This is a serious one. It’s also a pretty hefty one, but it needs to be – so bear with me.
In 2009 an organisation called Zombie Aid appeared in Manchester. It was set up by Carl Whiteley – in fact Zombie Aid pretty much is Carl Whiteley - and aimed to raise money for charity while breaking world records involving numbers of zombies. The relevant world record attempts failed (one in summer, one in winter), but people had a good time and some money (“over £3000″) was raised for charity – participants paid a minimum £2 ‘donation’ for attending.
If this post is starting to look a bit daunting, then please just read this next bit:
Zombie Aid is not a registered charity
At no point during the establishment of Zombie Aid did Carl set it up to be a charity in any way - when Zombie Aid collect your money, they are not doing so as a charity, or as any kind of official fundraiser.
The Halloween Parade
So in 2010, Zombie Aid did another event. After an abortive attempt to involve SportCity, Zombie Aid got itself a sponsor (Smiffy’s, a fancy dress company), and organised a bigger, more inclusive ‘Halloween Parade‘, again through Manchester. Again, they collected a £2 donation from participants, and again lots of people attended and had fun. On November 1st (the day after the Parade), Zombie Aid made an announcement on their website (pictured) “Please revisit the website: we will update it as soon as we can with the amount of money you helped raise for charity”.
In March 2011, as there had still been no announcement, I contacted Carl and asked him about the money raised. The initial conversations were via Facebook, and are below:
I was understandably shocked – this was the first time anyone had heard that no money at all had been donated to any of the charities (I was also shocked to discover that Carl apparently has to pay for his hotmail account…).
Carl’s excuse for this seems to be that he spent the money received as donations on expenses related to the event (or expenses related to an entirely different (failed) Zombie Aid event – but we don’t really need to go into that).
The problem is that Carl (both as himself and as Zombie Aid) stated repeatedly, before the event, that 100% of donations go directly to charity. But don’t just take my word for it:
There’s no grey area here – it’s not “our profits go to charity” or “what’s left over after expenses goes to charity” or even “what’s left over after our wages” goes to charity – it’s ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of everything you donate goes to charity – or at least that’s what was supposed to happen.
After making that claim, it doesn’t matter what your expenses are – you cannot pay them with the charities’ money!
Carl also banned me from the Zombie Aid Facebook group (presumably for publicly asking where the money went) and then phoned me at home to swear at me – but he did calm down a bit and answer some questions while he was on the phone (you will have to take my word for this bit (or not), because I didn’t record the conversation, I just took notes while we were talking (so there’s probably some paraphrasing) – this is all from the same conversation on 14/03/2011):
Me: How much money did the walk raise? You said it was a success.
Carl: It was – I sat and counted over £1900 in donations that day [the day of the Halloween Parade]
Me: How many people attended? How come none of that made it to the charity?
Carl: Around 3,000. I spent £1500 on advertising, the police cost £1500 – the council paid half of that – I lost a lot of money on promotions.
Carl: The stuff on the charities page on the website only refers to Zombie Aid; it doesn’t mention the Hallowe’en Parade anywhere on that page. It’s old information.
Me: You advertise the Hallowe’en Parade on the same site, and the Zombie Aid Facebook group.
Carl: I wanted to promote it to the zombie aid people.
Me: You don’t say anywhere on the site that they are separate things or run with separate rules
Carl: I didn’t know I fucking had to [apologises for swearing]
Me: People go to the zombie aid website to get info on the Hallowe’en parade; the only page on the zombie aid website about charities talks about Manchester, mentions the three charities involved in the Hallowe’en parade (specifically including Make-A-Wish, who were not a beneficiary of previous walks), and says that “100% of donations go to charity”. Even if you didn’t intend it to refer to the Hallowe’en Parade, can you not see that it would be at the very least misleading?
Carl: …Yeah, maybe.
Carl: Zombie Aid and the Hallowe’en Parade are separate things; they’re not the same.
Me: Are they separate organisations? Are they registered as companies / seperate entities? Is either registered as an entity?
Me: So Zombie Aid is basically Carl Whiteley?
Me: And the Hallowe’en Parade, is that Carl Whiteley?
Me: I think you need to state on the website or on the Facebook group that the Hallowe’en Parade didn’t raise any money for charity.
Carl: I don’t want to do that because it’s too embarrassing.
Me: Yeah, it might be – but it’s true. Big charities sometimes have to do things like that as well.
Carl: Besides, we did raise some money – from the sales of the single1, which the parade promoted. And I got a letter from one of the charities thanking me – saying, despite… even though we didn’t send them any money, thanks for promoting them.
Me: Which charity was that?
Carl: Manchester Carer’s.
1Zombie Aid were also involved in the launch of a ‘Zombie Aid Charity Single’, which was sold via Amazon and Play.com, with proceeds going to charity – from the Zombie Aid website “In 2010 The Charity single was launched and sold over 500 copies. The exact figures are not in yet , but we have raised over £200 for the make a wish foundation. Once we receive all data and figures we will update and let you know.”
