Charities - to give or not to give?

by Tiggered

Are charities really OK? A critical look at charity organisations

Giving liberates the soul of the giver. Giving is better than receiving. No one has ever become poor by giving. If you want to be a good [enter your creed here], you have to give to charity. Poor starving children (see the picture right here, doesn't it make your heart bleed?) need your help. You've heard it all.
On the other hand, we have fraud, embezzlement, disappearing donations and CEOs who quite legally earn salaries nearing $500,000. Which picture is true? Do charities actually make a difference in the world of suffering or are they just a smart way of getting a nice paycheck from people's naivety?
The decision is yours and it's an important one, because it's you who sponsors the whole industry. Choose wisely.

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Why am I writing this article?

I know that as a writer I'For the poor of the worldm supposed to be impartial, composed, polite etc. etc., but sometimes I bump against an issue that simply makes the blood boil in my veins. It's not that I want to talk about this - I want to SCREAM. I may not change a thing - you are, each of you, your own person who makes independent decisions - but at least I will have tried and it puts my conscience at a bit of rest. So please forgive me upfront if my tone gets a bit heated here and there. I'm fighting my own windmills here :).

Today's word is 'charity' and it's a big, important word. It can be spoken on the same breath as 'compassion', 'sharing', 'generosity' - or at least it should be.

I got curious by the fact, that although I see tens of different charity fundraisers each day, I've never EVER met a person to whom a charity would actually give something (and no, I do not hang out in posh, rich circles).

I was surprised by the discovery that although I have heard lots of rumours about charity scams and frauds, I've hardly ever heard about any actual work they're doing from a living, breathing person other than marketers of charity organisations.

I'm not trying to say here that charity organisations do not do good job. I'm sure they do. Some, anyway.

But some of their practises are pretty questionable, and this is exactly what I'm going to talk about here.

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Are charities OK?

Do we need charities?

Salaries of charity CEOs

If you  are interested to know how much bacon can you bring home if you are a CEO of a charity institution, check our a page called Charity Navigator.  It lists and evaluates American* charities, helpfully quoting salary figures for the top dog in each particular institution.  I took a closer look and what I saw simply blew my mind. 

It appears that becoming a CEO of a humanitarian aid organisation is a very smart career move.  Very rarely did the numbers fell below six-digit figures, and some were nearing a million.  A million dollars!  Go and investigate for yourself.  Find your favourite charity and check how much of once yours money goes into the pocket of their boss. 

You know, I DO have a huge problem with that. I'm ok with giving money to those who really need it. I'm even ok with rewarding people working for charity organisations for their time - let's say with the national average salary (just to remind you - for US in 2010 it was $46,326) and I could even throw in 20% extra for the good cause. But I refuse to pay for the CEOs' shark pools, full stop.

I mean WTF? Do you realise what an outrageous amount of money $500,000 dollars is? Most of people on this planet will not earn a pile of cash this high within their lifetime!

All this for people who claim to have interests of the poor and the needy at heart. With that kind of paycheck, what can they know of being poor and needy? I don't quite see the room for empathy here.


* I only wish similar website existed for Irish charities...  I looked, but the only scraps of knowledge on the matter can be gained from an occasional article in Irish Times or similar and even these are skeletal and hard to access. 

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This is NOT how I spell 'charity'!

This is NOT how I spell 'charity'!
This is NOT how I spell 'charity'!

Ads for Charity

labrador puppyYou surely have seen some ads for charity organisations. Whatever the foundation, I can bet my money that the ad has been full of images of suffering - wide-eyed African children, helpless puppies and the likes. I can also bet that it did not contain a word on salaries of the organisation workers, costs of advertising, cost of running an office, travel expenses, etc. etc. Why? You ARE paying for all those things, you know? If we stick to thinking of charity organisations as 'businesses' (as I know some of you would claim), then, as a paying customer, you have right to know what is it that you're buying with your money, am I correct?

I don't quite hold with the idea of 'charity marketing'. I can do without extra advertising, you know? I'm allergic to billboards, leaflets, banners and all sorts of marketing propaganda. I believe that we need a lot less of it around us. Dear charity person, now I'm supposed to give you my money so that you can pay for more ads and make my life this bit more miserable?

