Charity is big business today so how does a charity stand out? With all these charities and good causes how do you choose one? Once you have do you have any idea what your money is really spent on?

In the last 2 months since arriving in New Zealand we have bought ginger bread horses for RDA, bought our red noses, made and bought cakes from a Plunket cake stall and donated to the school PTA for crazy hair day. On top of this I have been stopped in the street and asked to sponsor a child somewhere in the world, been in several charity shops and there are the ALS ice bucket challenges going around as well. So it’s clear there is plenty of options before you even go looking.

So how do charities stand out?

There are 4 ways that spring to mind for getting your charity noticed:

  1. Get connected with the community that you are working in. This is the RDA/Plunket approach where they either sell the things at local schools or ask the people who are using them to give either money or goods or time to help fund raise.
  2. Get a big TV show or set of shows made and then ask people to give, so the Red Nose day approach but clearly this is limited.
  3. Go viral on social media with something that is generally totally unconnected to your charity, such as the ice bucket challenges.
  4. Have people on the street approaching people/shaking cans. The Red Cross approach where ideally they will get you to commit to regular contributions.

Clearly these different approaches will have different levels of immediate and long-term success. The viral or TV thing will have the biggest immediate impact but will die out very quickly. The connecting with the community will bring in less but will be more continuous overtime. The street thing will depend on if you get regular contributions vs coins in the can.

How do you choose the charity or good cause to support?

So you’re confronted with all these requests for help, how do you go about choosing which ones to support? Clearly what a bunch of people do (and I’m guilty of this too) is to just put some coins in the tin what ever it is to get away quickly or just plain ignore the whole thing.

If you’re wanting to make a difference in the world this approach isn’t going to work. Whilst the scatter gun of dropping in the bucket or sponsoring friends irrelevant of what the cause is, will make a difference is it one that you want to make or can you even tell you have made it? At the same time trying to take in what each charity that registers on your radar does is way too much information to process.

Also if you are trying to raise globally aware citizens, how do you get them involved from a young age? For this we have gone down the route of putting coins in cans to foster the concept of giving and as they get older involving them in donating old toys and clothes to charity shops. As they get older we will have to think about the concept of choosing where to give to.

For us so far it has been the charities that have reached out and made themselves aware to us. If a charity isn’t organised enough or prepared to put the effort into getting into our consciousness is it worth us putting our effort into? Will it last?

Then it’s a matter of how do you want to change the world? Sounds like a big goal or aim but a mountain is made up of small pebbles or what ever proverb you want to use. What you are doing is mad a better place be it the coffee you pay for the next person who forgets their wallet or devoting your entire life to making sure baby turtles make it to the water.

At the moment we are concentrating on charities in our community, I guess partially from a selfish point of view, in that we are settling in and using these services but it’s also giving back to those that have helped us. In the past we have given to charities for street children in Cambodia and maybe we will give to part of the world that is less well off.

So where am I going with all this? Basically I think that it’s best to choose 1 or a few charities that help where we want to make a difference rather than giving a little to what ever we stumble across.

Do you know where your money is going?

Now I guess this is kind of linked to the above in choosing what to give to. What’s the point in giving all that time, money, clicks to if it’s not actually making a difference to the world where you think it is.

Clearly the ice bucket challenges have raised awareness of ALS but also it’s raised a bunch of cash. Do you know what your $100 actually gets spent on? Neither do I but I have seen a post on Facebook suggesting that only about $8 will go towards research for a cure. It also came with a comment saying you should do your own research before donating.

For this reason I like giving to the local charities or smaller ones overseas where you can see where the money is getting spent. For example the Cambodian charity we gave to asked that you gave items not money and we went and saw the kids that were being helped. Clearly that’s not always possible but a little research is possible.

Have I answered any questions or come to any conclusions? Probably not but it has helped me sort out a few things in my own mind. Funny isn’t it how a post about charity is possibly my most selfish post as it’s been used to sort a few things out in my own head more than anything else. If you have got this far thank you for reading my brain dump.

