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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 18-Dec-14 14:22:50

Britain's bloated charity sector

Many of us give charitably, whether on a regular basis to a favourite organisation, or through one-off donations here and there. But when David Craig's elderly mother became swamped with constant letters and calls from various charities, he decided to investigate just what happens to the money we donate to our favourite causes.

David Craig

Britain's bloated charity sector

Posted on: Thu 18-Dec-14 14:22:50


Lead photo

Do you know what happens to the money you donate?

My 88-year-old mother has always given money to a few selected charities. But recently she has been bombarded by letters and calls from a huge range of charities all asking her to donate to them. As my mother is increasingly frail and housebound, I began to worry about the effect the barrage of begging letters and phone calls was having on her and so decided to investigate Britain's charity industry.

The figures are astonishing. There are more than 195,289 registered charities and charitable institutions in the UK that raise and spend close to £80 billion a year. Plus there are another 191,000 charities that don't need to register, either due to legal exemptions or because they raise less than £5,000 a year. And the Charity Commission receives around twenty five new applications for charitable status every single working day.

These registered charities employ over one million staff. Five times as many people work for charities, the so-called 'voluntary sector', than run our railways providing four million journeys a day, about one and a half billion journeys a year.

With too many charities, at least half of our money goes on management, administration, strategy development, political campaigning and fundraising - not on what most of us would consider 'good causes'.

These charities make a huge 13 billion 'asks' for money every year - that's around two hundred 'asks' for every man, woman and child in the UK.

Britain's registered charities claim that almost ninety pence in every pound we give is spent on 'charitable activities'. But with many of our best-known charities, the real figure is likely to be less than fifty pence in every pound. With too many charities, at least half of our money goes on management, administration, strategy development, political campaigning and fundraising - not on what most of us would consider 'good causes'.

Just in England and Wales there are 1,939 active charities focused on children; 581 charities trying to find a cure for cancer or else help victims of cancer; 354 charities for birds; 255 charities for animals, 81 charities for people with alcohol problems and, even in a limited field like leukaemia, we have no fewer than 68 charities all eagerly asking for our money for their particular good cause. In a few cases, similar charities have merged allowing them to drastically cut their running costs and spend millions more on charitable work.

A parliamentary report found that with so many charities, the Charity Commission has completely lost control over what charities do with our money. We urgently need to reduce the number of charities by merging those that work on the same issues so that much more of our cash goes to real charitable causes.

David Craig is the author of The Great Charity Scandal, published by Thistle Publishing and available from Amazon.

By David Craig

Twitter: @Gransnet

Liz46 Thu 18-Dec-14 14:37:32

I have been trying to find the accounts for a charity but would have to pay for a copy. I have been thinking that all charities should make their accounts visible, perhaps on their website? I can understand the ceo of a large charity being well paid as it is a responsible job but would like to know how the rest of the money is spent.

I have become rather cynical about how much money gets to where it is needed. For instance we are still sending money to India. I have been there about ten times and read their papers which say they don't want or need our money. There is so much corruption anyway that the money does not filter down to the poor.

After the sunami (I can't remember how to spell it) huge amounts of money were donated but much of it was used badly. For instance replacement boats were provided to the fishermen in Sri Lanka but they were the wrong type.

I volunteer in a charity shop in aid of a local Hospice. It is a good cause but I do have reservations, for instance, about some luxuries in the offices.

HildaW Thu 18-Dec-14 14:38:31

I am certainly going off Oxfam. I texted a small donation for the ebola emergency and then received a phone call from Oxfam asking me to both gift aid my donation and start to make a regular gift. I politely declined as I do not pay tax and prefer not to have any direct debits. Every day since this conversation, my mobile has rung and shows its a call coming from Oxfam. This annoys me as my mobile is only for emergencies and I resent the intrusion. But most of all my little donation must have been eaten up paying the wages of the people who keep calling me!!!

loopylou Thu 18-Dec-14 15:02:23

Refuse to support Oxfam after finding out that they spend so much on offices etc and not those desperately in need. Remember doing a 25 mile sponsored walk for them when at school, nearly killed me and I didn't even get the faintest acknowledgement of the money I raised and £25 was a lot 45 years ago. Main memory is bleeding blisters and barely being able to move for days afterwards!

FlicketyB Thu 18-Dec-14 16:48:47

A confusion is being made between the concept of charity and a 'charity'. A charity, as registered by the charity commission is a body exempt from taxation because it is not profit making and has a purpose that is for the benefit of other people.

