Monday, 27 April 2015

Doubting donor

I have very mixed feelings about giving money to charity, and I know some of my blogmates are equally ambivalent.

On the one hand, I want to help people who've gone off the rails in one way or another - jobless, homeless, mentally or physically ill, victims of natural disasters and a hundred other desperate situations. I've had a lot of good luck in my life and I should help those who haven't been so lucky.

But then I read stories about charities that are badly run or waste money and I wonder if my donation will actually be put to good use. I hear about overpaid chief executives, expensive offices, or pointless projects, and I hesitate to hand over some of my hard-earned cash. I've worked for several charities myself, so I know that money isn't always best spent.

On top of that, I think of all the tax I pay to the government and ask why they can't look after people properly instead of expecting charities to fill all the gaps. Are my donations to charity merely encouraging that indifference?

If it's a cause dear to my heart, I'll brush away the doubts and give something anyway, just hoping the money (or the used books or used clothing) will end up helping someone in need.

Nowadays also there are so many charities fighting for attention, it's hard to decide which ones to respond to. New charities are popping up every minute. all making out that their particular cause is more urgent than anyone else's. They play on our emotions, on our sense of guilt and horror, and make us feel that ignoring them is an act of sheer heartlessness.

Who wouldn't want to help the victims of the Nepal earthquake, or a collapsed factory in Bangladesh, or a hurricane in Indonesia? Or for that matter all those in our own country who're sleeping rough or short of food or just finding life unbearable?

But I can't help everyone. Who do I care about the most? And will my donation be used wisely? I write my cheque and hope for the best.

For those of you dying of curiosity about my three week absence, Jenny and I were in Washington DC and Chicago. Nothing much to blog about, but we had a fabulous time.


  1. Very much as you are Nick. I do not support any religious organization for starters with the exception of 1 that does amazing work with the homeless and mentally ill and ALL their funds go to this. I will not support any "pink me stupid" campaign as only 5% of all the billions they collect goes to research.
    And on.
    Due diligence applies and I'll always get whatever any homeless person needs on the street.

  2. Agreed. However much you want to help, there's always the sense that somewhere along the line you'll be funding a new leather office chair for the charity's accountant. There's also the subject of greed - for a long time I used to make a regular monthly donation to a well-known cancer charity on account of my mum dying of pancreatic cancer, until they kept phoning and sending letters asking me to up my donations to an unrealistic level. I then stopped the direct debit because I hated seeing them funding begging letters and 'free' ballpoint pens.
    Perhaps better to help out local charities in practical ways and seeing your efforts make a difference.

  3. Like you, I'm hesitant to give cash, as you don't really know where the money is going. I actually would rather my money goes to people suffering rather than research. Let the drug companies fund their own research for a cure.

    I'd rather just donate food, supplies or my time.

  4. www: If you mean the Salvation Army, I give money to them too as they have a very good reputation. And yes, those organisations that say they give part of their income to charity, it's usually a pretty tiny part.

    Dave: I hate that cold-calling, give us a bit more cash, routine. One charity I worked for did that a lot, and got endless complaints from those who were approached.

  5. Bijoux: I agree with your distinction between relieving suffering and funding research - good point.

  6. I can't believe you had nothing to blog about on your trip?!! Photos please?

    As for charity, in a very out of character moment I signed up to help a homeless charity recently - I never do that, but somehow it touched my heart. You're right we can't help everyone but if we all do a little?

  7. Suburbia: I can see I'll have to give some serious thought to blogging about the America trip or I'll be put in the Naughty Corner!

    It's my impression that most of the homeless charities do a good job. We've several times donated to Crisis At Christmas. To be homeless is a shattering experience.

  8. This whole issue became very much simpler for me when a friend of mine (an older & wiser one) put it in terms of what is required of us (him and me, that is) as Christians.

    God requires us to give. God requires the recipients to steward the funds appropriately. Each party will only be held accountable for their own part of the deal.

    Having said that, I wouldnt give to a charity which was obviously not efficient, that would be stupid. eg. I once was caught off guard and bought a teddy bear for $50, for some childrens charity. When i did my research the charity got less than $10 so i never bought another.

    I know you think religion is bollocks but i thought you might be interested in that bit.

