the words National all over the box. That to me is clearly false advertising.

  6. Lee Reply

    This goes on in the commercial world, too.

    British Gas trades as Scottish Gas north o’ the border.

    BT adverts have BT Scotland on Scottish channels

    Identical adverts for HBOS are transmitted differnetly either side – Halifax in the south (and Sky etc), Bank of Scotland in the north.

    Also with other charities: St George’s Ambulance south of the border, St Andrew’s in Scotland.

    There is a fear that if Scotland doesn’t have its own identity projected in advertising or business names then business (or donations) won’t be forthcoming, as “Britishness” is low on the agenda up here. South of the border there isn’t this anal retentiveness amongst businesses, there is no “BT England”, there is no “English Gas”. The victims of this pandering to maintain an identity is, as seen here, the Scottish arms or Scottish uquivalents of national charities. Damn shame.

  7. Malcolm Reply

    After a long delay, I have returned to the question of my being conned by an English Charity. Having reached an impasse, I had the bright idea that a letter to my MSP would produce an answer – after all I was trying to protect a Scottish Charity.

    Anyway, Mike Rumbles MSP referred my letter to Malcolm Chisholm, Minister for Communities in the Scottish Parliament, and 4 weeks after my letter, I received a response. The reply would have been much better to say “I can’t help you” instead of waffling about the new Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005, and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, since having read the relevant web sites, I find that the Act and the Regulator are designed to control Scottish Charities.

    My original problem was with an English Charity failing (in my opinion) to make it clear that they did not cover Scotland, firstly by calling themselves “National” and secondly by creating a television advert which fails to say that they do not cover Scotland.

    So it appears that there is no way to take this any further – the NSPCC claim they are not misleading the public, but I am a member of the public and I was misled. How many other Scottish residents are being similarly misled into contributing without realising that their money will not help Scottish children at all?

  8. Malcolm Reply

    The latest episode in this sorry saga is that I have received a begging letter from the NSPCC. Their letter and the enclosed booklet makes no mention of the fact that any money given to them will not go to helping Scottish Children. I find it hard to understand why they would knowingly try to deprive a Scottish Charity of funds by writing to people at Scottish addresses, and I will certainly not contribute a single penny to them

  9. Malcolm Reply

    I mentioned earlier that Malcolm Chisholm, Minister for Communities in the Scottish Parliament, had written a letter to me via my MSP which was of no help at all. I emailed the Scottish Executive website giving my thoughts about the irrelevance of the letter in a rather forceful manner.

    In response to that email I have received a letter from Fiona Warne of the Charity Law Team at the Scottish Executive – at last I have found a civil servant who is prepared to read my letter and offer me a meaningful reply! She obviously did not go to the Blair/McConnel spin school. She has clarified the proposed legislation and to me the most important part of her letter is “If you feel the charity has mislead you then you can contact the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator”. This apparently will apply to a non-Scottish charity which carries out fund-raising in Scotland.

    As soon as this legislation is in place, I will be attempting to use it

  10. Shaun Perry Reply

    Hi Richard

    I too have just realised after seeing an NSPCC tv advert that the monthly donation I have set up does not cover any Scottish children. I feel I have been misled by both the NSPCC website and tv adverts by not highlighting the Scottish counterpart, Children 1st. Any terms and conditions such as countries a charity covers has to be shown on a tv advert (abet a bit small), websites however can be long pages, like the NSPCCs and these details are way at the bottom. I personally think it should be highlighted at the top of the website as its not visible upon first glance.

    After setting up my monthly donation, I received a phone call from the NSPCC to thank me for my donation, this would have been a good opportunity for them to make me aware of Children 1st.

    Unfortunately I ve decided that I m not going to support a charity which I feel has misled me.

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