Every charity seems to have a Christmas appeal, to judge by the amount of literature circulated, it must be a fruitful time of year to seek to tap into people’s generosity. A leaflet received through the post seemed to have caught the eye of one lady.
“I would like to support a charity that helps people in Africa to have clean water, which would you recommend?”
It was not a question I had ever contemplated. “I don’t know,” I said. “I am unfamiliar with the charities.”
“But I thought you had supported such work?”
“Yes, my church supported work to bring water supplies, and clinics and schools and agricultural projects, but we did so directly, we didn’t send it through an agency.”
The woman looked unsatisfied with the answer, some expansion was necessary. “Why don’t you Google the charities and find out how much they spend in the UK and how much reaches Africa?”
“I could do that,” she said, still not looking altogether pleased that her question had not been answered. An honest answer might have been to be very wary of many charities.
Ten years ago, a Dublin church official, an accountant by profession, suggested that anyone who wished to see how different charities spent very different levels of their income at home should look at the accounts of Christian Aid and Medecins sans Frontieres.
A decade later, things seem not to have changed. Google it for yourself and it can be seen that Christian Aid accounts show that their income from giving in 2016, as opposed to government grants, was £57 million. Medecins sans Frontieres recorded income of £54 million for the same year. Christian Aid spent £22 million in the United Kingdom, Medecins sans Frontieres spent £5 million.
The honest answer to the lady would have been that charities circulating hundreds of thousands of leaflets might not be the best stewards of the few pounds a month she would send by standing order, that there would be a risk that a significant element of what she gave would be spent on offices and staff at home and would not reach its intended recipients.
Were I to be supporting an agency working overseas, I would want to think that more than 90% of what I gave actually went overseas and, if that was not the case, I would look elsewhere. Perhaps the lady will find there are charities supporting water projects where ninety pence in the pound gets to its proper destination, a brief perusal of the accounts would tell her where her money might really go. Ignoring the leaflets might be her wisest decision.
I am profoundly wary of giving to emotional causes without first spending an amount of time examining the agency that is profoundly disproportionate to the amount I’m thinking of giving.
Growing up I would hear about charity giving was only a good thing. And to some extent that is true, but it is so easy to be flim-flammed by ‘valid’ charities.
Education is the most dangerous, closely followed by agriculture. Most educational is going to prop up the balance sheets of private schools and giving them a charitable profile by having the 10% of the intake on free fees. Then the lunacy of agriculture giving. Sending a cow to a family that already has a farm, and attempting to repeat a ranching style of farming in places with food shortages is insane. It’s one of the reasons Zimbabwe had such problems, for they tried to repeat Texas in Africa.
A lot of stuff done with good intentions – like the shoebox appeals – represents very poor value for money.
I could never understand the economics of sending livestock.
It makes sense it you draw in x1000 the value of the animal adding the trip and only send one.