4 thoughts on “Charity

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  1. So! Interesting topic. Controversial. A few of my thoughts:

    – there’s a balance between “going to the trouble” of fundraising vs concentrating on doing what you were set up for. I agree it’s right to spend resources (including time, effort and money) on getting funds – and also other admin-style work such as assessing the impact of past efforts – but you wouldn’t be very impressed to find that 50% of the money was going towards these ends and only 50% towards the thing they’re supposed to be doing.

    Generally speaking we prefer charities which show a balance – we don’t demand that 100% of the funds go directly to the beneficiaries, because then we worry that it’s being handed over with too little thought as to its impact, and perhaps also in too small a volume to really make much difference. On the other hand, it’s good to maintain a focus primarily on doing work for the beneficiaries rather than working to raise funds.

    Don’t forget some charities you rarely hear of may be drawing most of their funds from a few sources. I do volunteer work for VBB and hardly anyone’s heard of them. A big portion of their funds come through Government bodies (including AUSAID). This isn’t because they have a can’t-be-bothered attitude – it actually reflects how good they are at what they do (so far they have eradicated rabies from one Indian state on the border – a difficult area as there is lots of illegal movement of people and animals across the border).

    – generally speaking, there’s a big backlash against goods vs money. Donating goods can harm the local economy by hampering trade or production of those goods by local communities. This criticism is mainly directed at goods which are normally produced everywhere (especially clothes, toys, etc) not so much towards specialised goods which are only produced in one factory in Germany (e.g. medical equipment).

    – I like taking a bit of a scatter-gun approach based on the fact that I can only do so much research and even professionals can only make their best guess when it comes to future consequences. Be minimally informed, but spread the love (and the risk).

    – Small organisations can be crack teams which are very good at achieving targeted aims (e.g. VBB), or they can be nobodies with good intentions and no experience to draw on. So I prefer a mix of small and large organisations.

    – In lieu of being able to know everything about everybody, it’s good to take advice from someone with more inside knowledge. Some organisations exist just to assess charities and pass this info to the ordinary donor. You need to ask yourself about their philosophical lens, however. has a strong utilitarian bias – it assesses charities based on “the greatest good for the greatest number” and is also heavily into evidence-based assessment. This sounds good (it is good) but it’s not the whole story.

    First of all there’s a whole argument about the limitations of basing your choices on evidence alone. (For more, see who works for the UK foreign aid department and advocates and *evidence-informed* rather than *evidence-based* approach.)

    Then there’s the arguments about utilitarianism. Most of us intuitively believe that we should prioritise our personal connections (friends/family/local community) over strangers. We’d be more inclined to spend $20 feeding our broke niece than $10 feeding five starving children in Africa. Some religions have gone so far as to write this into their rules of practice. For the non-religious, people vary on emphasis but it’s usually a mix. Many people also invoke the concept of rights as well as consequences. (So-called orphan diseases don’t fare well under a utilitarian-based approach, for example, which many see as unfair.) So it’s a good idea to consciously seek a charity-assessor who agrees with your personal values.

    1. Wow didn’t think I was being controversial.

      You are right about government funded organisations, in retrospect I was commenting on charities that are asking for your funds or are funded by the general population.

      I get your spreading the love/risk thing but are you actually making any impact?

      On the distance from home thing, I do also think that there is an argument for getting your own house in order before sticking your nose into others.

      1. On the spread the risk thing – the world is going to be saved by lots of people doing little things. I think as long as the organisation has a program in line with its resources it’s all good. If they’re spending 90% on fixed costs and have nothing left over to do the promised work, that’s a problem. But there’s nothing wrong with modest aims, and there’s nothing wrong with being a person giving $1 amongst a million other people who are also just giving $1.

        Don’t worry – this is plenty controversial amongst people who work in the sector 🙂

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