  9. Kylie: I do think religion is bollocks, but then believers think atheism is bollocks so it all evens out!

    This is it, organisations tell you that part of the purchase price of something goes to charity, but when you look at the small print it's maybe 5% of what you paid. Look before you leap, I guess, and don't be seduced by the word charity.

    I don't agree that you should only be accountable for your part of the deal. We're all interconnected and we need to consider all the other links in the chain.

  10. my gift or refusal to give is the only thing i can be accountable for, yes?

  11. Kylie: But surely you have to think about the consequences of that gift and how it will be used (or misused)?

  12. I have a direct debit to a charity every month, which I've done since about 1987!!! It makes me feel less guilty when I haven't got any change for collectors in the street.

  13. Scarlet: Indeed, 28 years of regular donations should wipe out all incipient guilt feelings instantly! I've never committed myself to regular donations, I suppose because there's no charity I feel that passionate about.

  14. I like to know where my widow's mite is going. I actually dislike the hype around the homeless for a few weeks at Christmas. In my mind that only salves the guilt for people who go overboard with their spending at that time of year. Homeless means homeless, yesterday, today and tomorrow x 365. I notice Facebook and a few other sites today have donation drop-downs for Napal. If I give it is because I want to and not because the internet feels I should.
    End of rant.

    I too look forward to the tales and photos of your holiday.

  15. Grannymar: I suppose that's true to an extent, that Christmas giving is an antidote to guilty spending. On the other hand, Christmas is an especially miserable period for the homeless, so giving at that time seems worthwhile.

  16. Three weeks traveling overseas and it's nothing to blog about? Heck, I'll blog about a weekend n another part of my own state.

    My gripe with charitable organizations is the outrageously high salaries of the folks who run them. I don't like funding their luxurious lives. So I try to be careful about not giving to charities that have organizational structures like that.

  17. Agent: I'm working on an America post right now!

    Very true about outrageous salaries. There's a lot of fuss in Belfast about one chief exec who earns £142,000 plus a generous pension. His wife works for the same charity and earns £78,000. A nice little earner.

  18. Recently I was stopped by two charities on the street. They would only take my credit card. I offered cash, and they said they couldn't take it.

    I'm sure it's to prevent employees from stealing, but I was surprised. I didn't give them my credit card.

  19. Susie: I would never give my credit card to someone on the street. How would I know they're bona fide? And I object to being hustled on the street anyway. If I want to give to charity, I'll do it when I'm good and ready.

  20. I work for a charity and i worry about the negativity that administrative costs causes people....
    All i can say is that Samaritans survives by good will and donations
    Thank god for that me thinks

  21. I check my charities out at before I give.

  22. John: The Samaritans have a very good reputation, they do seem to be more efficiently run than a lot of charities. My mum was a Samaritan volunteer at one time.

  23. Jean: That sounds like a very useful resource. I must check it out.

  24. nick,
    well, no, the point is that God requires me to give and He requires the recipient to look after my gift.
    I know that doesnt make sense in the normal way of thinking but it released me to make donations without getting tangled up in detail. Obviously i make some basic attempts to be responsible about it but i am ultimately accountable only for what i give

  25. Kylie: I understand what you mean, but I can't agree with it. I like to be confident that my donation will be properly used.

  26. I give to those who I personally know to be deeply involved and are doing something worthwhile. It is possible to do so here. For instance, here is a link to an organisation that I support which is run and managed by fellow alumni from my business school.

    There is another portal set up by another alumnus that collects from people just as skeptical as you are but who want to give, and they do the screening and use the funds judiciously.

  27. Ramana: If you know all the people who're involved in something, then I guess you can assume your donation will be properly used.

    The screening service looks useful, though of course it's a purely Indian one. I'm not sure if there's any British equivalent. I must do some googling.

  28. I have become more suspicious of charities - I think it first dawned on me when many years ago Friends of the Earth spent £50,000 on getting a new logo. I can't make up my mind how useful it is to be like all the other lobbyists becuase of course charities need to influence the powers that be and they won't do that by spending everything on work in the field. I usually hear good things about the Salvation army and understand they don't tend to push religion down the throats of those they help.

  29. Jenny: £50,000 on a new logo? That's outrageous. I often look at logos and think, I could have designed a better one than that for a few hundred quid! It's true that charities need to look professional to have more influence but a £50k logo is taking the piss.