Charities: how to manage risks when working internationally

How to identify and manage risks, handle money safely and protect your staff and beneficiaries if your charity works overseas.

Applies to England and Wales

Unstable countries: assess the risks

Working in a politically unstable country can expose your charity to risk. For example, a conflict could break out that puts your charity’s staff, beneficiaries and assets in danger.

You need to show that you have weighed up the benefits of working in another country against the potential harm. For example, you should identify the potential risks you might face and work out ways to manage them.

Find out more about risk management for charities working internationally:

Local staff: follow employment rules

Local people may know more about the community and culture you are working with. Employing people locally can boost skills and knowledge, which may benefit the community you are working in.

You need to research local employment rules. Other countries may have different laws around employing people.

Protect your charity’s staff and beneficiaries

If your charity is operating in a high risk area, your staff and beneficiaries may be placed in danger. For example you may be working in an area where disease is common. Think about the risks involved and how you can protect your employees and beneficiaries.

Your charity may be working with beneficiaries who are vulnerable to abuse. You need to run appropriate checks on anyone who will be working with vulnerable people, and put procedures in place to safeguard their interests and rights.

For more guidance on protecting staff and beneficiaries read:

Guard against terrorism

You must make sure that your charity does not operate in association with individuals or groups who are engaged in terrorist activities, or who support terrorists. This can happen inadvertently if charities don’t have proper processes for monitoring their finances and resources.

You can use these resources to manage the risks associated with terrorism:

Charities and terrorism: compliance toolkit

Traceability: keep track of money and resources

It is important to be able to reassure the public that funds are going where they’re meant to. For example you should have clear audit trails stating how much money has been moved and where it has been moved to.

You need to take extra care in high risk situations such as delivering emergency relief during a disaster. Your charity could be open to more risk of money or aid being stolen. For further guidance read:

Fraud and financial crime: protect your charity’s assets

Your charity can be more exposed to fraud when working overseas, particularly if you use cash instead of the banking system to make transactions.

You should think about how you can protect your charity from this kind of criminal activity.

Find out how to recognise common types of fraudulent activity and identify ways to protect your funds and other resources:

Money transfers: understand the risks

When deciding how much money to hold locally in the country you are working, you should think about what risks your charity is open to. You could lose money if the local banking system collapses, or the exchange rate drops, for example. You should aim to keep the smallest amount of local funds you will need.

It is safest to transfer money through the banking system. You should have clear procedures setting out how to open and manage your bank accounts. For further guidance read:

Holding, moving and receiving funds safely: compliance toolkit

Money and property matters: charities working internationally – detailed guidance

Check out local organisations before working with them

You might decide to partner with a local organisation for cost efficiency or for the local knowledge and contacts they provide. If you wish to set up an overseas disaster fund or special appeal, working with an existing agency or local organisation could be the quickest and most efficient way to help people.

Before you enter into any agreements, you must research the organisation thoroughly to make sure that it is completely reliable and will not put your funds at risk.

Read the Charity Commission’s guidance on how to respond to a disaster and how to assess potential partners.

Verification of proposed partner form

Outline partnership agreement

Grant monitoring report: declaration by partner organisations

Working with partners and protecting the charity: compliance toolkit

International working arrangements: collaborative working and mergers – detailed guidance

Published 10 May 2013