Many of the responses on Quora agreed: It is wrong to donate, many quoting high costs of fundraising and administration, and high salaries as the reasons.
Here is my answer.
This is a very big and important question. Just like any sector, there are a few baddies who give their peers a bad name. These are crooks or incompetent people who should be prosecuted or fired.
But it is an incredibly small proportion — it is just that they are the ones who get on the news.
I used to work at Cancer Research UK when it was called Imperial Cancer Research Fund. That was the early 90s. One year out of university, and on a lot lower salary than my fellow graduates.
I think we were raising about £50 million for research then. It was £600 million in 2016. That’s an awesome achievement for my successors, and those funds have had a massive impact in progressing cancer research.
I wanted to do good with my life. I have stayed in charities ever since. My university friends got jobs in insurance, building, pharmaceutical and sales, and as doctors, engineers, and lawyers. They were all paid more.
Despite a tiny number of excessively paid CEOs of charities (I only know of stories of multi-million dollar packages in the USA) most top paid CEOs of £200m fundraising charities receive maybe £120,000.
For many people, that may sound excessive.
But their equivalents in cigarette companies, sales, mining, supermarkets etc. are likely paid anywhere from two to ten times that.
Imagine two friends leave university with similar qualifications. After a while, one is a charity CEO, and one works for a tobacco firm.
Ten years into that job, the tobacco employee will have earned over £1,000,000 more than the charity CEO.
And the tobacco guy donates a total of, say £250,000 to their friend’s charity, they are a philanthropist and a hero.
They are featured in Monocle and the Guardian Magazine, and everyone congratulates them.
They should be praised for their gift. But what about the other bloke?
The charity CEO sacrificed much more financially, but gets hammered by the press and looked upon as though he is doing something bad.
For me, they are both heroes.
Being paid £120,000 is a lot. But no charity people I know of in the UK, and next to none in the USA and Canada earn the massive super bonuses people worry about.
They are always paid less than peers doing the same job in non-charities.
Why are they penalised for choosing to use their skills for good?
Firstly — it costs money to ask people to donate. And people don’t give much without being asked. Many claim they “decide themselves” without being asked. You could be one of those.
But unsolicited donations account for less than 1% or 2% of donations for most charities.
Not asking would reduce income by at least 95%. It would wipe out most charities.
Anyone who thinks of fundraising and administration costs for charities as a waste needs to take a moment to rethink.
Imagine a charity helping feed hungry children in an East Africa famine.
They have overhead of 10% and fundraising costs of 30%. (This is about right for a stable, established charity that is not on a new growth spurt.)
They might ask you to donate £100. You might ask, How much goes to help starving people?
The answer is 100% helps the starving people.
Why not 60%? What about the 40% fundraising and administration?
Without that 40%, no help would be going to the starving. The charity couldn’t have existed, couldn’t have asked you for the money, couldn’t have people on the ground, would have no programs to do anything at all.
You get the idea.
So, let’s rephrase it.
When you give £100 I will spend £30 on raising another £100, thereby multiplying your gift dramatically I will spend £10 protecting your investment, ensuring we have the right security, licences, registration, training, virus protection software, communication systems, accountability in the field and more. Without any one of these none of your gift would get through. The starving people would get no help at all.
For more on this check out The way we think about charity is dead wrong by Dan Pallotta, speaking at TED.
Should you donate to your friend doing the marathon?
That is up to you. Running a marathon is a way to raise funds that otherwise would not have gone to a good cause.
A monthly donation to Cancer Research UK would help even more.
This is an edited version of my answer published on Quora to the question “Am I wrong for not believing in donating to charities?”
My advice: DON’T ever visit Quora, or you will be dragged into an addictive geek-dom of inane questions that suck the hours from your life.
How would you answer this question if you were asked? Please share your ideas and answers by leaving a reply below.