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Wednesday, 13 December, 2000, 11:18 GMT
How are charities spending your money?

A UK children's charity has come under fire for spending more on advertising and administration than directly on children's services.

But the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said their advertising campaign was as important to their aims as providing services for children at risk.

If you are an NSPCC donor, do you agree with that? If you support other charities, do you have any idea of how your money is spent?

Are charities and other non-governmental organisations transparent enough on how they spend your money? Or are tighter controls needed?

This Talking Point is now closed. A selection of your e-mails are posted below.

The campaign has not only generated donations but has I am one of the many who responded to the Full Stop advertising campaign. I now give the NSPCC money each month as a direct result of those harrowing images on TV and in the press. The campaign has not only generated donations but has raised the public's consciousness. This surely can't be a bad thing.

From what I've seen they spend the majority of the cash the get on flash cars, subsidised mortgages for their staff and champagne "promotional" parties.
Neil, England

Can we put this in perspective? Coca Cola spends over a billion dollars a year on advertising, but would anyone claim they have no right to? Or would anyone say it's right that this much should be spent trying to get us to buy overpriced fizzy water, but not this much spent protecting children? I work very hard for pretty much nothing for a major children's charity, and would like to know how to get on this supposed gravy train, as no one here has ever seen it!
P. Boyle, GB

I suspect it will save dozens

The primary point of the current full-stop advertising campaign is not to attract funding but to emphasise that it's OK to report problems or suspicions. If changing people's attitudes saves one child's life then it's worth every penny. I suspect it will save dozens. I subscribe to another charity on a regular basis. As a member I receive updates and can attend the national annual meetings. I can also request a copy of the audited accounts. So I am able to make an informed decision - it is my choice where my donations go.

It really annoys me that when I give to charities that a large amount is used for administration or advertisements and not given straight to the cause. Of course you need some sort of advertisement but not to the extent that it is used today. What percentage actually goes to the cause? That's what concerns me.
Tallat Haq, United Kingdom

The NSPCC stops abuse by highlighting it to the public and by direct action from donations. In my mind, they do nothing wrong, every penny they spend reinforces their philosophy so please keep up the good work.
Gavin Pearson, Detroit, USA

The consequences of their actions would have been acute societal condemnation

FB, England
As a supporter of the NSPCC for some time I was disturbed by the recent revelations about the charity's appropriation of funds. However, after some thought, I came to the conclusion that as a society we grossly neglect the rights of this most vulnerable group in our society. If attitudes are to change, the message has to get through our information saturated lives in a direct, loud and if necessary, expensive way.

As one of those "hidden" victims many years ago, I think my abusers would have thought twice if they thought that, if revealed, the consequences of their actions would have been acute societal condemnation. What the neighbours think can be a powerful weapon in dictating and regulating acceptable moral or immoral behaviour.
FB, England

I think that the NSPCC are right in using a large proportion of this money for advertising. These charities need to raise awareness of their work otherwise there is no point in them trying to tackle the problems of this world. This publicity is hard hitting, and even if has only made one person tell someone they are being abused then its worth it. Just remember you can't put a price on a life.
Emily Rowe, UK

The NSPCC stops abuse by highlighting it to the public and by direct action from donations. In my mind, they do nothing wrong, every penny they spend reinforces their philosophy so please keep up the good work.
Gavin Pearson, Detroit, USA

I object to charities being used as status symbols

I object to charities being used as status symbols. I regularly witness charity salaried individuals taking trips abroad, frequently accompanied by their spouses, in the name of, and paid for by, 'their' charity.

Students at the United World College of South East Asia, at which I teach, support 27 carefully identified charities/ NGOs. These are identified by the students themselves. We have found that good money follows good causes and always adhere to the principle that one must help those in need to help themselves. Without empowerment the problems remain and the prevention/ cure is not addressed, relief is merely given.
Anthony Skillicorn, Singapore

It is interesting that quite a few politicians started off working for charities

Steve Cottam, England
I agree that certain charities have become over-inflated. Many do an excellent job and provide help, complementing government services, but certain charities have frankly become political campaigning organisations. It is interesting that quite a few politicians started off working for charities and this is considered a good way to start a political career.
Steve Cottam, England

Why is anyone surprised by this? We live in an age where everyone denounces corporations for working for "profit". Didn't it occur to them that charities can use their money to benefit themselves?
Jon Livesey, USA

We all give to charities whether we know it or not. Part of our taxes go to several UN Programmes and you want to see how much they spend on administration.
Jonathan Kelk, England

Maybe we should give more to smaller local charities?

