Sunday 23 September 2018

A loss of trust

I used to be an enthusiastic supporter of charities. In fact I've worked for several, including Asthma UK and Diabetes UK. But all the charity scandals in recent years have drained my enthusiasm and turned it into a wary scepticism.

It seems that the public generally now have less faith in charities. The reputation of several charities has plummeted, and people are much more selective about who they give money to.

It's sobering to sum up all the recent misconduct:
  • Oxfam staff sexually exploiting victims of the Haiti earthquake in 2010
  • Women in Syrian refugee camps forced into sex by UN aid workers
  • The suicide of 92-year-old poppy seller Olive Cooke, after being deluged with begging letters from charities
  • Chuggers (charity muggers) asking people for donations in the street
  • Huge financial irregularities at Kids Company, which had to close down
  • Direct debit "donations" taken from Alzheimer's sufferer Joseph Frost
  • Excessive spending on administration
  • Chief Executive salaries as high as £140,000
The only charities I donate to now are ones that are well-known and not tainted (as far as I know) by any unethical or pushy behaviour. Like St John Ambulance and the Salvation Army.

When I worked at Diabetes UK I was aware money was sometimes being wasted, for example on London staff meetings for employees across the UK, whose hotels and transport (including flights from Northern Ireland) were paid for by the charity. I found the meetings almost entirely unproductive, but attendance was compulsory.

Charities have become big business, and it seems that some of them are adopting the behaviour of big business and doing whatever they can get away with.

Baroness Stowell, Chair of the Charity Commission, says the public no longer trust charities any more than a stranger in the street. Well, a bit exaggerated perhaps, but there's some truth in that. And once lost, trust isn't easily regained.

Pic: Olive Cooke with begging letters

PS: One organisation I regularly donate to is Wikipedia. I use it virtually every day and I want to make sure it keeps going.


  1. I share your scepticism
    Charities like Samaritans run with the minimal number of paid staff
    It's a fact I've always found baffling but I've always been proud of the fact.....

  2. It's not new...
    In the eighties I worked with a woman who was a trustee for a charity dealing with a specific illness.
    She blithely announced that the charity had recently held a policy Venice.
    Gathering from my expression that I was far from impressed she added...'Just the trustees, you understand...not the staff...'

  3. John: The Samaritans are not only okay, they provide an absolutely vital service. In fact I must make a donation. My mum was a Samaritans volunteer for a while, but she never said much about it. As a cub reporter I once interviewed Chad Varah, the founder of the Samaritans.

  4. Helen: So as long as it was just the trustees, that was fine? I bet they didn't make do with a budget hotel either. A pity they didn't accidentally fall into the Grand Canal....

  5. I think we could use more skepticism here. I'm amazed how much money people can collect on their GoFundMe sites.

  6. Bijoux: Crowdfunding is a subject all on its own. It's weird how willing people are to donate to complete strangers who for all they know could be telling a pack of lies. Or have plenty of money already. Or might use the cash to buy a Porsche.

  7. I'm with Bijoux - the GoFundMe donations are nuts and a lot of people don't use them for what they claim they are for.

    It's the high CEO salaries that make me wary of charities. And I avoid religious charities that have an agenda I don't care for, even if they are also doing good. Small local charities seem to be a little less corrupt.

  8. Nick, the fact that a charity is well-known and not scandalous doesn't mean that it's efficient. Here's a BBB site that I use:

  9. Agent: Not sure about small local charities. Some of the small ones here in Northern Ireland have experienced financial scandals like the chief executive stealing large sums of money.

    Snowbrush: True. But it's difficult to measure efficiency unless you're working for the organisation.

  10. Oh, that's true - I guess I meant small charities you are familiar with. It's important to know how much of the money actually goes to help people.

