What happened? And when?

Irregularities in the charity’s bank account were discovered in early 2020. The amount taken was €6,600 and the theft happened between July 2019 and March 2020.

We reported the suspected criminal activity to the Gardai as soon as it was discovered and have assisted with their investigation. An arrest was made and a file has been sent to the D.P.P..

What money was taken?

The money taken amounts to almost the entirety of the charity’s direct fundraising efforts for2019. It includes the profit made from the All About Baby Fair 2019 and the Friends of Breastfeeding 10th Anniversary Gala Awards. It also includes donations received from the public at Mum2Mum Groups, via raffles, and other direct donations.

All of our grant monies received from funding bodies are safe and untouched, and our funders have been kept informed.

Can the money be recouped?

It is unlikely that we will be able to recoup the monies taken.

No offer to return the money has been made and litigation to recover the monies may not be successful and would be very expensive.

While Friends of Breastfeeding does have insurance, our insurance bill is already our single largest expense and the increased premium following a claim will likely, over a number of years, exceed the value of the monies taken.

The avenues available to us to recover the funds are included in the Governance Audit terms of reference, and we will keep the question of recouping the monies under constant review.

Why is there an Acting Chair at present?

The incumbent Chairperson is currently indisposed for personal reasons unrelated to the fraud. The Acting Chair was appointed on 1 December 2020.

What impact will this have on Friends of Breastfeeding and its services?

The fraud has compromised our ability to signpost and deliver services for breastfeeding women and achieve our goals.

The National Committee has been working tirelessly to identify additional funding sources to recommence support following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. While we have grant monies awarded for specific purposes (e.g. volunteer training; financial audit costs; and website costs)we are otherwise running on a no spend basis and do not have the funds to:

  • train new, sorely needed buddies
  • reach and promote supports to new mums
  • buy books, toys, or even tea and coffee for our Mum2Mum groups
  • run our events, such as Friends of Breastfeeding Awards, Annual Quintessence Breastfeeding Challenge, Summer Picnics, and Mum2Mum Group Christmas Parties.

Beyond the immediate financial loss, however, is the potential loss of our hard earned reputation. Our reputation is at the heart of our ability to fundraise, it is essential in winning funding, delivering services to breastfeeding families and it ensures we have the credibility to influence policy and be a voice for breastfeeding women. The National Committee will do everything in our power to ensure volunteers and stakeholders feel well-informed, valued and respected throughout this difficult period and endeavour to regain your trust and confidence.

What are you doing to ensure it does not happen again?

The National Committee has reviewed its practices and procedures to ensure that nothing of this nature can ever befall the charity again. The need to protect the charity’s assets and interests is paramount.

To date we have:

  1. Reviewed the charity’s financial policy and practices against the Charity’s Regulator’s Best Practice Guidance.
  2. Introduced improved monitoring and segregation of financial duties, appointed a Vice-Treasurer, and prepared a new financial policy.
  3. Implemented roles and responsibilities agreements with trustees and National Committee volunteers.
  4. Arranged additional training on governance and best practice for charities for the National Committee, and improved our management practices.
  5. Developed a strengthened recruitment and onboarding process for all new trustees and National Committee members.
  6. The charity’s constitutional documents are being reviewed in light of the fraud and will be amended as required to better reflect the charity’s operating structure and practices and to better safeguard the charity’s assets and interests.

We recognise that an event of this seriousness requires a robust investigation and review. The above measures have been adopted by the charity on the basis of an internal review. The trustees and committee have additionally sought and engaged independent advisors to conduct a financial audit and governance review.

These above measures are intended to give reassurance to our volunteers and stake holders that the systems in place are robust and that the assets of the charity are properly safeguarded.

The charity trustees and the National Committee are committed to taking whatever measures are necessary to safeguard the charity. We would warmly welcome any advice or guidance on further actions that can be taken.

What lessons have been learned?

We have learned many, many lessons. We have learnt that it is a sad fact that some individuals will look to make gains where there is opportunity, and that we need robust processes in place to prevent, detect and respond to fraud and safeguard our assets. We have also learnt that unfortunately what has happened to us is something that many other charities have also had to deal with.

Our former volunteer exploited our weaknesses, but if you don’t find fraud you can’t fight it, and despite the heavy financial loss, stress and additional workload, the identification of the fraud may well end up being a positive for Friends of Breastfeeding. Our systems and structures are stronger than ever and our team is passionate, cohesive and committed.

What can we expect next?

Friends of Breastfeeding will continue cooperating with and assisting the Gardai and the Director of Public Prosecutions with the progression of the criminal prosecution. It may be sometime before that process is completed. We will inform volunteers and stakeholders about important updates.

We have also engaged the independent advice of an auditor to provide Friends of Breastfeeding with a robust financial investigation and actionable recommendations. Once we have the auditor’s report we will conduct a full independent governance review. We will implement the recommendations and keep our volunteers and stakeholders appraised of progress.

The Charities Regulator has been informed of the fraud and Friends of Breastfeeding continues to liaise with them and keep them informed of all developments.

We know that this is also a difficult time for breastfeeding mothers, getting support to start and sustain breastfeeding hasn’t been easy during COVID. Rest assured we are still supporting breastfeeding mums and when the time comes we look forward to welcoming you back into ourMum2Mum groups, events and fairs across the country. In the meantime our buddies are still providing one-to-one support, many Mum2Mum groups are meeting online, we are running Live online talks and virtual coffee mornings and boosting our engagement on social media.

Contact details for further information

You can reach us on enquiries@friendsofbreastfeeding.ie. We will do our best to answer your questions with as much clarity and transparency as possible.