Firstly, let meme explain. I looooove me some charities. I think the work that charitable organisations do, from providing pregnancy support groups in Kenya to campaigning to end the stigma of sharing a disability or impairment with an employer, is quite frankly brilliant.
BUT, recent scandals and stories about some charities has meant public trust of the sector and their operations is at an all-time low.
This list is going to show just why people don’t trust charities any more, using the sacred language of ~ M E M E S ~
#1. People think charities should spend 99% of their money on the cause
Most donors would be SHOOKETH to discover that charities actually spend some of their money on things not directly related to the cause they’re donating to.
Some charities can spend the majority of their income on creating even more fundraising products and services, or even *gasp* on staff salaries!
Known as the Overheads vs. Programming debate, this is a debate that has engaged and enraged countless media outlets. Which begs the question, why are charities expected to have completely different income structures than private firms when they both operate in an intense free market competition society?! I don’t know the answer so I’m going to show you some more memes.
#2. Some believe that charities exploit vulnerable donors
In 2015, stories began to emerge of what was seen as aggressive fundraising tactics from some charities. These tactics were seen to exploit vulnerable donors, and the suicide of one high-profile fundraiser in particular was thought to be directly linked to them. This particular individual experienced depression and was a prolific supporter of many charities.
From this story, some members of the public have come to associate charities with exploitative practices. This incident in particular diminished public trust in charities, and since then a new Fundraising Regulator for England and Wales has been set up as well as the adoption of the Telephone Preference Service. Both of these things aim to protect donors seen as vulnerable to exploitation and ‘scamming’.
In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123.
#3. Where the progress at?
I totally get it. We are all part of Generation Now or Never. We live in a time where everything is instant, solvable and crucially – trackable. From ordering a pizza, monitoring your menstrual cycle or calling a taxi, we’ve become obsessed with tracking real-time progress to the nearest mile and minute. The thing is, social progress and the issues we care about are hard to quantify, and even harder to track.
Courtney Martin’s blog on voluntourism makes a brilliant point. Martin says that there’s a seductive allure to seeing other people’s problems as easily solvable, that short-term thinking and doing it for Instagram is a reductionist exercise that helps no one. This brings me to this meme’s point. Some donors distrust charities because they fail to see any concrete progress on the cause directly linked to the charity’s operations, or that they are unhappy with the pace of change.
#4. Poverty porn, safe for work?
This meme relates to another ongoing debate within the charity sector dubbed the ‘Poverty Porn’ debate. Essentially, poverty porn is when organisations that require people to donate money to a particular cause or *cough* charities, depict their beneficiaries in a dehumanising and negative way. Images of emaciated children staring blankly at the camera whilst flies land on their face is an example of poverty porn (even describing this depiction in writing is cringe-inducing). These depictions are similar to how animal welfare charities depict their beneficiaries, you can see where I’m going with this right?
Poverty porn is now not widely used in the sector, even though it can be more impactful and garner more donations in a short-term campaign e.g. a disaster appeal. However, poverty porn still denies beneficiaries human dignity. The reason why this debate can lead to more mistrust towards the charity sector may be because most charities now choose to present positive portrayals of their beneficiaries, which can downplay their need to assistance and signal to the potential donor that they don’t need as much help as a someone portrayed in a ‘poverty-porn’ light.
Positive portrayals of their beneficiaries are also a radical departure for some charities and can also be accompanied by tonal shifts and wider brand changes. Such changes may alienate donors that have backed that charity historically, leading to potential mistrust towards the ‘new look’ and even the cause they previously supported.
#5. you get a scandal, and you get a scandal!
The charity sector has been rocked in the past few years with stories such as those referenced in Meme #2 and also stories of misconduct. Perhaps the most notorious of these scandals is the Oxfam sexual exploitation scandal in Haiti which saw an international backlash against the charity – one of the world’s biggest.
Another prominent scandal relates to public funding and mismanagement in the Kids Company scandal. Both of these scandals, though they occurred in separate charities, effected the entire sector. The media onslaught that ensued towards the sector following all 3 scandals served to undermine trust in the entire sector and general public sentiment towards giving.
#6. That 0.7% figure…
Nothing mobilises public sentiment more than saying that government expenditure can be diverted away from X to provide more funding to the NHS. Be it from leaving the EU (don’t go there) or from reducing MP’s pay, the British public are fixated on providing more money for vital services like the NHS.
The government’s target of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on overseas aid is no different and has been a sticking point for many who believe that this money should be spent within the UK for the benefit of the British people. This is despite DfID’s aid strategy being to advance the UK’s ‘national interest’ (though this is another debate I don’t have enough memes to deal with).
This can all lead to the public distrusting charities simply because some, like the UK government’s aid target, seek to spend their money overseas to improve and advance the lives of those outside the UK.
You made it!
This has been a whirlwind to write. Probably even more of one to read! These six memes aim to outline the reasons why trust in charities just isn’t what it used to be, and the many challenges that the sector has to face. The future of the sector is looking brighter as more and more of the public become aware of these challenges. So, feel free to share this blog, share your newfound knowledge, but most importantly – share the memes god dammit!