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?