We all know that the run up to the day Jesus was allegedly born spawns countless Black Friday events and marketing opportunities for companies to sell you stuff that you don’t need, don’t want, can’t afford and never use. But on top of that is spews forth a welterweight of promotional dates, events and awareness raising activities for charities desperate for you to feel guilty and part with what little cash you have left after being fleeced by the multi-national corporations.
But here is the thing. Charities do not work. They are not successful at delivering anything except your peace of mind. What is worse is that they will probably, in the longer term, do more harm than good for those very causes you believe you are helping.
There are more than 165,290 charities in the UK alone – one for every 387 of us. Yet 99% have less than £10million a year to spend on their cause. That is a gargantuan number of tiny charities who are unable to do any more than spend token amounts of their objective. Sure, ten million sounds a lot, but once you start to pay for premises, staff, staff pensions, tax, equipment like computers, accountants, insurance and the constant drive to fundraise even more money then anything under ten million shrinks into little to actually tackle or help do whatever it is that they set out to do.
More shocking in still is that 66,000 charities have an income of less than ten grand a year. Almost 40% of organisations who say they are a charity would not be able to even pay a part time staff member – let alone provide equipment or a building or achieve anything meaningful or long lasting with that sort of cash. And there is almost no oversight of how this money is spent.
Then there is the duplication. In the cancer sector alone there are almost 400 registered cancer charities.
Even in specific areas of cancer there is group after group doing identical work. Take breast cancer. Breast Cancer Now, Macmillan Breast Cancer Support, the Pink Ribbon Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Stand Up to Cancer, Breast Cancer Care, Against Breast Cancer, Inflammatory Breast Cancer Support Group, Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline, The National Cancer Institute, The Daisy Network, The Haven Breast Cancer Support Centres, Look Good Feel Better, Lymphedema Support Network. I could go as the list is almost endless. Umpteen organisations doing the identical, or near identical, stuff to each other, over and over again, paying umpteen duplicated staff in HR, finance, accountancy, marketing and fundraising all to repeat the same jobs for their own little silo organisation.
And very little of that helps the person and their family deal with cancer. None of them do treatments and none of them have come up with either a cure or the means to cure it. The NHS will do the treating and the multinational pharmaceutical companies will do curing as they have a combined spending power a billion times more powerful than a few donation reliant charities. And this model is repeated in every single aspect of public policy where charities have squirmed into.
Then there is the damage that can be caused by well intentioned, but idiotic, do-gooders who don’t actually understand what they are doing. History is littered with high profile awful examples of how charities have killed people in their thousands or made life much worse through their incompetence. By giving targeted aid to certain parts of Ethiopia and not others, Band Aid and Bob Geldof managed to start a horrific civil war that killed more than 200,000 people. After the great Asian Tsunami, the desperate fight by numerous charities to get the sexiest rebuilding spots and design the sexiest buildings led to tens of thousands of people either left to illness and disease or have to use stuff the charities built that weren’t fit for purpose. Haiti, an already completely buggered up country, had to endure Cholera being brought in by charity workers killing hundreds more than had already perished.
The thing is charities never, ever, succeed. When was the last time you heard a charity turn round and say “We set out to make poverty history/cure cancer/end homelessness/save the children. Our work is done.”? You never will. Charities ensure they have such ludicrous ambitions that they never can fulfil what they promised they were trying to do. They will carry on trying to grow ever larger ad infinitum. They work like businesses and just like businesses need to grow to get more staff, pay more money to staff and keep the shareholders/donors happy. In their eyes a Chief Exec and the staff of a charity would hate to achieve what they need to do since that would put them out of their jobs and render their purpose meaningless.
Instead it is better for all concerned for charities to do just enough to appear successful. That allows them to point to success. It allows them to also keep on saying we need more money to do more good. It allows them never to have to close down. It allows people who donate to feel good that they are doing something. It forces those on the receiving end of the charity cash – if any ever gets there – to have to be grateful for their work. Probably worst of all, it allows governments to know they do not have to invest real money, time or effort into these areas of public policy as everyone feels happy with what is going on even if nothing is being achieved.
Above all, it has created a monster industry which employs 1,000,000 people and is larger than our car, aerospace and chemical sectors combined. If government started to curtail the work of this behemoth it would, in all likelihood, send the British economy spiralling into recession.
So in a psychological sense charity does work. It makes people feel better about how poor a service is. It makes people feel worthy when they do a 10k run for charity and just as worthy when they make their tokenistic offering of sponsoring 10p a mile or whatever nominal amount they lob in. It makes it so that taxes do not have to rise in order for real money to be spent on improving social services to tackle child abuse or more housebuilding to end homelessness or improved redistribution of income to end child poverty or whatever myriad of issues that demonstrate the deep inequality in our society need sorting out. It makes those who need help feel like people care when it actually it shows quite the opposite.
Ultimately, charities achieve nothing compared to what a government could bring to the table. If people stopped giving to these cornucopia of organisation and stopped sponsoring people doing stuff they would have liked to have done anyway, then there would be a much bigger chance that the state would have to bring much more clout to the table to fill the hole left. And by doing so, that would really make the difference in achieving a better society and better results for those who need help the most.