The Charity Business

It’s that time of year, that time when the charity business is in full flight, TV Ads, Press Ads, bucket shakers outside your favourite shop. The leadership these organisations offer is questionable, the value they provide transient at best but the business strategy if plain for all, make as much money from peoples guilt as possible.

The ads; watch them, they all seek to personalise the call to action (the process of getting you to give generously) so that some impoverished individual, normally a child but not always pulls at your heart strings and you open your wallet or more accurately now that you send a text message and they get the money. You feel better, you’ve helped some poor sole and all for the cost an inconvenience of a test message. The world has been saved at the push of a smart-phone button.

If only this were the case.

Is charity effective? Does charity business actually work?

The answer depends on how you see charity and what you think it’s for, who you think it’s for I guess. For me charity is part of who I am, I give to charity, not many but consistently via direct debit. I don’t have to think too much, the money just goes to where and who I want it to go to. I suppose it’s a bit lazy, pick a cause, one I find it impossible to give time and effort to and sign up for the direct debit. Like many, job done at the click of few buttons.

The charity business however, is a business. It sells salvation and a clear conscience to those willing to buy (give). The strategy is a simple one, get in front of people and show them something awful then tell them things can be changed with a little of their help and money.

But this is too simplistic a view of charity, it’s the one that I guess we all identify with and is not realistically how charity and aid is really given. There are so far as I can tell 3 main types of charity and aid systems in play, each with a specific way of delivering the aid and possibly each on a different scale.

So here they are;

The personal type; this is the charity where you give to a local cause, say the local sports club for children run by the parents for the children with no other reason than they want their children to enjoy competitive sport. The other local type tends to be a hospice that sometimes a relative or close friend has been treated by. Both you have very personal contact with and maintain often for years after the event or reason you first got involved. These types of charities also often benefit from personal involvement in the provision of the service they offer.

This personal type of giving is motivated by personal experience normally. It’s effective in that funds go directly to the people and organisation you want them to go to. What you don’t have is any say on how they are spent or if they are used effectively. You just hand over the cash and feel good that you’re supporting a local cause, job done.

There is nothing at all wrong with this type of giving and the conversion of cash into good acts I suspect is very effective indeed. I know this because MGL once run a sports club my daughter was involved in. The experience taught me that the people involved were totally committed to the cause and to stay out of the way!

The NGO (non-governmental organisation); these are charities (businesses) that pester you with advertising. These are the professional charities and can be a real pain. You know the type… £3.00 per month fixes just about anything you can name; but it doesn’t cos if it was that simple it would have been done a long time ago. No, what they mean is that your £3.00 buys a sticking plaster (Band-Aid for you Americans). The problem is fixed for now, till the next disaster or calamity comes along.

These are professional charities, often called NGO’s, normally operating on an international basis with paid employees. They also have an agenda they want to push (religiously based, environmental, animal welfare…) and this comes at a cost. The other thing about them is that they will often (nearly always) insist at the recipient nation accepting the aid (and it will be significant aid) will have to use the aid to purchase their services or expertise.

In the short-term when you are faced with a calamity of national proportions and no local talent then yes I can see why this might be best. But honestly, does is always have to be this way? Of course not, the charities could use some of your money that you so willingly gave them to train and teach local people to deal with and PREVENT further calamities happening. But this will mean the charity is potentially no longer relevant so they don’t do this.

I’m reminded of the phrase give a man fish and he will be able to feed his family for a day. Give a man the ability to catch the fish and he will be able to feed his family for ever. Well, the charity business is in the business of selling fish NOT fishing rods.

State Aid; the third and potentially most effective kind of charity is that of national governments to other nation states. Here in the UK we give 0.7% of GDP to other nations. It’s all a bit shady to the regular populace, they haven’t a clue where the money goes or how it might be spent or the reasons behind why it’s even given in the first place. What I can say is that countries such as India and China still get aid from the UK even though there economies seem to be huge to the average man in the street.

But let’s put this into context; the UK is one of the ten richest countries on the planet out of just over 200 countries in total. So it’s safe to say that the UK is richer than over 95% of all other nation states.

I think what might be getting missed is the levels of individual poverty in these countries and mixed with the feeling of selfishness generated by our westernised lifestyles leads to open calls for this aid to be ‘spent at home’ because ‘charity begins at home’ or some other such nonsense.

My point though is the bigger one and not dissimilar to the NGO problem. Governments want the money given spent on expertise and stuff they provide. Not on long-term help with in the nation for the nation.

The other really big problem here is that the aid given often (practically always) is dwarfed by national debt repayments, or more accurately the interest on national debts, cos let’s not kid ourselves that poor countries are actually ever going to be in a position to pay back the initial debt. All they can hope to do is pay the interest and they don’t often do this.

To be honest the single most charitable thing a country could do for another in need of charitable aid would be to cancel the debt (I know it was supposed to have happened, but it didn’t) and then give the charitable aid all the same and let the government of the nation needing help decide when and how to spend the money. Corruption! I can almost hear the call now but how about trust. I’m sure some of the money will be ‘lost’ making the wheels go round but believe me they will do a way better job at running their country than our government will by melding, and that goes for the NGO’s as well.

The thing is that by doing this we will be giving those in need the fishing rods they need. All we have to do then is teach them how to use them best. Now that to me seems a way better way of giving to the needy. But of course that potentially puts the charity business out of business.

For me, if there is a reduced need for charity, there will always be those who need acute help, the reduced on-going need however can only be a good thing to happen.

As always thanks for taking the time to read.

Philip

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