Laura Sterling, UK
Large charities tend to become disconnected from the people they were set up to help. Maybe we should give more to smaller local charities?
Laura Sterling, UK

For too long, abuse and cruelty to children has been brushed under the carpet. The NSPCC should be congratulated on their high profile campaign to bring awareness to the public. Some 'dirty little secrets' shouldn't be secret anymore and if that takes a large amount of money, so be it.
Tina, UK

It doesn't matter what is spent on administration by a charity, what matters is that charity's performance in meeting its objectives. The NSPCC's Full Stop campaign aims to 'end child cruelty in a generation'. A very laudable aim, but does anyone think it's actually achievable? And will the NSPCC come back in 15 or 20 years and tell the world how they've performed in meeting that objective? I doubt it - they'll be spending millions on some new campaign instead.
Maureen Butler, UK

If I invest in a company, it's easy to find out basic statistics - profit, turnover etc. Where can I find this out for charities? It's not on the Charity Commission website. Why be less rigorous when investing in charities than stocks?
Michael Grazebrook, UK

The simple answer is to know the charities you are giving to

Phil Redding, UK
I see many comments that this kind of thing should be the Government's responsibility. I expect that Government agencies are by and large even less efficient than charities. Personally I prefer to do my giving by covenant to reduce my taxes and get more to the charities. The simple answer is to know the charities you are giving to and be sure they are spending your money the way you want. Most publish annual reports and accounts showing where the money went. If you don't like what they are doing don't give. The extent of the public's continued giving to the NSPCC will be the ultimate judgement.
Phil Redding, UK

Having seen the charities operating in Kosovo during the initial deployment of British troops to the area, the only thing of any note about their performance was how smart they looked in their fleets of shiny new off-roaders yet how inept ALL the major charities were. Their open contempt for the military throughout the campaign was very ironic, seeing as if it were not for the military these 'organisations' would have had no passage into the country where they would not have been witness to the army doing their job for them. Charity, no thanks, my money stays at home.
Robert Giles, Germany

We need to be clear about the role of charities. If they are simply operational, they are compensating for a lack of government action. The main role of a charity ought to be to keep up pressure for positive change. Advocacy - in all its forms - is the way to change the policies of governments, globalised industries, etc. And if advertising is perceived to be the best way to bring this pressure to bear, then so be it. Advocacy promotes ownership.
JAB, Angola

We live in a world where altruism is well and truly dead

Selva Appasawmy, Mauritius
It is very surprising that only now this comes to public notice! The employees, especially those in charge of charities, usually from a certain class, are on the gravy train. Most of their time is spent in functions and raising funds. And as someone else said, busy empire building as the more staff they have under themselves, the more salary rise they can ask for! The real purpose and objective of the charity comes a long way after the above priorities! Let's not fool ourselves, we live in a world where altruism is well and truly dead, and do not talk about integrity and honesty! There may be some idealism among the volunteers, but it stops there!
Selva Appasawmy, Mauritius

Anybody who solicits me for a charitable contribution must demonstrate to me that they spend no more than 10% of their total revenues on "overhead" ... you'd be amazed how many telephone calls terminate immediately upon such a request! And, I want to see audited statements, not just someone's word!
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

Most of these NGOs are rackets rather than a service for community

Syed Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan
I am a journalist. I personally witnessed in my country the abuse of funds in the name of charity. Recently a provincial government conducted a survey which revealed that more than 4,000 charities were registered but none of them had submitted accounts for years. The audit and inquiries on accounts were avoided by the concerned officials as they were hand-in-glove. UNICEF sent a team which reported a massive misappropriations in the NGOs' funds. In short, most of these NGOs are rackets rather than a service for community.
Syed Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan

I have spent the last nine years working as a fundraiser and would be the first to defend charities that employ qualified and proficient fundraising staff - the money spent on such professionals normally brings in much more in return to be spent on the "cause", so it's a good investment of donor's money. BUT, I was always outraged by the extravagant use of resources by the NSPCC in its Full Stop appeal, which has now been underlined by today's news. Shame on you NSPCC for tarnishing the reputation of other organizations; I hope you have learned your lesson, and now get back to what you normally do so well - putting the needs of children first.
EC, Switzerland

I feel very strongly on this subject having been involved for 35 years in charity work. A good and worthy cause starts up - the work done all by volunteers - as it grows, the tide of work gets beyond the volunteers. Staff is hired - usually, initially at modest rates. The charity continues to grow - so do the salaries, the buildings and other administrative costs. An executive director I hired 30+ years ago for $10,000 a year now commands 8 or more times as much). "Empire building" comes in to play just as in the Civil Service, because, as there, there are no incentives, just a flat salary - graded to how many people you can push in the pyramid beneath you. A previous writer said, and I concur, that Government is responsible - but is generally irresponsible in what is relatively an affluent world. The charities are needed - badly needed - but their present structures do not permit the best flow of the money available to the end cause.
Ron Garland, Canada (born Brit)

People who work for charities, in my experience, are honest and dedicated people. I'm sure the NSPCC spent the money they raised as wisely as they could, and who are we to tell them they are wrong? The full stop campaign did a lot to raise awareness even if it did not lead to a massive increase in donations. Perhaps charities should be allowed a certain amount of free space on the BBC or advertising companies should get tax relief if they donate services to charity.
Will Rossetti, UK

