Thursday, January 03, 2013

Expect to pay for the packaging

When I go into a supermarket and buy a bag of rice, I know that I am not just paying for the rice. I am paying for the packet, for the processors, distributors and shippers that got the rice from the field into the factory and into the shop and for the point-of-sale poster telling me this rice is on special offer.  

Right up to advertising it’s an invisible process, but we all know it goes on. When I was a child I found out that the actual cost of the chocolate in the bar I bought was less than half of what I was paying. ‘When I grow up, I’m going to let people buy chocolate at the right price!’ I thought. I did grow up, and I understood. You don’t just pay for the chocolate.

But when it comes to charitable giving, it seems that some people forget this.

Now we are talking very different purposes of course – mostly there is no physical exchange of goods or services for the financial consideration – but the process is the same.

For you to donate to charity, in most cases you need to be made aware of the cause, be given a method by which you can give, the banks need to move cash, the charity needs to allocate the funds and spend the income it generates, and everyone along the line needs to be rewarded (financially or otherwise). This distribution chain involves just as much as the rice or chocolate.

In these economic times even more than ever, charities are keenly aware of keeping their costs down – but administration cannot be cost-free. Even the collection tin requires purchasing, the labels printing, the volunteer recruiting, and the bank that processes the donation makes its buck somewhere along the line you can be sure.  

What percentage of a donation goes directly to the cause? As much as possible. The Charity Commission is there to make sure that charities are not just ‘jobs for the boys’ but are tasked with achieving their charitable purpose. The alternative is simple – we stop fundraising. We let the issue/disease/crime run its natural course.  

The truth is that donors need fundraisers – imagine trying to donate directly to a school in Africa, or a research scientist in a laboratory. How would you decide whether it’s the right place to send the money, how would you get the money there? There are some successful directly funding charities, but they are the minority and usually quite small.

As fundraisers we are often criticised for being a profession as opposed to a vocation, or that we spend too much on administration. But if we were not professional, if we did not administer efficiently and lawfully, if we did not pass on absolutely as much of the money we can – then cancer wins. Then victims of crime are abandoned. The lonely voice in the night has no one to call. The child dies.

It’s not really such a hard choice to have things done professionally and well. I am proud to be a fundraiser.

And just as a caveat - these are my personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, colleagues or friends.