Jun 03, 2013

    Misleading promoters hurt charities

    SALES promoters who solicit $10 donations to sell food vouchers in the name of charity are back and now target students.

    That is, going by a number of posts made recently on citizen-journalism website Stomp.

    At least three charities My Paper contacted said such direct-sales promoters could harm public confidence in legitimate fund-raising, if they are found to be misleading the public.

    A spokesman for the Commissioner of Charities' office said last week that investigations into an events company which hired the promoters, who tend to be youth, are still ongoing.

    The events firm, Invixo Consultancy & Services, was appointed by an organisation called the Hope and Aspiration Association.

    On its website, the association claims to "promote the emergence and growth of social enterprises". A clause on the site also states that the sale of vouchers is "not a fund-raising or donation drive".

    The vouchers are for a fast-food restaurant and Malay-Muslim social enterprise in Bedok called Chicken Heaven.

    The site adds that 40 per cent of proceeds from the sale of vouchers goes to the association.

    On the promoters, Mr Terrence Chee, chief executive of Charities Aid Foundation South East Asia, said: "It will seem as though they are hiding something. Cases like this will cause the public to be wary of fund-raisers in the future, and their emotional response will be to not donate to charities."

    Mr R. Rajakanth, 38, executive director of Club Rainbow, said that promoters sometimes pass themselves off as "volunteers" of a charitable organisation. He said: "Even if a portion of the proceeds legitimately goes to the organisation, the public's perception can be compromised in such ways."

    On May 22, a Commissioner of Charities' office spokesman told My Paper that there are legal obligations fund-raisers must fulfil. These include the disclosure of clear and accurate information on the purpose of the fund-raising appeal, and of the proportion of total proceeds that goes towards charitable causes.

    Last Tuesday, Mr Melvin Low, 34, who helps run a family business, made a post about such promoters on Stomp. He did so on behalf of his friend, student Jasmine Ang, 22. When contacted, Ms Ang said she had been waiting for a friend outside Bishan MRT station last Monday afternoon. It was then that she noticed about four to five promoters approaching secondary-school students.

    She said: "Their approach was very aggressive. They would block the students from walking away with their bodies and, sometimes, literally corner them."

    Ms Ang, who watched this for 45 minutes, heard the promoters asking the students to "help these kids"and spotted a promoter holding a document which had the word "Invixo" printed on it.

    Light was first shed on the issue after several related posts were made on Stomp in early March. In many of these instances, including the latest case, the young promoters were hired by Invixo.

    When My Paper contacted Invixo earlier last month, the company said that its promoters are not trained to pass the vouchers off as donations.

    In a My Paper report on May 22, Chicken Heaven supervisor Sunny Ahmad confirmed that the eatery had indeed engaged Invixo for its marketing efforts, but "not for fund-raising".

    On the restaurant's official Facebook page, many netizens have posted about their negative experiences with the promoters, and asked for an explanation.

    One netizen said: "Please provide us with a reasonable explanation for all of this, or I will have to bring this matter to the authorities."

    Chicken Heaven could not be reached for an update, despite repeated attempts to contact the company last week.