The reason why there are so many charities is because all over the country there are many small groups, societies and organisation who qualify for charitable status because they run for the benefit of local people. The vast majority of these groups do not employ staff nor do they solicit funds from others.

An example is the county archaeological society I belong to. All our funds come from our members and the occasional (small) bequest. We have no employees, all the running and administration of the society is done by members, many of whom absorb much of the costs of their voluntary work themselves. We do not seek funds from other people. We have never mailed anyone, phoned them, emailed or contacted them in any way seeking funds. We provide facilities for our members and also, as an educational charity run a range of outreach services to people interested in the archaeology in the wider community. We are typical of hundreds of thousands of charities.

The big fund-raising charities are a very small proportion of total charities. Even where there are, or seem to be many charities doing the same thing many of them are very localised and specific charities set up, for example, by parents following the survival or death of children with a specific disease and, apart from usually being short -term charities, these funds are often raising money for specific items of equipment or services in a local hospital or hospice rather than financing research and reach the places larger charities do not go.

I am not saying that there need tto be changes and rethinks in the charity sector, but the arguments as made in the blog above probably apply to a maximum of the 1000 largest charities and show a singular lack of understanding of the difference between having charitable status and being a fund raising charity.

grandimars Fri 19-Dec-14 17:09:55

I get very annoyed with the Red Cross who regularly send me coasters, cards and pens, and the Poppy Appeal did the same a couple of months ago. It must cost a great deal to produce and post these out- and it has the opposite effect on me as I won't now donate to them on principle.

FlicketyB Fri 19-Dec-14 17:13:13

I get fed up with the Red Cross sending me rubbish as well and no longer give them any money.

GrandmaH Fri 19-Dec-14 17:27:43

I give a monthly donation to Red Cross & regularly get phone calls asking me to increase it or give an amount for a certain new problem. I have told them if I get one more phone call I will cancel my DD ( direct debit - nothing to do with a daughter!!). Once when I complained to the caller they said it was just a 'thank you call'- it obviously wasn't -& I said why were they wasting phone calls on thanking people - spend it on good causes.
Just one more call & another charity will get the money.
I also get the coasters & pens etc.

Lapwing Fri 19-Dec-14 17:32:02

GrandmaH I had the same problem with the British Red Cross, they said that they would put it on my records that I was not to receive any more calls. Within a week I was contacted again - I carried out my threat and cancelled the DD.

Grannyknot Fri 19-Dec-14 17:40:09

There was a TV programme a while ago about these calls to increase donations - they are outsourced to professional fundraising companies - and the call is carefully worded to disguise the fact that you are not actually speaking to the Red Cross (or similar). If you are polite in your refusal your name goes on a "soft refusal" list and you will receive further calls. So sadly I deduced from that programme that it's best to be adamant to the point of rudeness and say you want to be removed from the list.

Also ask "Am I speaking to ... (e.g. the Red Cross?)". (Because the call is assumed to come from a charity that you support, people tend to be polite in response).

flickety very good post at 16:48 yesterday. I work for a tiny charity and we wouldn't dream of asking for money.

harrigran Fri 19-Dec-14 17:49:06

I have given a lot of money to a big cancer charity this year and was very upset to receive a text yesterday asking me to "give just one more donation before Christmas so that a patient can be at home". I do not like emotional blackmail.

TerriBull Fri 19-Dec-14 18:23:46

I have a monthly dd going out to a local children's hospice, I hope there aren't any fat cat salaries that have to be catered for in relation to this project. I have on occasions given donations to well known charities and find letters sending raffle tickets and pens arrive frequently, I don't really like all this unsolicited stuff, I think it's a waste of their resources.

Both my sons have been waylaid by chuggers, over the past few years and have signed up on occasions, I think their generation are quite generous, but it backfires when they forget they have a dd going out on a particular day and the funds aren't there.

We do buy our Christmas cards from a local church were most of the profits go to the actual charities rather than buying them in shops who take a large cut.

Large salaries and jollies from donated charity contributions disgust me and it has put me of donating to certain organisations.

TerriBull Fri 19-Dec-14 18:26:49

Should have typed where not were and off not of.

Ariadne Fri 19-Dec-14 19:34:04

Flickety your earlier post was excellent, and very timely as we all get worked up about "fat cat" charities. All the smaller ones are, as you say, blameless.

