Charity is big business. According to Third Sector magazine, global charitable giving could be worth $146 billion dollars by 2030. But where does all that money go?
As many people know, my primary purpose on this Planet is to help others and give back. It was ever thus. From the time PR doyenne Lynne Franks interviewed me at her kitchen table (after I wrote to her for a job in 1995) I have always stated that what I want to do in life is ‘make a difference’. I got the job, to boot.
With the above in mind, I would like to think that during my 20-something years working in the sphere of international comms, I have achieved this on many levels. Whether it is helping an aspirational entrepreneur launch a new business, teaching some very bright and hungry students about the truth behind the façade of PR to working with numerous charities, celebrities and corporates with a heart around the Globe, this is and always has been my mission.
I would like to go to my grave knowing that my hard work was not in vain and that my expertise, passion and knowledge didn’t go un-noticed or respected. The reason for sharing this blast about me is that most of the people I know who work in the Third Sector, AKA Charity, are (also) passionate about what they do. They do it because they care and also because they want to make a difference in the world. They will often take nominal salaries because they believe in what they do.
Back in the day, the Charity Bucket was a viable way of fundraising. Fearful volunteers wearing sashes would look at you longingly on the street or at an event, hoping that you would open your purse or wallet and donate. Today’s equivalent is the viral ALS ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ that is gracing all of our social media timelines and inboxes on a daily basis. And please let me clearly state here that I am NOT against people doing this challenge. I am simply examining the wider context and the questions and day-to-day challenges that the Business of Charity throws up.
The Ice Bucket Challenge is a fantastic and I repeat fantastic viral social media campaign and I will talk about this as a separate blog in due course. The founders (one of whom I believe tragically drowned recently) should receive (posthumous) awards for coming up with this simple yet brilliant campaign idea. The sensation created by the Ice Bucket Challenge (correctly done with iced water being poured over the head whilst feet are also immersed in iced water) is supposed to mimic the feeling experienced by Cancer patients when they receive Chemotherapy. Monies are then donated to the ALS Charity, supporting a disease that affects 450,000 people around the world.
And whilst I fully appreciate that the ALS disease is yet another awful waste of life and one that needs a cure (along with hundreds of other diseases) I question whether people around the world should be wasting water when millions of children struggle to walk to clean water sources on a daily basis? I myself had never heard of ALS prior to seeing the videos and whilst I won’t actually do this challenge (for many reasons) I will regularly support all manner of causes, both with time and/or funds. For clarification, when I refer to ‘clean water’ I also mean the toilet water that some people are using as many children around the world only have access to water that is the sanitary equivalent of toilet water as drinking water, FYI.
Another thing to consider is funding and where money goes within any particular organisation and spend per capita. I was actually surprised to see that ALS is funded with annual resources of $24 million (1). Out of this $24 million, 27% goes to research and labour costs, ie salaries, total approximately $12.5 million (Source: healthimpactnews.com). There must be some overlap here before you shout that I can’t do my sums. In simple terms over half of the monies raised around the world go into company salaries. Good job for a relatively ‘niche’ Charity, if such a term exists. From an awareness perspective, ALS is way ahead and leading the Charity Pack.
I am actually surprised by this information. I work with numerous amazing charities such as Arms Around The Child, many of whom would welcome such a high relative spend of funds per head. This is not a direct criticism of ALS per se as this is the case with MANY charities, but mainly referenced for Joe Public awareness, before people jump on a bandwagon, when they don’t know the destination or whom the driver is. And of course, we all need money to survive. I am not questioning this. I am merely questioning how much the Public knows when they donate to a cause.
By way of a complementary example of organisations where high percentages of monies go directly to the target audience, Arms Around The Child (2) is committed to helping some of the 17.8 million street kids and orphans afflicted by AIDS and HIV. In 2012/2013, Arms Around The Child was instrumental in getting the US government to adjust their HIV/AIDS global budget in order to put three million people on HIV/AIDS treatment. Subsequently, three million lives have been saved.
Unrestricted funding per annum breaks down into 30:60:10 whereby 30 per cent of monies go towards overheads, business costs and salaries, 60 per cent goes to direct care and 10 per cent is raised from fundraising. Based on these figures, every precious penny counts towards saving lives for Arms Around The Child. Even though the immense and absolutely relevant subject of AIDS and HIV has reached The White House, money coming through the fundraising funnel doesn’t reflect the scale and need for monies required to conquer the global plight of the ever-increasing number of orphans affected by AIDS and HIV.
It is because I have experienced working with many passionate and tenacious organisations (and the one I cite is one example of many) I know what is achievable on relatively limited budgets as well as the impactful work these limited funds support. Basic arithmetic shows that dollar per head, ALS is storming ahead in terms of financial support per capita (as well as fat cat Director salaries). And whilst we all have the choice of how we allocate our time and/or money, what now, post-Ice Bucket Challenge? How can organisations like Arms Around The Child (as an example) compete with this initiative moving forward, or do they have to keep raising the ‘Bucket Bar’?
And talking of Bars, whoever is managing this ALS campaign should consider approaching bars, clubs and chains like Ocean Club to create an alternative ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’. For the hundreds of people splashing the cash (literally and metaphorically) during the day and night, host organisations and their clientele might consider donating a percentage of the contents of each ‘Ice Bucket’ to a nominated charity of choice (not necessarily ALS). Well, if I was looking after ALS’s PR, this would be my creative suggestion. If someone reading this blog wants to pick it up and run with the Bucket (I mean Ball) please do so. And I will donate my fee to a split of charities, including ALS.
Thousands of pounds, dollars and euros are spent each Summer at Pool Parties to reserve poolside beds and spray each other with Champagne. Surely there must be some element of opportunity here for these organisations to be seen as making a difference in the world (rather than taking)? Or am I just old and over-zealous in my view of philanthropy? I never said ‘don’t have a great time’ – anyone who knows my life story will know I am far from ‘bah humbug’ (apart from at Xmas when I hibernate). I am just wondering what happens when we really get bored of seeing ALS challenges on our timeline or run out of nominees. And what this means for other Charities trying to source funding from a similar global pool of donors? How far do Charities have to (safely and responsibly) push this Campaign Bucket without creating chaos?
I want the world to be a better place. I may be idealistic in this sense, cynically so but the art of giving is always on my Bucket List. I don’t want any innocent child or adult to not have choices or opportunities for a better life or any life at all. But I also believe that we should be responsible with our actions and our choices. So I ask all of you to consider your actions prior to giving to any Charity – either financially and/or with your time. Not because ALS or any other Cause isn’t worthy. Moreover because every action has a reaction. Work with charities that tick your boxes. If you don’t care whether money goes into Directors’ pockets rather than to the people that need it, no issue. But never forget that every Charity is a Business. If Third Sector’s prediction is anything to go by, $146 billion could fill one hell of a lot of Buckets.