The Charity Sleuths

What the Intelligent Giving researchers are uncovering, and whose turn it is to make the tea

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Which is the real pink charity?

The Breast Cancer Research Trust says it is "the only Charity specifically promoting research into breast cancer".

Breast Cancer Campaign says it is "the only charity that specialises in funding independent breast cancer research throughout the UK".

Meanwhile the huge Breakthrough Breast Cancer clearly does a spot of specialist breast cancer funding itself, and The Genesis Appeal does the same. And there are doubtless others.

What we could use is an organisation that presents all these charities side by side so people can compare for themselves. Oh hang on, that's what we're doing...


Thursday, August 17, 2006

The opinions carousel

  • Big charities are lumbering and wasteful, big charities are professional policy-changers
  • The contract culture means charities are torn away from their strengths, the contract culture means charities can grow and influence policy
  • Three-year grants distract charities from their work, three-year grants keep charities on their toes
  • Chuggers are a cost-effective way of attracting donors, chuggers give the sector a bad name
  • And so on
I've worked in a variety of businesses (publishing, new media, business consultancy) and I've never known such a range of polarised opinion. Is it a reflection of the diversity of the charity sector. Or is there nor enough research? Or not enough debate?

Either way, it will all be on the web site in our "Experts Opinions" articles. Also each charity will be able to publish its own response to our review on its own review page. We're hoping the dialogue will be useful and lively.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The truth about non-charitable costs

A year ago we - like many donors - had preconceived ideas about which financial figures would help point to the effectiveness of a charity. In particular we were planning to rely on those old chestnuts: administration and fundraising. But the more research we conducted, the more we were convinced that they are almost meaningless.

The truth is that admin and fundraising costs are often plucked from thin air. Discussions with a wide range of charity workers indicate that - for all the guidance of SORP 2005 - both figures are guessed at, then reduced, and are therefore utterly misleading. One CEO said they could get away with presenting their fundraising costs as two per cent of total expenditure, when in reality they would be nearer 50 per cent.

If we presented these figures as a comparative option, we'd probably end up penalising honest charities. It's a sorry situation - and for the time being we'll respond by garlanding the admin figure with caveats and hiding the fundraising figure in the back of our reports.


Friday, August 11, 2006

The grass is always shorter...

One of our most important pieces of work is writing short overviews of each charitable sector so the public can get some context on their favourite charities. We are having these pieces checked by (some very accommodating) experts - and are finding some interesting things.

In sport, for example, there are Community Amateur Sports Clubs - organisations that encourage local participation by keeping fees low and providing facilities. They are not-for-profits but many avoid registering as charities as the Charity Commission can, allegedly, apply unwanted restrictions.

We were quoted the example of a cricket club being forced to allow the grass on its pitch to grow to a certain length so that members of the public could sit comfortably on it. Thereby providing sitting access for all - but cricket access for nobody.

Or is this just a non-charitable urban myth?


Monday, August 07, 2006

And now for something completely different

Fancy yourself as a circus enthusiast or daffodil connoisseur? Maybe you want to campaign for courtesy or send cows abroad. Whatever your passion (as long as it's legal), be assured there's a charity for you.

Flower-lovers have a choice between The National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies and The Daffodil Society. The cosmically-minded will find kindred spirits at The British Interplanetary Society. A predilection for puppets or a bent for balloons? Then join the ruck at the Norwich Puppet Theatre Trust or British Balloon Museum.

We pondered the question of how to categorise charities for months, and we kept finding charities that don't fit neatly into our major sections ( 'Children', 'Education', 'Human Rights' and so on). Not wanting to ignore the diversity out there, we created a 'Curiosities' section for organisations whose aims are out of the ordinary. Examples above.

We hope that donors who aren't sure who to support will find something there that tickles their fancy. And that we get a smile out of everyone else.


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Sensitive CEO salaries

We have reviewed 500 charities and have decided to stop - for the time being - to check that our financial figures are correct. We have taken the diligent but difficult next step of asking each of the 500 charities to check we've got them right.

We are having many positive responses but one contentious issue keeps raising its head: the Chief Exec's salary.

For charities whose CEOs earn over £50,000 there have been no issues since those salaries are disclosed in the Annual Report in bands (e.g. £50,000 to £60,000). But for CEOs who earn less, we are getting a few indignant responses. This is because the majority of Annual Reports simply state, "No employee earns more than £50,000". Without an exact figure, all we can do is state that the CEO salary is below £50,000. But we are requesting the actual figure. And this is ruffling feathers.

Donors would doubtless like to know what the CEOs' salaries are, especially as they are paying towards them. But we've had several alarmed responses from the charities, saying that this is private information and... how dare we?

In phone conversations it quickly becomes clear that many of these charities don't realise that their accounts are already in the public domain on Guidestar and the Charity Commission Register. We are just presenting them in a way that is more accessible to the public.

As for the CEO salaries, we, as donors, want to know them and we can't easily understand why a handful of charities won't disclose them. Do they have something to hide?

For the record the CEO of Intelligent Giving gets £33,000 and he doesn't care who knows (he says).