  11. cancer research is my major irritant. always asking for money for 'research.'
    in America at least (can't speak for other countries) it is BIG BUSINESS.
    a MAJOR money maker industry. they've been working on a cure for literally DECADES.
    huge real estate holdings in almost every state (CANCER CENTERS) like small cities... and hotels nearby for the convenience of those staying while their afflicted loved one is treated. think of the jobs it creates. the doctors. the special technicians. the xray machines. the drugs. the gift shops just for selling wigs even! it's all just ludicrous. the cancer patient pays for it all in getting sick and staying sick. the rest of us pay in good faith for a cure. except me. I finally got smart and quit donating. I only felt guilty for a little while. not anymore. they count on that guilt.
    the poor patients are treated and subjected to test after test with the expensive equipment and/or surgery with its cost of thousands upon thousands of dollars. in 1979 my Bob's surgery cost was over $20,000. I can't even imagine what it would be today. and after all that he not only lost his life we lost our home and also his business. and they're still searching for a cure. and they are saying in commercials now for donations... they're CLOSE to finding a cure. (I think they've had a cure. probably for years now.)
    but they do let just a few be cured! wow. imagine that. that gives HOPE! but the rest of the masses keep paying into it all and sustaining livelihoods for all involved. I think it's the biggest scam on mankind that ever was.
    even thankfully AIDS is almost history now. but Cancer with its "RESEARCH" and huge expenses just keeps marching on. a major money machine. it's pathetic.
    and well... please don't beat around the bush Tammy. tell us how you REALLY feel!
    (and PLEASE! delete this if you want to Nick.) xo

  12. CEO salaries finally put me off. I do put their correspondence in the recycle.

  13. Agent: Yes, that's the key thing to know - how much money is spent on the cause and how much gets siphoned off en route.

    Joanne: Their salaries may be trivial compared to chief executives of large corporations, but they're misusing charity income.

  14. Tammy: Of course I won't delete your comment, you've highlighted something very important. I think it's much the same in the UK. Huge sums of money are donated to cancer charities but we seem to be no nearer a cure. But at least cancer patients here are treated for free and don't have to bankrupt themselves getting treatment. Though thanks to the British government's endless NHS cost-cutting and underfunding, people are waiting longer and longer for urgent treatment.

  15. I'm with you and commenters Nick. I was disillusioned a while ago having raised serious money for the Cure for Cancer. LOL. They're out of business once they find a cure. And business it is. I was so disillusioned here when my fave charity, The Gathering Place (for the homeless) hired the ex-premier of the province to head up their volunteer division and she took a whopping income on top of her outrageous pension. That was the end of that for me. These heads of volunteers stick in my craw. How dare they.

    As to the Salvation Army Nick, please check them out. Last I looked they were anti-gay.


  16. Hello from Idaho and for Charity one time I put a little cash and mailed it off to the people in low in come apartments
    I stop in from Rodger and if you have time stop in for a cup of coffee

  17. www: What happened at The Gathering Place sounds disgraceful. As you say, on top of a whopping pension? I don't know anything about the Salvation Army's beliefs, but they do some very good work. Maybe I should reconsider my donations? Kylie might like to comment - she's been in the Salvation Army for many years.

  18. Dora: And was that money put to good use, do you know? And who is Rodger?

  19. I make monthly donations to Doctors without Borders. You can clearly follow how and where the money is spent and I never heard of the smallest scandal. Money makes people eager and so corruption lingers round the corner.

  20. Chloe: Sorry to say so, but Doctors Without Borders dealt with 24 cases of sexual harassment or abuse among its staff last year, and dismissed 19 people as a result. So they aren't entirely scandal-free either. But apart from that (and bearing in mind that's a very small percentage of their 40,000 staff), I'm sure they do a lot of very good work.

  21. The problem of sexual harassement and abuse is in fact a big and painful problem. It starts in a lot of families and spreads out on the whole society. And of course Doctors without Borders make no exception..I had in mind just the idea of well used donations money.

  22. All sorts of scams in our news from individuals to groups whose officials manage to absorb for themselves most of the donations they receive. Really have to research who we’re donating to.

  23. I'm mostly giving to people/groups I know, but Charity Navigator here in the states is a good way to check the bigger organizations I give to.

  24. Joared: It's a sad situation when you have to be suspicious of every charity because there are so many reports of scandals and misconduct.

    Jean: Charity Navigator looks helpful. I don't think there's any equivalent in the UK.

  25. Like Bijoux, I'm amazed by how much money people can raise on Go Fund Me sites. Honestly, most of the time, those seem like outright begging to me, and usually fall under the category of things I'd classify as your own responsibility.

    It is sad how many charities mismanage funds, and how much it hurts their cause. I try to check things out on Charity Navigator before I give money, and there are very few causes we give money to.

