Don’t donate to charity


Admit it – you hate seeing the constant emails and Facebook requests for charity donations as much as I do. Come on… Admit it… My Facebook wall seems less like a gathering place for my friends and more like a sad open air market where people look for handouts to their favourite charity of choice. Most recently, I have been spammed by my friends to donate to the Underwear Affair, a fund-raiser that supports research on cancers below the waist.

“But it’s for a good cause!”

Really now?

My answer is, and always will be: “Hell no.” Here’s why.

Charities don’t exist to simply funnel money from you, the donor, to the chosen cause. The biggest charities are run much like a business, with huge investment funds and equally huge administrative salaries. Not all charities use your donation dollars efficiently, as Money Sense magazine found. On average, a Canadian not-for-profit health-based charity takes 10 to 30 percent of all its donations as part of its operating costs. So your $100 is actually whittled down to $90 or less before it reaches the recipient. For many charities, it’s even worse – there are many on the list that take 50 to 60 percent of your money for themselves.

And the Underwear Affair?  Well, they’re affiliated with the BC Cancer Agency, which is not on the list surveyed by Money Sense magazine. However, looking at similar cancer organizations such as the Canadian Cancer Society, we quickly see that 40-60 percent of donations given to these charities is spent on fund-raising, administration and management.  NOT “curing” cancer.  While you’re at it, check out those CEO salaries – never knew non-profits paid so well, did you?

So the Underwear Affair raised $633,000 dollars this year.  Let’s conservatively estimate that 50% was diverted into non-program costs such as administration and salaries, based on the Money Sense average numbers.  That leaves about $316,000 left for “curing cancer”.  What does that get you?

  • 17 Masters students for one year – they probably won’t produce any papers OR
  • 12 PhD students for one year – hopefully they’ll at least produce one paper! OR
  • 9 post-doctoral fellows – they damn well better produce a paper or the principle investigator will kick them out! OR
  • 1 principle investigator who holds a university and hospital appointment

These are the people doing the research folks.  And after funneling money into fund-raising and administrative costs, there ain’t much left to hire them.  But what about reagents and supplies you say?  Sorry – $316,000 is not enough to keep an average sized lab running for very long.  Perhaps a year, depending on the size.  Major health funding agencies give grants of  hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars per year.  This is what a lab requires to sustain itself.  A few hundred thousand?  You’re better off calling for your favorite researcher and offering to buy them a new PCR machine!  Giving money through a charity is usually not efficient.

But if you still feel like donating money to a non-profit?  Money Sense recommends searching for charities that take 15 percent or less in administrative costs.  Have a look at their list and decide for yourself. (Select the charity category via the links just above the table)

What do you think about donating to charities? How have you helped out your chosen cause?

Photo Credit: Ottawa Citizen

Posted in: Money, Philosophy

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