A volunteer’s $325 saga leads to change at one of Canada’s biggest charities

It was only $325 in missing funds.

But Garth Mallett’s tenacity has prompted a significant change in the way one of Canada’s largest charities handles donations and raised questions about how often money collected for good causes goes missing, even if he remains frustrated with an organization close to his heart.

For more than a decade, the 81-year-retired engineer had canvassed neighbours on his Dartmouth, N.S., street for donations for Diabetes Canada. After one of those efforts, in May 2017, he dropped off a kit containing $325 in cash and cheques at a designated location, a local business.

It then disappeared. Nearly two years later, Mallett remains puzzled with the conflicting information that’s come from Diabetes Canada about whether donations have gone missing before, and unable to fathom why the charity didn’t want to get to the bottom of what happened.

“I don’t understand why they didn’t pursue the case,” Mallett said, concerned that other kits may have disappeared.

A senior charity official told Mallet in an email that other kits have gone missing in the past and that money has been removed from them. However, a spokesperson for Diabetes Canada subsequently told CBC News the only case the organization is aware of is Mallet’s.

Mallett was given this receipt when he dropped off the money and cheques he collected for Diabetes Canada.

Mallet spent several months corresponding with Halifax police and charity officials in Halifax and Toronto about the missing funds. In the end, Diabetes Canada said it conducted an internal investigation and there was no evidence of theft.

An official with the charity said it exercised “due diligence” and reported the missing money to Halifax Regional Police, but the force says the charity “elected to close this matter due to the circumstances.”

Diabetes Canada has, however, changed the way money is collected across the country. Instead of using designated drop-off spots where kits are forwarded on to the charity, canvassers now take them only to a Royal Bank. The money is counted and deposited into the charity’s account, removing previous “touch points” where it could go missing.

Mallett has been a diabetic since he was 16. He supports Diabetes Canada and its work, crediting the charity with many of the advances in treating the disease over the past 65 years.

He had no idea his kit had gone missing until Diabetes Canada sent him a letter in June 2017 asking him to return it. When he called to tell them he’d dropped it off the month prior, he was reassured that all was in order.

Diabetes Canada is one of the largest charities in Canada, according to Charity Intelligence. In 2017 it had donation and special events revenue of $27.8 million. (Yvonne Colbert/CBC)

It was only after his September bank statement showed his own cheque, which had been included in the kit, had not been cashed that he realized something was wrong.

“My missing kit would never have been detected, I would have never known it went missing, if it hadn’t been for the fact that my personal cheque was not cashed,” Mallett said.

He called Diabetes Canada and persisted in trying to track down the missing money. In January 2018, he was told in an email from Lisa Matte, Diabetes Canada’s senior regional director for the Atlantic region, that the organization had explored “every avenue in our power to track down this missing kit to no avail.”

She said a staffer had made several calls and visits to the business where kits were dropped off. Even though Mallett had been given a receipt for his kit and its contents, Matte said the business was not able to provide a list of returned kits.

However, CBC News spoke to a manager of the business who said he still has the receipt book with Mallett’s kit information and those of other canvassers. He said Diabetes Canada never asked for the book. CBC News has decided not to name the business because there’s no evidence it is at fault.

Wouldn’t explore theft

In an email, Matte told Mallett: “We have to assume that the kit is truly lost — and again I have no way [to] explore any further than we already have.” The kit may never have left the business, she said, was lost in transit or misplaced at the Diabetes Canada office.

“The only remaining accusation would be theft at one of those touch points in the chain, and I am not prepared to explore that option in any case,” Matte wrote. “My choices would be theft from [the business] (which I could not prove, nor would ever want to accuse), or theft by a trusted staff person or volunteer (which I would not initiate because I have no reason to believe that’s the case).”

She went on to say, “this is very rare but does happen on occasion and is a risk when running a program which involves a large number of volunteers.” She also wrote that “in our past experience we would locate missing kits to find that donations made by cheque or credit card were intact, but cash envelopes were opened or missing.”

Diabetes Canada spokesperson Kathleen Powderley, however, told CBC News in an email that “the only lost kit that we are currently aware of is Mr. Mallet’s.”

Bruce MacDonald, the CEO of Imagine Canada, said Canadians trust charities to protect the money donated to them. (Submitted Imagine Canada)

Bruce MacDonald, the CEO of Imagine Canada, an organization that supports charities, said with cash donations it’s hard to know what goes missing and that’s why it’s important to have checks and balances in place.

“If Canadians are going to put a few toonies in a coin box or make a gift online, it’s important that charities demonstrate to Canadians that those dollars are accounted for and well spent,” he said, adding “trust is critically important.”

MacDonald, who was speaking in general terms and not about the Diabetes Canada case, said when money goes missing charities should “absolutely” determine where it went. It’s important they be transparent, rectify the situation and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Kate Behan, the CEO of Charity Intelligence Canada, a group that rates charities, said she suspects the amount stolen from charities is small, but “because it’s theft and because it’s not reported, it’s very difficult to get any numbers on the scale of charity theft in Canada.”

In Canada, there is no obligation for charities to report missing funds. In England, charities are required to report serious incidents to the British regulator. However, Behan said a requirement to report in Canada “would be way down the list of things we need to make charities stronger.”

“When charities are receiving cash, that is very difficult to verify,” Behan said, adding online donations and cheques are the best way to give.

Kate Behan of Charity Intelligence said there’s no way to know how much money goes missing from Canadian charities each year because there’s no requirement to report it. (Submitted by Charity Intelligence)

Behan said Mallett deserves credit for being so persistent.

“Because of that one Canadian stepping up, Diabetes Canada has had to change its policies and practices about how it’s collecting donations from volunteer canvassers,” she said, adding that the change he brought about will benefit all Diabetes Canada donors and strengthen giving in Canada overall.

Diabetes Canada declined CBC’s request for an interview, saying they did not have anyone available. Instead, Powderley issued email responses to questions and said the organization is grateful for Mallet’s long-time volunteer effort.

However, last year, for the first time in 13 years, Diabetes Canada did not invite him to canvass for them. Mallett is taking that with grain of salt.

“Oh no, I’m not hurt by this, it’s just another issue in life,” he said with a laugh, “I’m getting too old to be collecting money from people on the street.”

But he’s not too old to pursue the case of the missing $325. He doesn’t understand why Diabetes Canada didn’t allow police to investigate and he’s urging anyone else whose cheque has not been cashed or whose collections have gone missing to report it.

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