Every year, many thousands of Scots raise many millions of pounds for charity.
They walk, climb, cycle, run, hold dances, silent auctions and fashion shows, make tray bakes and chutneys, and stand in the cold dressed in novelty onesies shaking collection jars. This good-natured voluntary army of fundraisers keeps charities alive. Sometimes, those taking part in a fun event are asked to raise money for charity as a sort of payment in kind for being able to participate. In the case of ModelScotland's Miss Little Scotland, under-12s beauty pageant, participants were encouraged to fundraise for charity. The idea was that the monies raised would be pooled and shared out between 11 good causes, with the most prolific fundraiser among the young girls given the title Miss Charity.
Members of the public who fundraise in this way for charity hand over their money in good faith, trusting the event organisers to ensure their donation gets to its worthy recipients. In the case of Miss Little Scotland, parents were required to give the money in cash, rather than cheques, and now some parents suspect that some of it never reached those good causes it was intended for. The Herald's investigation on their behalf has led to more questions, and revealed discrepancies far beyond the border of Scotland. Though thousands were raised, it is unclear where the majority of it went. A Police Scotland investigation is under way.
Not everyone feels comfortable with the notion of young girls taking part in American-style beauty contests. To many people the concept seems regressive and rather distasteful, particularly at a time when there is so much disquiet over the sexualisation of young girls through exposure to adult culture on television and online.
That is irrelevant here, however. The fact of the matter is that a group of children and their families threw themselves into the business of fundraising with gusto. They took the responsibility seriously; mothers and grandmothers collected donations from friends and colleagues. One girl raised more than £900 from family and friends.
To be left wondering what has become of that money - worse, to feel "stonewalled" by organisers when they ask, as one mother put it - is deeply galling for those concerned. It could also prove highly damaging if the confusion surrounding what became of this money put off others from raising money for charity in connection with other large scale events. The value of such events for charities, especially in the wake of recession, is too great to allow that to happen.
It is essential that members of the public have complete confidence in organisations that collect money from them under the banner of charitable fundraising. The police inquiry is therefore crucial to establish what happened to the cash raised by participants in the Miss Little Scotland pageant and to get to the bottom of questions ModelScotland has not yet been able to answer to parents' satisfaction.
Only complete transparency and a full investigation will restore public faith.
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