Special Investigation: Charity begins at home

A MAJOR question mark is hanging over a new charity initiative that aims to raise nearly $150 million to alleviate child poverty and animal cruelty – while at the same time lining the pockets of the people behind the campaign.

The New Zealand Network Charity has announced plans for what it describes as a ‘unique and innovative fundraising campaign” offering $2 million worth of ‘rewards’ to those who sign up to support the charity by becoming ‘network members’.

The plans are remarkably ambitious to say the least.

At present, the charity only has four businesses signed up to the scheme and none of the $2 million it is offering in reward incentives.

Under the proposal, it is aiming to raise $146 million from 400,000 ‘network members’ who’ll be charged $365 a year to belong to the charity. In order to generate interest, the charity is offering a ‘Member with Rewards’ programme offering ‘hundreds of thousands of rewards’ to those who support the charity.

The plan is for that money to go into child poverty and animal cruelty programmes along with a $6 million head lice eradication campaign in schools.

The company that supplies the head lice product, U-Go Lice, is part owned by Angela Sothern, the woman behind the charity.

She claims not to be driven by profit but the ‘distressing cry ringing throughout New Zealand to help children living in poverty’.  

In order for the rewards system to work, Sothern requires 400,000 network members and the support of 250,000 New Zealand businesses who’ll provide discounts on products and services to ‘network members’.

In return for their support, these businesses will receive free advertising on the charity website and free listings on a classified listings website.

Angela Sothern: Charity begins at home

Angela Sothern: Charity begins at home

On her website, Sothern writes: “Supporter businesses are the backbone of the instant rewards programme. The success of the programme is dependent on the number of supporter businesses on the website.

“Network members can realistically receive back the cost of their member fee in discounts or specials.

“Many people would say that we are overly ambitious. While we respect the opinions of others, we are compelled to do the best we can to make it a success. Businesses, especially large corporates, feel a social responsibility and give generously to many charities.”

She adds: “Without asking families for donations, we are thankful for the service of a unique and innovative fundraising programme that will bring in massive funding.”

However, when challenged over the charity’s lofty goals Sothern quickly fell to pieces.

Sothern contacted Whaleoil’s Cam Slater in the hope he might be able to provide some favourable publicity for the charity.

She denied the charity was a ‘scam’ and said the plans being proposed by her organisation had the ability to affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people all over the country.

She said with time, effort and help from their sponsors the charity had developed a programme that would make it easy for families without it being a hardship.

“The ‘Member with Rewards’ Fundraising Program has been developed to bring in over $110,000,000 to help well over 250,000 school children who live in poverty. As figures stand, our aim is to be delivering up to 30 million hot lunches and dietary supports, over a school year, to children in low decile 1-4 schools, as well as children from families of low income who attend the higher 5-10 decile schools,” she said.

“We will be working to have additional funds to support an in-school and online educational program designed for children/families of low income. This funding will also include the provision of an effective natural head-lice product/program as well as other health/support initiatives.”

She said the fact the charity did not ask families for donations was different from the traditional approach of charities.

She expected that many people would be ‘scratching their heads at first’, but said with open-mindedness and a bit of time to grasp the concept of ‘our unique program’ she was confident New Zealanders would embrace ‘this refreshingly friendly approach to fundraising and support us’.

“ We are legit here. There is absolutely nothing wrong with what we are doing here. We don’t ask for donations… rather we use a Member with Rewards business plan,” she said.

She admitted she only had four of the 250,000 businesses it required signed up to the scheme.

Asked where she was going to get the $2 million to give away, Sothern was vague.

She said there were 400,000 small businesses in New Zealand who could potentially support the plan.

“…it looks like a scam, but if you take the time to… have a really good close look at the (website) pages. We are looking at bringing in $110 million towards supporting child poverty, which is no small cause.

“If we are able to get 400,000 supporter members who are happy to part with $365 knowing they will get back the cost of their member fees through discounts or specials from supporting businesses throughout the country and they don’t need to take up their membership until they can see there is enough businesses registered on the database…you could liken it to an investment.”

She claimed there was no conflict of interest with the $6 million head lice plan, despite the fact it was her company selling the product.

She said the head lice product had been selling on the New Zealand market for seven years but she was unsure how much revenue the company had actually generated in the time it had been in existence.

She denied the charity initiative was simply a business development plan for the head lice product.

“Head lice is a real problem in schools and we are addressing that. We have the most cost-effective and effective head lice product for application in school clinics. There’s nothing else that compares to the product. There is no conflict,” she said.

“I am a person who just wants to help people and animals.”

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cookStephen Cook is a multi award winning journalist and former news editor and assistant editor of the Herald on Sunday.


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