Don’t let these top 5 charity myths stop you giving

This is a joint blog with my fellow philanthropy advisor, Lauren Janus of Thoughtful Philanthropy.

In just a few short weeks, the Christmas season will be in full swing. Many in the charity sector would like the official start of this frenetic—and let’s face it, often materialistic—season to be Tuesday, 28th  November, better known as #Giving Tuesday. While just four years old in the UK, Giving Tuesday is a global movement to focus people’s energy, time and money on charitable causes. Last year, PayPal alone reported £35 million was donated to charity globally on Giving Tuesday.

As you decide how to join in with Giving Tuesday 2017, don’t let these common myths about charities hold you back.

1. I can’t afford to give enough to make any difference.

So, you’re not swimming in surplus pounds (who is?). That doesn’t mean the £20 you can afford to give can’t materially impact someone’s life. If you’re new to giving or just like to see the face of the person benefiting from your donation—however small—microlending could be just the thing for you. Sites like Kiva and Deki allow you to lend as little as £10 to people around the world. These borrowers may be looking to send a daughter to primary school in Nicaragua or set up a roadside fruit stand in Rwanda. You get to choose the person and their project, and when the loan gets repaid, you can decide whether or not to lend the money out again.

And if you prefer to give locally, don’t forget that most charities are small, meaning even modest donations can go a long way. In the UK there are over 100,000 registered small charities in England and Wales; that’s nearly 80% of all charities. Around half of all small charities have an income between just £1 and £10,000 so whatever amount you can give will mean the world to them.

2. All charities say they’re doing good work. But how do I know for sure?

Sadly, the charity sector has lost the trust of much of the British public in recent years. While public scrutiny of charities can be productive, much of the recent mistrust is largely undeserved. Most charities are doing good work under difficult circumstances, and by doing a bit of research, you can better understand how your pounds are being spent.

A good way to identify charities that have proved themselves in some way is to look at who else has funded them. If the organisation has been funded by a large grant maker like the Big Lottery Fund, Comic Relief or Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, then you know that they will have been assessed as worth backing and report regularly on their work. Over 50 funders now publish all the details of the grants they make on 360Giving.

If you want more evidence, an increasing number of charities can point to the impact of their programmes through independent data-driven evaluations. Research organisations like GiveWell and The Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania conduct rigorous studies of issues like maternal mortality and improving the lives of women and girls. These organisations publish recommendations of the charities they think are proving their impact—and their case for more donations.

3. Once I give they will just keep hounding me for more money.

This is a fear that lots of donors have. But there are strict rules about how your data can be used and shared that charities must follow. If you think about it, it is not in their interest to annoy you as they would like you to think well of them and consider supporting them again. The best thing to do is let them know whether or not you want them to contact you and what about. If you do have problems, then you can  register with the Fundraising Preference Service to stop any unwanted communications.

4. Why do they need my money when they have a highly paid CEO and offices in London?

Running a charity can be stressful and complex. How well would most business leaders cope with providing a 24/7 service to people with complex needs, using volunteers and with an unpredictable income? It is in our interest to have talented people running charities which are tackling such important social issues like poverty, heart disease, loneliness and mental health.

Some CEOs of large charities do get a large salary but they still are paid far less than those salaries paid by private companies. Acevo's 2017 Pay and Equalities Survey found that the average pay of charity chief executives was £50,000, which was £5,000 less than in 2015.

And as for having offices in London? There has been a lot of discussion about this in the sector and some charities such as Action for Children have moved out of London. If it bothers you, then of course you can give to any number of local and regional charities. But do remember that some London-based charities serve the community there; others involved in influencing policy and campaigning will benefit from being based near parliament and still others will have been gifted their buildings or have historical arrangements that mean they are paying a very low rent.

5. Surely the government should be doing this work and not charities.

Charities are crucial in plugging the gaps where government services just don’t suffice. For example, charities provide food and shelter for destitute refugees with ‘no recourse to public funds’ or those trying to live on benefit sanctions. They also add value to what the government can afford to deliver, for example, by providing sports, arts and music activities for young people on top of the school curriculum.

Importantly, charities also keep the government accountable by petitioning on behalf of society’s vulnerable people. They remind our elected officials of their responsibilities to provide fair housing, enforce laws against animal cruelty and direct government funds towards reducing inequality, for example. Charities are a vital part of what makes our democracy—and our government—work for all of us.

Don’t let the common myths about giving to charity stand in your way this Giving Tuesday. Charities of all sizes are doing amazing work and need your support. This Giving Tuesday, give with both your head and your heart.

Lauren Janus, Philanthropy Advisor,

Emma Beeston, Philanthropy Advisor,