Is It Time To Get Tough With Charities?

I am stunned by the current ongoing controversy concerning UNICEF and the ‘sacking’ of its Chief Executive, Melanie Verwoerd. I have no idea as to what the real story is behind the headlines, although I am sorry that she has said it was a result of her relationship with Gerry Ryan and the publicity surrounding his death. There is clearly far more to this story than that.

However what concerns me is UNICEF’s use of their funds.

On their website front page there is a large “Emergency Appeal” for donations for East Africa where they tell us “nearly two million children under the age of 5 are in dire need of help”. On a side bar, the organisation tells us that €30 will provide life saving anti malaria drugs for 40 children. UNICEF is committed to saving children’s lives all over the world. They appeal to us for help – in making donations, in volunteering etc.

So could someone please explain to me how they can justify handing over €200,000 to a ‘sacked’ Chief Executive? They are also rumoured to have retained the services of a professional PR agency to assist them in dealing with negative publicity surrounding this current controversy. Such ‘professional assistance’ could be costing as much as €2,000 per day. How many children’s lives did they say could be saved for just €30?

I am horrified by this seemingly cavalier attitude to spending their money on ‘administration’ and salaries. And I doubt that as a charity they are alone, in the organisation of their priorities.

I know that charities need to employ staff in order to get their work done. In a past life I spent 10 years working for a National Charity myself. But I do think it is about time that charities were forced to publish on their websites just how much of our donations is going on ‘administration’ and how much will actually to the cause we think we are supporting.

I for one do not want to feel that my hard earned €10 is actually going to help pay for the CEO’s company car or towards the fees of a high end PR agency. There is something morally very wrong here. €2,000 a day to deal with negative publicity of UNICEF’s own making? Once again – how many children’s lives could that save?

Most charities are facilitated in their work by an army of well motivated people who volunteer to raise money and undertake other various tasks. Overseas charities also rely on their field workers who seem to have a vocation to help the world’s poor. I admit I don’t know but I doubt if these workers are paid high salaries. But what about those at the top of these charities? Are salaries of €100,000 such as Melanie Verwoerd was reportedly earning, commonplace? If so, is this morally right? I know that high profile people such as Verwoerd can raise a lot of both money and profile for the charity. but that said.. are you comfortable with your donation going towards funding these huge salaries? Surely extra money she might raise should go towards those that UNICEF purports to help rather than her salary?

I think it is time we asked all large charities in this country some hard questions. How much of their revenue goes on salaries and how much of our donation will actually go towards the cause itself?

Am I naive?

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  1. You have posed the exact questions I want answered. Should I have to question the money I want to give to charity?

  2. Most reputable charities' operating costs come in around 17% of income. All their admin costs HAVE to come out of that – none can be taken from the money earmarked for the services. So if a charity generates – say €5M per annum, that's €850,000 to cover all costs – staff, offices, materials, taxes, etc. That's not a lot when you think of the work involved in raising that money, which is why volunteers are needed, and why sponsorship is often sought. And most good charities fund their admin out of gov subventions or corporate sponsorship, to ensure that the money from the public goes straight to services. Also, all reputable charities publish their accounts (they're legally obliged to, if I understand it corrrectly) and the breakdown is there. I agree that what is going on is very unfortunate, especially in the wake of the Red Cross debacle, but the new Charities Act 2009 is plenty tough with charities, so I wouldn't be too worried about where your money is going to. But don't be afraid to ask them directly yourself – no harm.

  3. I really like this

    'But I do think it is about time that charities were forced to publish on their websites just how much of our donations is going on ‘administration’ and how much will actually to the cause we think we are supporting'.

    I would be more comfortable donating if there was more transparency in this area. I'm probably not going to seek out actual accounts but feel this information should be readily available on the web… most Charity Websites I know have no mention whatsoever of accounts/breakdown/salaries/'employees'/administration – Why not ?

  4. Companies who declare themselves as charities do so to avoid paying tax.The more I research them , the more I do not like what I find.

    Between Mother Teresa and Bob Geldof and my discovery of how litle money donated actually went to the poor, I decided no more donations would come from me.
    In Eire we now have Common Purpose -another secret charity who have infiltrated many depts etc and most people are clueless as to their true agenda.

  5. No, you are not being naive, Barbara – the UNICEF/Verwoerd affair has highlighted something rotten at the top of that particular organisation and in particular the eye-popping sums of money being spent on salaries and pay-offs.

    I see regular letter-writer Tom Cooper has a letter in today's “Irish Times” echoing your sentiments:

    Sir, – It seems to me that those expressing outrage at the treatment of the former executive director of Unicef Ireland, Melanie Verwoerd, should perhaps focus their attention a little less on the dismissal and a lot more on the financial settlement Ms Verwoerd is reputed to have received (Home News, August 1st).

    You report that Ms Verwoerd has received an ex gratia payment of €200,000, and note her salary of €100,000 per annum.

    This scale of salary is, by any standards, extraordinarily generous.

    The vast bulk of donations made to charities in Ireland come from people who are barely scraping a living. They see pictures on television and in the newspapers of starving children in the Horn of Africa and give as much as they can afford.

    Indeed, I have no doubt that many people on welfare share what they can with those less fortunate than themselves.

    I do not expect Unicef workers to give their time for free or even to work for the average industrial wage. Nor do I feel they should be paid in telephone numbers either.

    Who decides the level of earnings and allowances registered charities pay to their staff?

    The public has a right to know. – Yours, etc,

    TOM COOPER,
    Knocklyon, Dublin 16.

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