But the 1000 or so big ones need some serious consideration about their original purposes.

audnay Fri 19-Dec-14 19:44:25

Harrigan can I ask if it was the Marie Curie nurses, as it has happened to me, I have had to letters to say THANK YOU, and I have now had 2 phone calls and another is the AmnestyUK, I was thinking about helping and I more or less got asked to donate, I got a letter today and I ripped it up and but it in the bin. You go in the shopping centre we have 2 charity's on each floor and usually have 1 in Morrison's, every where you go people are asking for money. I don't mind some like the poppys,, I went daft this year, I bought a poppy scarf for me and a friend, I got a brooch for me and a friend, and I got my dad a special like badges with the 100 years centenary and one for my o/h and I bought a couple of coins. I don't mind but now ita letters and phonecalls, raffle tickets sent to buy, gift books to buy from them, I do buy charity cards. My uncle had Motor Neurone Disease and the year he died he was asked to paint a picture for Christmas or make a card, his was chosen as the winner and they were printed up for that year alone, but they don't make enough we as a family wanted to buy loads we got a card each in the end. That's why I buy the charity cards.

durhamjen Fri 19-Dec-14 19:54:30

So if you think the charity sector is bloated, which would you get rid of?

granmeg Fri 19-Dec-14 20:59:28

This is a very timely topic for me as not only have I often thought there are far too many charities fundraising for the same purpose/research/support but also because I am considering which charity/charities I might include in my Will. I, too, am disappointed with the methods used by the British Red Cross to grab our attention and coerce the public into parting with their money. There is absolutely no justification for spending money on sending out pens, cards and coasters, and the charity's use of a fundraising marketing company whose employees visit households asking people to give their bank details makes my blood boil as it flies in the face of all the advice given to the public by the Police and Neighbourhood Watch not to give any personal information to callers at the door. Grrr!

FarNorth Fri 19-Dec-14 21:46:46

If people refuse to give their bank details to doorstep callers the charities will soon figure out that it is not a good way to get money.

I had recently been thinking how fed up I am with all the freebies being sent out by the Red Cross. Maybe we (who don't like this) could all email them to complain about it.

papaoscar Fri 19-Dec-14 21:58:57

A staggering article by David Craig. I did not realise the size of the charity sector these days, its obviously a massive business which attracts masses of paid professionals, and I can't but help think that governments are quite content to encourage that.

Elegran Fri 19-Dec-14 22:13:13

I have returned the last few freebies in the stamped addressed envelope provided for orders, with a note telling them why. If enough are returned like that, it will be obvious to them that they are paying postage to send things out AND to return them. Unfortunately, I suspect they pay a bulk rate, so it won't hurt their pockets as much as it would ours.

Grannyknot Fri 19-Dec-14 22:19:28

durhamjen the article mentions the benefits of merging some of the charities. So perhaps that's one way of improving matters.

A woman came to my door one Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago. She was soliciting donations for one of the breast cancer charities. In refusing her, I explained that there are now so many breast cancer charities, that I am confused and I would need to get how they all relate to the disease straight in my head so I knew where the money was going (research, information dissemination, etc.) before again donating to that particular cause.

grandimars Fri 19-Dec-14 22:39:16

Elegran that's a good idea, which I will do next time I receive unwanted gifts.

harrigran Fri 19-Dec-14 23:07:44

audnay, it was Marie Curie. I have lost three relatives and a friend in the last couple of months and sent money to the charity instead of flowers. Every time I donate I get a letter with a suggested larger amount of money that is required. It is a horrible thing to say but I feel as if they are seeing how much they can guilt trip me into giving sad

narrowboatnan Sat 20-Dec-14 00:50:57

Liz46 - if you go on the Charity Commission web site you should be able to see the last set of accounts that a charity has submitted. You will need the exact name of the charity or, better still, it's registered charity number.

grannyjack Sat 20-Dec-14 06:44:29

I have direct debit payment in place with the Samaritans - my son took his own life. I signed up on the street & was phoned a few days later & asked if I was put under any pressure & if I wanted to continue the payments. I have contributed for a number of years & they have never contacted me to ask me to increase my contribution or sent me unsolicited mail shots.

Regarding cancer charities. On several occasions when friends have died & I have made donations to the local hospice in lieu of funeral flowers I have been inundated later with donation requests from cancer charities. I am not sure whether it is the hospice or funeral director, who received the collated the donations, who passed on my details as it surely can't be a coincidence.