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Goods raised for the people of Ukraine – options for charities managing surplus donations

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Watching the daily images of suffering and the ongoing defiance of the people of Ukraine on our screens, it is impossible not to be moved to help in some way. This has led to huge levels of donations of money and goods across Scotland and the wider UK of which we should all be rightly proud.

While we have recommended that the best way to support the people of Ukraine is by donating money to UK registered charities that have active appeals and are operating in the area, I can entirely understand that there is something more ‘tangible’ about donating goods.

Unfortunately this has led to the situation where some organisations are struggling to transport the volume goods they have managed to amass to the Ukraine. This could be because of the extremely difficult logistics of transporting and distributing large volumes of goods in a war zone or there is a mismatch between the goods stockpiled and the need in Ukraine. It could be because the charity doesn’t want to disrupt existing aid operations or it could be on the grounds of safety. All of these are perfectly valid reasons for not being able to deliver and distribute these goods in Ukraine.

As the goods were donated on the basis that they will be used to support the people of Ukraine, how can a charity legitimately use surplus goods that are restricted to this purpose?

There are number of options available to you. It is up to the trustees to determine which is the best option (or combination of options) for your charity. However, as always, you should carefully record any decisions you have made and why you have made them.


  1. Seek permission from the donor to donate them elsewhere

As with any restricted fund, you can remove the restriction with permission from the donor. If you can identify donations from a particular donor you can seek their permission to use the surplus goods for another purpose such as anti-poverty charities in Scotland. While this is possibly the best option, I appreciate that often it will be impossible to identify individual donors from community collections.


  1. Sell the goods and donate the funds

If possible, you can sell the goods and donate the money raised to a charity operating in the Ukraine such as the Disasters Emergency Committee. This is allowed as the benefit is still ultimately going to the Ukrainian people as stated in the original fundraising effort. All you are doing is realising the cash value of the donated goods and providing that benefit instead, still honouring the donors’ wishes. This may or may not be a realistic option depending on the suitability of the goods for sale.


  1. Community engagement to determine if goods can be used elsewhere

As I noted above, if the donor is content for you to use the goods elsewhere, then the restriction on their use is removed. If you cannot determine individual donor wishes (because there are too many and the goods cannot be traced to individuals) and you are unable to sell the goods, then publishing a notice establishing if there are any objections to you donating the goods elsewhere would be an option.

The public notice should explain why you are seeking to use the goods for another purpose rather than transporting them to Ukraine, what you intend to use them for instead and should set a period of time by which any objections must be received. The notice should be published via the same networks that the initial call for donations was published and, if no objections are received by the stated time period, you can take that as the tacit approval of the donors.

This would be a pragmatic approach that could be used at this time and which OSCR would respond to proportionately where necessary as we did in similar circumstances during the COVID pandemic. I would stress that the above process would not be acceptable in the everyday management of restricted funds.


  1. Hold the goods for the arrival of Ukrainian refugees in Scotland

If possible, you can hold the goods until Ukrainian refugees start arriving in Scotland and still distribute them to Ukrainians, albeit those that have reached Scotland rather than in Ukraine. While this may not reflect exactly why the goods were raised, we feel that it is still a reasonable use of the goods to benefit Ukrainians suffering from the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

I appreciate how frustrating this situation can be but we must respect the wishes of donors if trust in the charity sector is to be maintained. Hopefully the range of options provided here will provide you with a satisfying outcome and we should take some assurance that, fundamentally, the issue of surplus goods has come about as a direct result of the compassion and generosity of the people of Scotland.