Why do we love bad stories about charities?

A recent headline: “Charity watchdog urges donors to think twice before giving to Calgary Flames Foundation.” Read it here if you haven’t already.

The article does not paint the Flames Foundation in a positive light. That said, I am not here to debate if the foundation is a cash hoarder or an expensive charity. I am wondering why this is the article the Edmonton Journal chose to write.

There are so many incredible stories to tell about the lives changed by charitable work. Stories about people who overcame racism, homelessness, violence, abuse, and on because they received support from a charity.

Often the people helped by a charity live in conditions most of us would find abhorrent. How many us have been beaten up for being any other colour than white? How many of your children go to school hungry? How often have any of “us” charitable types been homeless?

But it appears we like dirty little exposés about charities that frankly become rationale for many to no longer give to charity, though one does wonder if such people ever really gave before. So, a foundation that, according to a charity watchdog, performs below the average of other charities – that’s newsworthy, not the charities that are on the top of their subjective lists of attributes and qualifications.  That is so disappointing.

If you judge charities solely on financial data, ask yourself if that’s how you evaluate for-profit businesses? You don’t care about the quality of their products or services? You just want cheap, cheap, cheap, right? You want low utility prices and would be happy if they were so low that you had unreliable power in your home or business – right? Who cares if your home falls down as long as you got it really cheap, right?

Why is it so many people think charitable work is not worth much? Why is it people who do jobs most of us would never consider doing are supposed to earn the lowest wages possible? Do you not care about them? But want them to care about the homeless and the disenfranchised so you don’t have to?

Some years ago, a colleague working at a major corporation informed me that her business wanted to fund the organization I was leading at the time.  She told me it could be as high as $50,000 but then added, “Of course, we won’t want any our money paying for administration or rent and stuff like that.”

Of course? Really. That should be the norm? Did she want us to go good without lights or heat or the ability to have an accountant or fix the old boiler when it broke down?

That made me angry, the viewpoint and the attitude. I checked myself, took a breath and said to my colleague, “Let’s say I am a customer of yours and you send me your bill and I send it back to you and say, sorry this bill includes your administrative costs. Please resubmit so I am only paying for your service. No rent, nothing else. Would you be amenable to that?”

I got a smile and she nodded her head. “Okay, I get it,” she said.

Maybe she did. Maybe not. But that $50,000 apparently went elsewhere. I was not even invited to submit a proposal. Of course proposals take time and expertise and no one should pay anyone to do that – well, only if you work for a charity, that is.

Charity watchdogs do not measure impact. They do not measure impact because they can’t. They don’t know how, and if they did, it would cost them too much to do that and then we all would have to hope the Edmonton Journal might write a piece about those extravagant charity watchdogs spending all that money on useless stuff. That would be fair, right?

 

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