With the latest news that has come out about WWF as well as Oxfam’s scandal I feel like I want to express my concerns about charities.
I used to work in charity and have felt very uneasy about them ever since I left. I honestly believe that charities are set up with the very best of intentions and that most people who do the front line work are genuinely trying to help but as with everything, things get complicated.
Firstly I take issues with there being charities so single focused on particular issues. In the case of WWF, there single focus on wildlife meant that they ignored and neglected human life and the atrocities that were being committed under their watch. Life is complex and tangled. Think about your own life. I can say that I am going to go completely renewable energy. That is very honourable and in an ideal world I’d do it tomorrow. However it’s not that simple. If I go for solar power, I have to find the money for the panels, this would mean finding additional income, but if I began working Martha would need to start at childcare and after this long out of a traditional working environment I would struggle to earn enough to cover the childcare costs so this further complicates the issue. I would also need to switch to an electric car, which introduces further upfront costs that we can’t stretch to. Basically, every decision we make has knock on effects elsewhere and this is just on a personal level. It becomes even more complex when we are talking about larger issues and bigger organisations. So having a single focus doesn’t really work. Charities/organisations need to work in tandem. Poverty charities should be working alongside mental health charities and educational charities. To truly tackle the biggest challenges we need cooperation and unity. I think it’s also important to note that in the case of WWF, it was a fear of upsetting other Governments that led to many of the horrific oversights and this in itself is concerning. Of course we need to keep favour with foreign governments to ensure that our attempts to help can continue but at what cost? This is where our Government should be doing more to assist as well as the UN. At what point do we become the villains if our charities allow these horrendous violations to occur completely unaddressed? Again, it’s too complicated for just one organisation to solve alone, but with unison there’s a greater chance that we don’t cause further harm.
Secondly, when organisations get big it’s very easy for the aim of the charity to get lost. I worked for Alzheimer’s Society, an organisation that does research but originally was more about proving care and support to those living with dementia. It was about making life better for people. There is another charity called Alzheimer’s Research UK which only does research, they do not provide care services. During my time at Alzheimer’s Society the charity campaigned for more government funding. They were awarded a big sum of money but it had to be ear marked for research. This then began nationwide closures of many care services. So there I was, on the phone every day speaking with people who had relied heavily on the services that were provided as a relief from the daily strain of caring for someone with dementia and having to say that essentially the charity had given up on you and was instead going to use their resources to help future generations instead and you can like it or lump it. This all happened after a decade of immense growth within the charity and I honestly believe it lost sight of itself. Research was the ‘sexy’ sell, care services seem a bit too vague for most people.
I do have other concerns about charities but these are my main two. Generally I do still believe in the benefit of charity (although I do think that the Government shouldn’t rely on them to do the work that they don’t want to do). However I think that when you give to charity you should do your research, you should look at their annual accounts (usually found on their websites) and you should probably look at smaller charities where there is still a lot of work to be done and open minded people to do it. I spent many a conference talking to people from smaller charities and being genuinely shocked by the way they got work done, while it took me a month to just get ideas signed off.