Feeling Duped into Donating: Can You Be Protected?
By Brent Randall
At his pinnacle, Lance Armstrong was one of the most famous athletes in the world and the most dominant professional cyclist ever. His popularity at the time, and his personal story of overcoming cancer, inspired many to contribute to the charity he founded, the Livestrong Foundation. The impact of Armstrong’s admission on his athletic achievements is quite clear, but what about on the charity he founded?
As a result of the doping scandal, Armstrong stepped down from Livestrong, but that may not be enough for those who feel the inspiration of his story played a major role in the charity’s success. Livestrong, of course, has not been linked to any impropriety and continues to pursue its charitable causes. But, there are no doubt those that feel duped into donating to the charity. What happens if a donor in this situation feels they were misled either in the way a donation will be used, or in the purposes of the charity?
Fundamentally, in order to make a valid gift, that is not part of a will, there must be a gratuitous transfer of property, with the intention between both the donor and donee that the object shall not be returned to the donor and that the object become the property of the donee.
Clearly the question of being misled goes to intention. Since a deed of gift or similar document can set out what the parties involved intended in the transfer, some donors may be well-served to state a specific purpose that they intend the gift to be used for. An example may be that the donor wishes their gift go toward purchasing equipment in their local hospital rather than being used elsewhere.
Of course, it is much more difficult to deal with determining intention prior to the making of the donation – this is particularly true if the done is found to have undue influence over the donor, as the donee is not allowed to retain any benefit from a gift that arises from their fraud of wrongful act.  However, this undue influence has traditionally only been found in relationships closer than those involving a celebrity spokesperson embodies, including: guardian and ward, solicitor and client, and medical advisor and patient. Therefore, while many actions may be covered by fraudulent or “wrongful acts”, they must be committed by a donee in a sufficiently close relationship to the donor in order for such intention to be nullified. Effectively then, if Lance Armstrong personally solicited donations on the strength of his reputation there may be some question as to whether people were misled into donating.
On the flip side of the coin, there may be some very rare instances where a charity no longer wants to be associated with a donor. Generally speaking, registered charities cannot return gifts to donors. Although recent amendments to the Income Tax Act deal with situations where gifts are returned to the donors, charities are generally restricted from transferring funds to non qualified donees.
Regardless of whether you are a donor or a donee, the important lesson to take away from situations such as these is that research and understanding are key. If you donate to a charity, make sure that you approve of what they stand for. If you accept a donation, understand what such an acceptance may imply. Once the transfer of property takes place, it is very difficult to undo.
 Deonarine v. Lachman,  O.T.C. 215 (Ont. S.C.J.); aff’d (2006) 30 E.T.R. (3d) 35 (Ont. C.A.).