Robert Sullivan CEO: My thoughts following the charity’s experience of fraud earlier this year
Robert Sullivan, CEO:
The Football Foundation is a charity, dedicated to investing its money to help transform lives and communities, funding great places for everyone in England to play and enjoy their sport. So, several months ago, when it came to light that there was some suspected fraudulent activity in one of our smaller funds, I was both professionally concerned and personally disappointed. In leading the organisation my instinct was to be defensive - to identify what we had done wrong and to create a ‘story’ that both offered the team at the Foundation the support they needed, and mitigated potential concern from our funders.
As a charity it is important that our processes and systems are appropriately robust to use this money in a safe and efficient way to achieve our ambitions. Likewise the Foundation is full of passionate and dedicated people whose first instinct was to blame themselves. Thankfully it became clear reasonably quickly, with the help of some independent specialist support, that our processes and systems were as they should be; and that the team had done a good job in spotting the irregular fraudulent activity.
The reality is of course something simpler and in many ways more worrying. The Football Foundation was a victim of a crime, and sadly this is all too common in the charity sector. BDO’s Charity Fraud Report 2022 stated that 69% of charities had experienced financial loss at the hands of fraudsters and that detecting fraud is one of the most challenging aspects of fraud risk work. I was not surprised to learn from this report that at times of economic hardship there is an increase in fraud. I was shocked, also, to learn of some of the charities involved and the unbelievable work they do put at risk as a result of fraudulent activity. The levels of desperation some individuals must reach to even contemplate trying to cheat these amazing organisations should give us all pause for thought.
I would like to credit the brilliant work of the team at the Foundation. Whilst balancing our ambition to quickly get money out to communities, they did notice anomalies in applications. These anomalies were investigated further and with legal guidance, we started building a case. I am happy to write today that the individual involved has been brought to justice. It’s been a challenging incident but I am pleased that our process and systems have done their job. We will not tolerate fraud and we will take action wherever we see it.
Finally we should remember that the ultimate victims of the fraud are the clubs that are in the heart of their communities, the players, coaches and volunteers who may have lost out on funding because of this individual's actions to acquire funds fraudulently. We will continue to do everything we can to support them, because everyone deserves a great place to play.