Do you find it hard to decide who to donate to? The best way to donate?
Are you part of a group that wants to support a charity? Is it your company? Your society? A group of friends?
Are you cynical about charities? Wondering why we continue to see charity scandals every once in a while?
Well we, as donors, have to take responsibility for our own donations and admit our role in the enabling of bad practice. When scandals come to light we’re surprised, but the warning signs are usually there. Instead, with a bit of careful thought we can minimise the risk and maximise the good we do. The poorly-run organisations can be starved, while the ‘good’ charities get the funding they deserve.
Let’s put some careful consideration in before we support any organisation, whether it’s a personal donation, a corporate partnership, your student union or a fundraising event.
Consider giving earlier next year.
About 30% of donations are made in the last month of the year.
This can be a problem for charities as it can make it difficult to plan and increase the risk of things going wrong. Consider supporting your chosen charity steadily throughout the year. Commit to an amount and inform the organisation so they know it’ll be coming in.
Decide what you want to achieve.
There are so many good causes out there that it can be hard to narrow it down. So focus on what’s really important to you right now and accept that you can’t help every good charity out there.
Don’t just be reactive.
Most donations are given off the back of being asked, whether that’s someone shaking a bucket, an ad you see on TV or an appeal you get in the post. This fundraising and marketing is a necessary cost…us fundraisers spend money on these to raise even more. Obviously, in theory it would be much more cost-effective if the same donations were made unsolicited.
Unfortunately, most of our giving decisions are made emotionally rather than logically, which is why you still see so many badly governed charities in Ireland being supported even after the scandals.
It might be an unrealistic goal to expect all donations to be better thought through and considered, but you can start by being less reactive and instead planning your giving.
Are they a registered charity?
Most countries have a central database of registered charities. In Ireland ours is maintained by the Charities Regulatory Authority and is searchable here. If the charity you’re considering donating to isn’t on it then ask them why. If you don’t get an acceptable answer then report them to the CRA.
Do they meet the highest standards?
Determine what else is important to you. GoodCharity.ie has a great series of questions and lots of helpful information on ‘what makes a charity good’.
You might, for example, object to the charity’s staff being paid or a charity with ‘higher admin costs’. On the other hand, you might realise that higher salaries and higher costs might just be indicative of better qualified staffed and better governance.
Either way, any information that’s important to you should be available to you. If you ask a charity for this information and they can’t give you a satisfactory response then move on.
In Ireland we’re fortunate enough to have The Governance Code, of which only a few hundred charities are fully compliant. Search for your charity and if they’re not compliant then ask them why not?
Are they actually having a positive impact?
Think about whether you understand and agree with the method they’re taking to fix the problem. Is there research and results to show that what they’re doing works?
For example, William Macaskill rightly pointed out that a homeopathy charity meets all of the conventional criteria we usually look for in a charity, but is proven to be absolutely ineffective.
I truly believe every charity should be able to show you evidence of their success: whether it’s formal research, something tangible or simply testimonials from service users you should have access to it before you donate.
Decide how many charities you want to give to and how much you want to give.
Caroline Fiennes says donating to fewer charities makes it easier to identify the good ones and it reduces transaction costs.
Try to focus on your core charities and don’t feel guilty about turning others away. Be honest with yourself about how much you can donate (perhaps 5-10% of your earnings) and then feel happy about sticking to it. There is no shame in wanting to spend money on yourself, your loved ones, and that stupid hobby you have which is truly, truly dumb.
Nobody can make you feel guilty about that except you. So if you truly feel like you’re giving what you can then don’t feel bad the next time you say no.
Then give, give, give…
Give…give with all your heart. Give loudly and give proudly. You are wonderful.
The whole process can be time consuming, sure. But this is your hard earned money you’re giving away and the problems we’re trying to solve are too important for us to give without putting thought in. Why not commit to doing some real research every 3 years, decide on ‘your charity’, and then give like hell?
Still, you might argue that you don’t have time to do any research. Don’t be tempted to make your decision based on oversimplified charity comparison websites. Instead, look at GiveWell.org who undertake huge research and only recommend a handful of charities. Give to one of those.
Or…contact me and I’ll help you decide.