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Charities – effective and efficient?

The public wants to support charities - but needs to see wise spending
The public wants to support charities - but needs to see wise spending

The media often run stories showing charities as ineffective and wasteful – but is this a fair picture? Laurinda Luffman investigates.

It’s said that good news isn’t news. Certainly, charities sometimes attract media attention for the wrong reasons. Stories tell of charities buying fleets of new four-by-fours or accommodating their employees in expensive hotels. Where charities don’t use their own staff, examples of poor or corrupt local subcontractors are found.

As in any sector, charitable organisations should be challenged where money is being wasted, so that improvements in processes and practices are introduced to reduce such instances. However, many charities already make concerted efforts to ensure money is spent effectively. Unfortunately, bad publicity in the media can tar all charities with the same negative brush.

British trust in charities?

According to opinion polls (conducted by nfpSynergy), only around a half of British people say they trust charities and believe they follow high standards in their fundraising and spending. In terms of trust, this puts charities well behind organisations such as the armed forces (79%) and the NHS (70%) in the public’s esteem.

Even more people are sceptical when it comes to charitable work abroad; 57% of people in the UK think ‘development assistance’ is wasted (Chatham House/YouGov poll 2011). Such views naturally have a negative effect on levels of support for international causes.

But it’s no good for development charities to simply sit back and hope the status quo will change. To alter the widespread perception that development support doesn’t work, dismissive views must be challenged. Charities need to boast about their success stories and show the positive impact of aid on people’s lives. Good news stories should be the norm, showing how individuals such as Jyoti, in India have better lives thanks to money from UK donors.

Emergency Relief in PakistanAdopting international standards

Charities also need to demonstrate that when people donate their money to causes abroad, it is used efficiently. More and more charitable organisations are therefore adopting independent standards to demonstrate a commitment to transparency, accountability and effectiveness. One such standard is the INGO Accountability Charter. Each Charter member has to submit reports on their charitable operations and finances which show they are using ethical fundraising methods and running effective programmes with good governance (among other areas of best practice). Reports are assessed and approved by an independent review panel of specialists. Already, SOS Children is one of 28 international charities who have signed up to the Charter.

As well as ensuring transparent information on expenditure is available in reports, more UK charities are also making it clear on their websites how much of a donor’s money will go towards charitable activities. Such ‘pledges’ can reassure givers that their donations are being spent on the people and places their money is intended to help. Donors understand that charities, just like any other organisation, have running costs, but they need to know that exorbitant or unnecessary spending is avoided.

So the message to development charities from the public seems to be loud and clear – as long as you can show us you are spending our money wisely, we will support you.

You can find out about SOS Children's spending record here. Alternatively, why not find out more about our work in 125 countries around the world? We are long established in many of the locations where we work - we have worked in Africa for 40 years, and India for half a century. Our long-term presence means we are there for generations of vulnerable children, and enables us to act quickly when emergency strikes. Learn more about how we care for children who have lost their families.