Charity begins…


The recent furore over the activities of charities means donors should do their homework carefully before parting with any cash, says local resident Steve Wilks.

Britons are a generous bunch – they gave around £9.7bn to charity last year, according to the Charities Aid Foundation. However, it is important to check that your hard-earned money is making the impact you intend.

With negative stories about particular charities emerging earlier this year, such as the wrongdoing at Oxfam, it can raise doubts where our money is going. So, how can donors ensure money is being spent appropriately?

To really understand a charity's work takes a lot of time and effort. It is suggested you look at what the big donors do and copy them. However, this can lead to a clustering of funds around the bigger charities, with smaller ones not getting such a big slice of the fundraising pie. Look at the charity's impact and how they market it. Impact is key – not just what activities it carries out but the tangible benefits that arise from what it successfully achieves. You can glean this from the work it mentions on its website and its annual report. Look to see whether there is an improvement and what impact it has had.

It can be easy to be put off by charities that admit to failing or mistakes, especially when they are severe. However, recent events at Oxfam have also suggested that what makes it even worse is when they try to cover them up. Admitting mistakes is a sign of strength and shows honesty and transparency.

It is also essential not to be over-concerned about administration costs. While it is understandable that every penny of your hard-earned donation should go straight to the frontline activity, it is also important that a well-run charity has money spent on administrative procedures to ensure the frontline activities are properly supported and the money is spent wisely, complying with charity accounting standards and regulations.

Pay should also be proportionate. While some chief executives earn pay in the six figures, the vast majority do not get anywhere near that amount. Some CEOs are running huge organisations with massive fundraising operations, and with a trading arm with more shops than Next. Put in that context, six figures does not seem out of kilter. However, at the other end of the scale, a charity would need a very good reason for fundraising or administration costs to take up more than half of the charity's yearly income.

If you are still worried about where your money is going, you could always volunteer to get a first-hand view. There are loads of charities that need your time where you will know you are making a difference. And if you are happy with how things are going and can see the charity's positive impact for yourself, you could always donate money as well.

To find information on registered charities in England and Wales, including their finances, visit

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