charities are sometimes not that charitable

Chugging has long been one of the basic hazards of the high street and has since invaded our homes through visits at the front door, mail-shots, and the email equivalent, TV campaigns plus telephone calls. Goodness knows how much it all costs and one assumes that it generates sufficient income or they wouldn’t do it, but I wonder how many people do they turn off in the process and how much potential revenue that loses them.

One of the problems as a giver is that if the charity knows who you are they will pursue you without mercy and whilst some make it easy to remove yourself from their lists others are less keen to let you go. Things have got so bad that it has become something of a national scandal.

As an individual I gave to charities as and when the mood, or the appeal, took me, but my attitudes began to change as I got involved with charities from an organisational viewpoint. The first experience was when, as a member of my trade union local branch committee I was asked to present a cheque to a charity after some of our members had done some fund raising. I had not be part of the project and didn’t really know why I was given the job of handing over the cheque, but I was told that I would have to say a few words, warned that the local papers might be present and told to be sure and get the Union a mention.

It wasn’t a great sum and I wasn’t the only person there at the presentation with a cheque to hand over, but I felt that we were all treated with indifference by the people representing the recipient and that the whole deal was more about them getting their names, and preferably their photos, into the paper than about the cause or the funds.

Later, as a senior manager, I often found myself involved in supporting one local charity or another and in meeting people wanting to elicit our support. Whilst some were clearly good people there was always a feeling that there were a lot of senior volunteers who were seeking as much personal glory as they could get. This became even more apparent as I got involved with charity committees and found that there was so much posturing and self interest that it was hard to get anything done.

One of the projects that I got involved with when I first went independent was when I was hired to talk to charities about a possible member benefit. Sure it was a selling job, but the principle was that the charity got a commission on every sale. They didn’t have to pass over their mailing list and we provided all the necessary promotional material free of charge. All they had to do was to include a flyer in their mail-shots and to paste the code we provided onto one of their web pages. The commission was generous for almost no effort on the part of the charity and yet the take up was poor.

Some folks were suspicious on the basis of it being something for nothing, but we could show that it was genuine and that cash was there for them to benefit from. A common reaction though was just inertia; many charities simply could not agree anything because they had such convoluted and ineffective processes. Often this seemed to be a deliberate attempt to stop any one individual being accountable for decisions, not from any sense of probity, but so that no-one could be blamed for failure. Probably half of the bodies that we spoke to fell into this category. Of the others only a couple just said that they were not interested; the rest ranged from the apparently enthusiastic, but always had an excuse for missing their own deadlines, to those who wanted money before we went beyond the initial discussion and at the top end of this were requests for five and ten thousand pounds respectively as a donation before we would be allowed access to anyone to make our proposals.

In all I spent two unpaid months of my time, spread over a six month period, and over two thousand pounds of my own cash on travel working on this project before I gave it up as a bad job. As far as I know none of the charities that we met with got as far as signing up for the scheme. I learned a lot along the way, met lots of good people and saw some interesting projects, but most of all I learned about the self-interest and petty politics that do so much to neuter charitable intent.

My experiences of working with these organisations hasn’t put me off donating to charity; I still do so willingly, but I am selective about the ones that I support.


1 Comment

Filed under business life

One response to “charities are sometimes not that charitable

  1. Ah. I SO agree here. I’ve dedicated 10 years of my life to the Charity sector. I’ve worked in some of the most over managed, protective and blameless bodies ever, whose senior management were so far up their own arses it was always hard to take it out so I could talk to them. Yet, on the other hand I’ve worked with forward thinking and inclusive bodies that senior management valued volunteers opinions over their own.

    EGO is HUGE in the Charitable sector. One thing I had to learn was to massage egos when needing anything.

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