Carl then (later that evening) posted this announcement to the Zombie Aid group on Facebook (he lifted my ban and thanked me for my “valid concerns” as well):
Which – even though I wasn’t entirely satisfied – brought things to a conclusion. While the charities in question were still down nearly £2000, it could have been an honest mistake on Carl’s part – or simple incompetence – and pursuing the matter further was getting tiring, especially as it looked like Carl wasn’t planning on doing any more fundraising…
On the 14th July I received notification that Zombie Aid are planning yet another zombie walk – this time sponsored by Deep Silver, the developers of the upcoming Dead Island videogame. Carl and Zombie Aid once again started making promises about charitable donations :
The problem as I see it is that Zombie Aid has previously asked for charitable donations, which people have given in good faith and that money hasn’t found its way into the hands of the charities involved.
To some degree it doesn’t matter whether this was caused by incompetence or avarice – it happened, and so I can’t sit back and think it will never happen again. Ideally, there need to be some measures in place to ensure that it cannot happen – such as official charity representatives handling all donations; or the promotional material making it clear that the £2 donation is being spent on Zombie Aid expenses and not being given to charity (I’d prefer the former, for obvious ‘the charity gets some money’ reasons).
In the absence of measures being put in place by Zombie Aid, I can only recommend that attendees at Zombie Aid events who wish to ensure their donations go to charity do so by donating directly to the charities involved. In the case of the upcoming 2011 Dead Island Zombie Walk, the beneficiary is intended to be Special Effect (Charity no. 1121004), who are able to receive donations here.
At the time of writing (2nd August 2011), the Facebook event for the 2011 Dead Island Zombie Walk has been updated:
Although this has yet to be confirmed by an announcement or statement from Carl or Zombie Aid. If the event really has been cancelled, then I’ll just mention donating directly to Special Effect again here. For no good reason other than ‘donating to them is a good reason’.
Similarly, if you’re from one of the many groups who raise money throughout the year and pass your donations on to Zombie Aid – please bear in mind that Zombie Aid is not a charity, and they have in the past failed to pass donations on to those registered charities they claim to support.
If you are intending to raise money for a charity, you are always best advised to donate that money directly to that charity.
If you are intending to raise money for Carl Whiteley, then by all means – carry on.
Smiffy’s – sponsor of the 2010 Halloween Parade - told me:
Smiffy’s (28th July 2011):
This is the first we have heard of [donations not being received by the charities]. We have been trying unsuccessfully to contact Carl since you first spoke to us, and cannot comment further at the moment as we are still investigating.
Smiffy’s have no plans to work with Zombie Aid or Carl Whiteley in the future.
The Printworks Manchester – start and finish point of all three Zombie Aid events – said:
The Printworks (2nd August 2011):
We were more involved with the two events in 2009. The 2010 [Halloween Parade] event was always a Carl Whiteley & Manchester City Council event; we were not very involved with that.
We didn’t deal with money or donations directly, and were unaware about how much was donated to charity, although we are aware that expenses were incurred by Carl (but cannot comment on the specifics). The upcoming [2011 Dead Island Zombie Walk] event is ‘pencilled in’ as far as we are concerned, pending confirmation from their [Zombie Aid's] sponsor and Manchester City Council.
The Printworks does not charge Zombie Aid for the use of its premises.
Deep Silver - sponsor of the upcoming (and now possibly cancelled) 2011 Dead Island Zombie Walk – were unavailable for comment at the time of publication.
If you’ve read this far you’re probably asking yourself why I’ve put so much time and effort in.
One of the main reasons is that one of the charities involved is the Christie cancer hospital, where my mum was treated until she died. It’s somewhere pretty important to me and mine, and and I don’t want to see them being let down (or worse).
Another reason is that – contrary to what you may be thinking – I like zombies and zombie-related things. I think the idea of a charity zombie walk is a pretty good one – but I don’t want to see that idea being mismanaged or perverted (and zombies already get enough bad press; they don’t need any more!). I’m really looking forward to the upcoming Dead Island game – even if I don’t really agree with Deep Silver’s sponsorship of Zombie Aid. I have enjoyed dressing up as a zombie, and I probably will do again – but probably not at an event organised by Zombie Aid (at least not in their current incarnation).
You’ve see the same evidence I have and you know the same things I know. That’s the point of this post – a lot of this information wasn’t particularly public, and I feel like it deserves to be.
Now you can make your own minds up about Zombie Aid and Carl Whiteley, and whether you are willing to give them money, or whether you’d rather donate directly to charity. Only Carl knows what his intentions were, and what actually happened with the financing of the 2010 Halloween Parade – but it’s a matter of public record that no money from the Halloween Parade ended up being donated to charity.
That’s enough for me to say that I won’t give him or Zombie Aid any money in future.