Government should be providing the funds out of taxation

Eric Baker, UK

Everyone thought the lottery was a major new source of charitable funds. But most of its income is from the less well off, it's probably led to a cut in donations to charities, loads of its income goes in expenses, profits and tax and much of its so called charitable giving is to projects such as the Dome or others where government should be providing the funds out of taxation.
Eric Baker, UK

I don't give to charities or street beggars any more. Why? Well, the money does not seem to be getting where it is meant to be, whether it is the NSPCC spending more on itself than needy children or foreign aid/Oxfam donations ending up in the pockets of corrupt Third World officials. As for the so-called homeless, well I pay very large amounts of tax and NI to help run the most generous welfare system in the world. Take note Tony and Gordon, if you rob my pocket any more to pay for your socialist Utopia this tax-payer will leave for a kinder economic climate.
Amanda Everlyne, England

Charities should be given certain services free, for example post and advertising (TV, radio and print). Large accountancy firms should audit them for free to ensure that donations are going where we want them to go (with a little free good will advertising).

Charities and similar NGOs have become businesses in their own right. They depend on giving potential "customers" a continuous diet of tragedies (perceived or actual), in order to keep their cash-flow going... some of us have started to see through the hype though.
David Moran, Scotland/Australia

I think the law as it stands means that 99% of contributions can be lost in administration etc. This is wrong, charities are interest groups now, not people with causes.
Jen, UK

They are simply a very well-run Job Creation Scheme

Ali, London, UK
I happen to walk past the NSPCC's plush offices on the way to work everyday. Given the relative opulence of their surroundings. The only surprise regarding the news of their high admin costs is that it hasn't come earlier. For a long time now I have feared that they are simply a very well-run Job Creation Scheme.
Ali, London, UK

In a recent radio interview a senior executive from the Cats Protection League stated that nearly 95% of their income was spent helping cats with only around 5% being spent on administration. Perhaps the NSPCC should take a lesson from this and spend their income helping children and not on lining the pockets of the advertising industry.
John Draper, England

Staff are expensive; advertising is even more expensive; and people are reluctant to part with their money even for charitable causes. Putting these factors together means that it can cost more to persuade someone to give than they actually give. But without the work of charities none of that money would go to the causes the charities represent. After all if the government did their job properly most of the support network provided by charities wouldn't be needed.
Richard P, UK

The Red Cross ran a campaign this year on TV about Africa. I recently found out that only a very tiny percentage of their funds goes overseas. Could they fall foul of the advertising standards authority? Should they declare on the advert what percentage of their income is sent to the particular cause featured in the advert?
Robert, UK

Without publicity neither can be achieved

Caron, England
In the long term we should try to stop cruelty to children, however in the short term we should encourage those children who have been abused to ask for help. Without publicity neither can be achieved.
Caron, England

The majority of those who work for NGOs in India are more money-minded and less service-minded. Those who were penniless have become rich after starting NGOs or becoming employees of NGOs. Those who are really service-minded get frustrated for they are not able to achieve their goal. I have great regards for Sisters of Charity, the congregation started by late Mother Teresa, who serve in different parts of the world without publishing their noble work. They are simple and really committed. They are role models for those who are in this field.
Albert P'Rayan, India /Rwanda

With so many charities and fewer people giving services for free this might be the charity surviving in the complex media world. They have definitely got their message across even if it is though negative publicity. Perhaps companies and the public are to blame for this in that they don't give more services for free. Who exactly is receiving this money? Most people understand today that not all money given to charities goes to the cause. It is important that charities are clear and accountable to this. The choice is the givers, I don't think it is scandalous.
Andy Gavin, UK

I figured that the NSPCC spent a good deal of the money I donated in letters (with complimentary pen) to ask for more money. The best advertisement a charity can have comes from using donations to actually do some good.
Stefano, UK

It's easy to snipe at the NSPCC over this. But this is wrong. Many people have joined the FULL STOP campaign as a direct result of the advertising. The NSPCC's aim is to close when it isn't needed, lets help close it.
Dave Hart, UK

You can't divert, sell, or steal an aid worker who gets out there and does something personally

James Gaerne, Kenya
I buy many of my clothes in markets at home (known as 'mitumba'). Where do you think these clothes come from? Do you think that with the corruption we have in Kenya all the food that people like Oxfam claim to distribute actually gets there? Food lorries to the north get regularly diverted and relieved of much of their supplies, which are later sold. You can't divert, sell, or steal an aid worker who gets out there and does something personally.
James Gaerne, Kenya

I think some of the criticism is as a result of the adverts daring to show the truth that the majority of domestic violence is mother to child. Doesn't fit in with the PC age, you know.
Gerry, Scotland

The only way to help the needy is to get out there and become a volunteer

Andrew Reid, London
The only way to help the needy is to get out there and become a volunteer. Charities are notorious for wasting money. Over my 20 years as a practising doctor I have spend 5 working on non-paid assignments abroad. More people should follow my lead!
Andrew Reid, London

The NSPCC should use their funds to help the children affected by cruelty, instead of lecturing people about cruelty. Surely the Government should be doing that?
Giles Jones, UK

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20 Nov 00 | Health
Child abuse 'myths' shattered
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