How Charities Ensure Donations Don't Go to Terrorists

09/10/2013 11:29 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

For charities working in war zones or countries hit by acts of terrorism, the world can be a dangerous and difficult place.

Charities dealing with the humanitarian effects of conflict or political upheaval face the task of making sure help goes to the people who need it most, while not inadvertently supporting armed groups or those involved in terrorism.

Last month, the Charity Commission issued guidance to charities in the wake of the Nairobi terror attacks, reminding them of the risks that their funds may be diverted for terrorist purposes and of their duty to report any suspicions to the police.

In the past few days charities working in Syria have rightly defended their record in the face of negative headlines, citing their undoubted experience over many years in dangerous and unstable parts of the world ensuring that donations intended to support humanitarian work are used for exactly that.

The fact is that charities expend enormous effort making sure donations support their intended beneficiaries.

At the Charities Aid Foundation, we manage millions of pounds on behalf of charities and help generous donors give more than £400 million a year to charities all over the world.

As an international charity based in Britain, we must naturally obey strict rules from financial regulators to guard against money laundering and ensure cash does not finance terrorism. But we also have an absolute obligation to the generous people who give their hard-earned money to good causes, to make sure their money is distributed as they intended, safely and without getting into the wrong hands.

We have robust systems and invest enormous effort to ensure that donations through CAF go to legitimate charities. For example, every night we check all charities we support and their trustees against international anti-terrorism watch-lists, to ensure donations are not channelled to organisations associated with terrorism.

Because CAF is an international organisation, helping donors across the world , we also check whether charities or their trustees are subject to sanctions elsewhere in the world, even if they do not apply in the UK. If we have a doubt, we double check. Ultimately, if there was to be a problem with a charity receiving money, we have an obligation to say no.

These checks depend on looking at world-wide anti-terrorism policy and are the same as those used by banks and other financial institutions working internationally. But they are even more important for a charity trusted to deliver finance to front line organisations working to make the world a better place, so donors and charities can give with confidence.

Like the charities working on the front line, we believe it's vital to ensure people can have confidence that their donations reach the people they want to help and we work hard every day to ensure that is the case.

Charities depend on trust - the trust that they will do all they can to help their beneficiaries without allowing aid to be used for unintended purposes or even fund conflict.

Charities who work in regions affected by terrorism have to be, and are, especially vigilant. The responsibility falls on charity workers in the field as well as management and trustees to ensure that none of the charity's funds falls into the wrong hands and report any suspicions to the appropriate authorities.

Working to alleviate suffering in conflict zones and troubled parts of the world, raises difficult and dangerous issues for charities, and things are not neat and tidy, nor is it possible to have full information all the time. But that should not stop them being trusted to help some of the world's most distressed and vulnerable people - that would be an even greater disaster.

In order to keep those charities doing their vital work, we need to maintain that trust, and do all we can to ensure that people can give with confidence, in the knowledge that their donation will help make the world a more humane place.