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The voluntary giving of help, typically money, to those in need.

This is the dictionary definition of charity, unfortunately the legal definition is somewhat more broad, whilst it does specify qualifying charitable aims, they include things such as “Promotion of efficiency in the Police”. Eton is one of the most privileged schools in the country and yet it has a charitable status. This means that due diligence must be exercised prior to making a donation, one cannot rely solely upon the fact that an organisation has a charitable status to determine whether it truly benefits those in need.

Commercialisation of charity

I hate how commercial charity has become, whenever I see people wearing half a dozen bands on their wrist I cringe. People donate for the wrong reasons - they donate either because they feel under pressure to, or purely to obtain the wrist band so that other people will think they are a better person. If they truly cared about the cause they would refuse the wrist band since by accepting it they are reducing the usable part of their donation to as little as 20% of what they are actually giving.

When fair-trade bananas were first introduced, the price difference between them and non fair-trade ones at the supermarket was significantly greater than the difference that the farmers were getting. The supermarkets were taking advantage of consumer goodwill and profiting on a logo which was not theirs to profit on. It would have been more beneficial to the farmers to purchase the non fair-trade bananas and donate the difference to the fair-trade foundation.

It is not wrong to compare charities

I don’t think anyone can argue that providing support to heart patients is bad but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t better uses for your money - I realise it seems controversial trying to put a value on suffering but in a world of limited resources it is essential to maximise the good a donation can bring. It really doesn’t take much research to get a whole lot more bang for your buck. Take the ‘Heart Support of America’ Charity, in the most recently reported fiscal year they raised $2.3m but just $175k was spent on what their mission statement says they are all about (providing support to heart patients) - I just can’t see how that is justifiable, especially when there are many smaller charities that despite receiving much less funds actually spend a lot more providing the support to heart patients. In fact, a larger proportion of revenue to my business gets to front-line charitable services - so I would argue that the world would benefit more from purchasing software from my business than donating to this “charity”.

Too often charitable donations are made on the merit of the charitable aim. I look at charities as businesses, when I buy a pen I don’t just buy the best pen I possibly can, I buy the best value pen I can, too often people get caught up in how much good a charity has done/is trying to do forgetting how much money it has consumed in doing it. I think we can all agree that building a well in a deprived African village is a good thing but if it is going to cost £100,000 to fly and accommodate 20 white kids while they do it then you do need to ask yourself why 20 unskilled white kids will be better at it than the locals that would be able to do it for £100. Voluntourism is largely a scam to give white privileged kids something to put on their CV and feel good about themselves. Flying to Africa is expensive, unless you are doing something which cannot be done by the locals then you are definitely not helping by being there.

“Charity is injurious unless it helps the recipient to become independent of it.”
John D. Rockefeller

I never make a significant donation to a charity without first carefully reviewing their financial report in detail. A good sign is when their promotional material makes claims such as “£X does this” - it is then patently clear what your money will actually do.

What is a human life worth?

It is a horrible question, and one that I don’t think anyone would feel comfortable answering. And it is for this reason that it is hard to judge how good a charity is independently and even harder to argue that it is a bad one.

We can, however, compare charities, I don’t think anyone would say that a human life is worth less than £500 so if a charity can save a life for every £500 in donations it seems like a good deal - but if another charity can save 5 lives with that sum then suddenly the first charity doesn’t look as good. But unless you get a chance to explain this you look pretty bad if you say you won’t support the first charity.

Cancer is a horrible disease, and there are some cancers (like Leukaemia) where the chances of survival have increased immensely as a result of the research funded by donations but there are many other cancers for which we are no closer to a cure now than we were 20 years ago - I find it hard to justify the countless billions (yes - with a B) that these charities consume every year when there are people who die of diseases in third world countries where a vaccine exists and costs very little. The cost of cancer treatment is roughly £30,000, that money could save hundreds of lives elsewhere in the world. If you ask someone whether they believe their life is worth more than 100 people living in third world countries I’m sure they would say “no” - and yet when it comes down to it, the comparative value that we put on a disease which may affect us compared to one that doesn’t tells a different story.

If I die from cancer at 40 then I would have outlived and had a far better life than many other people around the world. I’m not saying you shouldn’t donate to a cancer charity - it is your choice, but I resent the notion that if you don’t then you aren’t a very nice person. I don’t often argue with people about the merits of a particular donation but when I do I end up convincing them.

“Even the way we choose to dole out cash betrays our true motives. Someone with $100 to give away and a world full of worthy causes should choose the worthiest and write the check. We don’t. Instead, we give $5 for a LiveStrong bracelet, pledge $25 to Save the Children, another $25 to AIDS research, and so on. But $25 is not going to find a cure for AIDS. Either it’s the best cause and deserves the entire $100, or it’s not and some other cause does. The scattershot approach simply proves that we’re more interested in feeling good than doing good. Charity Is Selfish”
Tim Harford

Currently there are more problems in the world than there are resources and money to deal with and therefore difficult decisions must be made about where we allocate these resources and where we don’t.

worst charities of America

Article written by Daniel Chatfield