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article imageOp-Ed: Is There A Better Way To Give To Charity?

By Alexander Baron     Sep 11, 2012 in Lifestyle
When you donate money to charity, does it really go towards helping the poor, or does much of it find its way into the pockets of the less than needy?
If you use the Internet - and if you didn't, you wouldn't be reading this - you can't have failed to notice recently that advertisements for Save The Children are everywhere. They feature a baby, obviously African and just as obviously in dire need.
GIVE JUST £3 A MONTH RIGHT NOW - click the donate button, that's the big red one labelled DONATE.
Give, give, give. Donate. The demands are seemingly endless.
Save the Children launch an unprecedented campaign in the UK.
Save the Children launch an unprecedented campaign in the UK.
In the 1991 paperback edition of his book Lords Of Poverty, Graham Hancock speaks very highly of Save The Children, which is said to have costs running at 7.42% of monies received. He doesn't speak very highly of all charities, especially World Vision and The Hunger Project. The agencies that come in for most criticism though are the official ones such as the United Nations which he says is really a gravy train. The main beneficiaries of aid are said to be Western businesses, and people like the late President Seko of Zaire who was said to own no fewer than 51 Mercedes Benz cars.
Although these criticisms are valid, the author is far too generous towards Save The Children, because like many other charities it is first and foremost a business, and indeed a career for some.
Fast forward twenty years, and what do we find? In May 2010 it was reported that Save The Children had handed its advertising business to an agency for £4 million. What, you didn't realise it had to pay for advertising? How about its staff, do they work for free?
Currently, Save The Children has no fewer than 590 staff at its London office. A video of its Chief Executive Justin Forsyth can be found here. Looks happy, doesn't he? He should, he's been CEO for the past two years, and his predecessor Jasmine Whitbread was on £128,000 a year.
Check out the charity's own website and see some of the well remunerated careers it offers.
Now do the math. Will your £10 one-off donation really help a child in Africa? Will your £3 a month really sponsor one? That £4 million advertising bill, the London office overheads, those telephone number executive salaries and the other 500+ staff all have to be paid before the charity shells out a dollar for starving kids in Africa, kids who have been there for decades, starving, dying and being used to whip up guilt - and massive donations - from gullible Westerners. Back in the 1980s we had Band Aid. Twenty years ago, Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote a song recalling that in her childhood - during the 1960s - she was taught about the starving children, and guess what? This was nothing new even then.
The babies in the adverts are almost always African to appeal to Western guilt complexes, but Save The Children has this month launched a campaign aimed at the alleviation of child poverty in Britain, and it wants half a million pounds of your money to begin its work. Maybe it could raise that by simply cutting its advertising bill?
Save The Children are not of course the only people playing this game, they are not even the worst offenders, not by a long way, but look at the following figures then again, do the math.
According to its 2007-08 accounts, Save The Children received over £65 million from the UK Government and similar agencies, including the European Union. It also receives legacies - mostly one presumes from wealthy people - and money from the big foundations.
Money given by a government, any government, is not charity, because governments have no money of their own to give. Government money comes from its people through taxation, and through borrowing at interest from the private banking cartel.
Here is a list of the foundations that back Save The Children. Foundations are set up by wealthy people including Bill Gates, once the richest man in the world. With backers like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Save The Children doesn't need your hard earned money, and it certainly doesn't need to appeal to the British public to send it money to relieve poverty here.
The best thing the average person can do, in Britain and elsewhere, to help charities, is to work at the local level. Give the chuggers a miss, and War On Want. There are practical things us little people can do at the local level, and they needn't even leave you out of pocket. Lawyers have a bad reputation as a profession, but some do pro bono work for people who can't afford expensive legal advice. In the United States especially, many doctors donate their time free to help out at charity hospitals.
Small environmental charities in Britain such as Hedgehog Bottom and Froglife will not waste any donations on fat salaries, and you can help them in other ways besides opening your wallet. If you want to help out a charity with a human face, try Time Bank.
A distinction should be drawn between charities and relief organisations. Disasters - both natural and man made - occur all over the world. In Britain we have seen floods recently; in the US there are not just floods but hurricanes. Much of Africa appears to be in a perpetual state of war, at the moment it is Syria. Where there are disasters, people need the basics of life, and they need them immediately, things like clean water, medicines, tents, blankets and so on.
Generally, governments and international relief agencies do a good job in delivering such provisions swiftly and with a minimum of bureaucracy. Donating to one of these is not the same as signing up with a chugger who will take perhaps the first hundred pounds of your donation, nor giving to a charity that will put it towards its £4 million advertising bill.
The problem of child poverty in Britain has a relatively simple political and economic solution, but this is not something charities can tackle. Briefly it is to recognise the fact that in today's highly advanced societies, many people are unemployable because a) they are unable to earn a living wage and b) because they are caught in the poverty trap. The solution is to dismantle the benefits system entirely and to instigate a system of Basic Income as advocated by Major Douglas. This problem can be addressed by pressure groups - some of which have charitable status - but it requires political, social and economic reforms, not soliciting money from the general public and donating it in cash or kind to the poor (after the charity concerned has taken its own cut).
The problem of the starving kids in Africa is being tackled by both foundations and governments. Let them get on with it, and if unlike most of us you have money to spare or even money to burn, make sure you spend it on someone who is in genuine need, and not on advertising agencies or people who have made careers out of spending other people's money.
Although Basic Income is not practicable in most African countries for obvious reasons, these people too suffer from the oppressive hegemony of international finance. We can best help them by demanding the total dismantling of the banking system, and with it the debt-servicing that necessitates taxation. If we could get rid of only VAT, that would boost Britain's, Europe's and the world's economy enormously, but again, this is a matter for socially conscious political lobbies, not for professional charity workers whose main function appears to be to smile for the cameras, tell us what great work they're doing and encourage us to send them even more money so they can keep doing it for however long it takes.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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