A real life story - my partner has been talked into signing up for Oxfam donations a few years ago, by one of their highly-trained sales collection people. It was something around 13 euros, to be taken from his account by direct debit every month. He signed off their list after about a month, so 13 euros was actually all he donated. Until today he receives some marketing Oxfam brochures in the post, all multi-paged, printed on high quality paper, with colourful pictures of African children. So far he must have received junk mail (isn't that how you call unwanted marketing mail?) worth many times more than what he ever donated. All paid for by you, dear donor.

Hereby I'm tempted to add - thank you, our fireplace has never blazed so brightly - but that would be a blatant lie, since I don't have a fireplace. If I had, though, that's exactly where those glossy brochures would end. Remember, we're still talking about the money that you, dear donor, gave Oxfam after they have promised to make those poor children happier with your contribution.

How many people around the world could tell you a similar story, I wonder?

Helping people is a good thing. Paying for more and more unwanted advertisements is not. While I'm happy to do the first, I refuse to do the second. As simple as that.

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Charity - the magic word

Have you noticed what magic the word 'charity' carries? People hear it and somehow stop thinking critically or don't dare to ask any questions. As in:

- He gives money to charity, he's a good person (nevermind he's beaten his wife twice this month only)
- This company donates part of their profits to charity, we can trust them (the price has been raised by exactly the contributed amount, but who cares? They're the good guys!)
- He collects money for charity, don't you dare being unpleasant to him! (forget automatically that he has been trained in sales techniques and is well paid for his job)
- It's for the kiddies (AND our chairman AND our community outing AND those lovely leaflets we're printing by the thousand AND...)

Once the word 'charity' pops into view, good feelings are automatically generated, no questions asked. I wonder how much rubbish is getting swept under the 'charity' rug?

I once worked for a company who did their maths and found out that a press release in a local advertising paper is very expensive, but giving some spare merchandise (with market value of xxx and real value of 0, because it wouldn't sell anyway) gets them their press release for free. They got their half-a-column of being presented as the good guys. Nobody bothered to mention the maths or the fact that product contributed was used to beautify the foundation's headquarters and NOT to help anyone in need.

I'd give them 8 out of 10 on my Personal Dirty Deeds Scale. No one else will, because no outsider will ever find out.

I'm sure this sort of things happens all the time.

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Do you still think charities are OK?

Are charity organisations OK?


Hey, not all charities are bad :)

By now you must have formed an impression that I hate each and every one charity organisation in the world. Let me officially tell you - it isn't so :)

I believe there are many brave people out there who freely donate their time and effort, without receiving any kind of gratification besides this lovely glow inside. I believe they need to be seen, supported, helped - and I also believe that the big 'charity' institutions make it harder to see them, with all the billboards and glossy brochures.

I believe small charitable initiative can do much, much more for the people in need (or any other cause) than the giants, simply because they don't waste half of the donations in administrative costs.

It's important (for me, anyway) to make sure that my money goes to the people who need it, not to the CEOs and brochure printers.

Give, by all means. But give wisely. Please?

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If you liked this article, why not reach for more?

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Updated: 02/25/2014, Tiggered
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


Tiggered on 07/05/2014

Thanks for commenting :)
Yes, I wonder if they realise that their 'marketing' techniques have the exactly opposite effect than intended?

Tiggered on 07/05/2014

I couldn't agree more. Devoting your time shows more empathy than simply paying off your guilty conscience and, unlike money, your work cannot be squandered away. Thanks for stopping by

frankbeswick on 07/03/2014

I have a few selected charities to which I will give. But I will never give to any charity that tries to pressurize or manipulate me into giving. If there is an appeal at church I give.

dustytoes on 07/03/2014

I am more for giving of time and donations of items needed to local organizations than gifts of money which can go to anything, including salaries. People who want to help the poor have to do some research and investigation before they throw their money away.

Tiggered on 02/27/2014

I think this is the right approach to charity giving - donate only when you can clearly see what your money is spent for

WordChazer on 02/26/2014

I support charities where I can personally see the difference my donation is making. So, my church renovation project. A local organisation which helps blind people to deal with things like bills and housework. Another which supports local children in need of help, where you go to a school or youth club and help them out with reading, writing, learning skills. And of course, the Centre for Computing History which preserves retro computer gear for posterity and more gaming geekiness.

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