    I don't know if it happens there, but here the charities all seem to share their donor lists with each other. We do the Walk to End Alzheimer's, and since we started that we've been inundated with mailings from so many different charities, and it got even worse after we donated to DAV after my grandfather died. I can understand charities trying to help each other out, but it gets annoying.

  26. Danielle: Yes, I think that's what happened with Olive Cooke, and why she got such a deluge of letters. Charities pass on people's details to other charities, presumably because they make money from it. But it may be that with the new laws on data usage, passed earlier this year, that sort of indiscriminate data transfer, unauthorised by the person concerned, is no longer possible.

  27. Hi Nick,
    I haven't been around a computer for a while and missed your suggestion that I comment but I'm here now.....

    The Salvation Army is like most churches, it's members have a variety of opinions on LGBTQI issues and some of those opinions are super conservative. It's hard to get a consensus and there are still those who are not supportive of the GLBTQI community BUT the official position is that regardless of personal opinion, we are to extend equality, hospitality, opportunity and all those good things to ALL people.

    No group is ever perfect and I know that there have been injustices towards homosexuals perpetrated by representatives of The Salvation Army but I would be very sad if people stopped giving to what is generally a good organisation, doing good things.

    The Salvation Army worldwide is a very diverse group including the ministers and lay church members who I expect to represent the organisation well. Then there are volunteers who may make no claim to holding any of the values of The Salvation Army but want to help out (say in a shop) All of these people have different personal views, different levels of commitment to upholding the values of the Salvation Army, different levels of honesty etc etc

    The international Salvation Army currently has no policy statement on homosexuality because while we in the west are wanting to be affirmative, a pro-LGBTQI international policy could endanger our people in parts of the world where homosexuality is outlawed.

    I had intended to make lengthy comments on charities and on specific details of your post but after that I'm running out of steam a little so let me just say that my attitude to helping charities wqas simplified greatly when someone put it to me this way:
    As a Christian, God requires me to be generous and he requires a recipient of my generosity to be a good steward. It would obviously be stupid to give to an obvious scam or where there is clear mismanagement, butin the absence of any specific information it is my duty to give. The rest is not my business.
    I understand that this might seem almost irresponsible but it is also freeing.
    In general terms, charities try hard and do a lot of good so rather than stop giving to them, I would rather take the risk on some wasted dollars and give what I can. A richer organisation has a better chance of attracting good people who will be responsible and effective, they are also in a better position to weed out the grifters.

    There is an unbelievable amount of need in the world and once my basic needs have been met I want to give to all kinds of causes. I want to go to my grave knowing that I have done whatever I can to alleviate that need.

  28. Kylie: Wow, that's a really detailed response, thanks for that. I do understand that any definitive policy position on homosexuality could be a big problem in countries that are ferociously anti-gay. Extending equality, hospitality, opportunity etc without specifically being pro-gay is a good work-around.

    I agree that in the absence of any detrimental information about a charity, you should assume it's run properly and donate rather than giving up charity donations altogether. I don't know if richer and bigger organisations are better at weeding out the bad apples, but I guess I would make that assumption.

  29. Nick, I don't know if richer organisations are better at weeding out the bad apples but they have better opportunities. With more money you can make volunteers positions paid ones and once someone is paid for what they do, there is more motivation for them to do the right thing. For example, there are a lot of volunteers in second hand stores and some of them steal merchandise. If they get paid for their work they have less motivation to steal because they have more money and they also want to keep their job.

  30. Kylie: That makes sense. I also think a lot of volunteers are taken for granted by full-time paid staff and not properly appreciated (I say that from my own past experience as a volunteer). That would also change if they were paid workers.

  31. I tend to support charities that I can see the benefits of myself - for instance my great aunt was always very grateful for a small grant made to her by Edith Cavell nurses charity which made a huge difference to her life. And the Victorian Society (a building conservation charity) produces some excellent publications and a great magazine. And I have in the past sometimes used helplines. And if they were good, I think, well, at the end of the day they helped me so I will support them if I can.

  32. Jenny: I agree, if you can see some tangible benefit in your own life, or the lives of those close to you, donating becomes more attractive. And yes, helplines seem to be more obviously useful than some other causes.