How do we rank charities?

2 October 2010 | By Cause4 staff

Martin Brookes, Chief Executive of New Philanthropy Capital, has this week suggested that ‘charities should be ranked according to their benefit to society to discourage self-interested and ill-informed giving,’ a suggestion quickly rebuked by many leading figures in the charitable sector.

His opinion arises from research by Hope Consulting which concludes that only 14% of donors support causes which they, the donors, believe deliver the greatest social good. This has led, Brookes maintains, to numbers of charities receiving levels of funding disproportionate to the social capital that they generate. By way of illustration Brookes tells us ‘that the British public has given more to a Devon donkey sanctuary than to the most prominent charities combating violence and abuse against women.’

Stephen Bubb, the leader of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, has responded. ‘Who decides,’ he asks, ‘which is the more moral cause? People need to be better informed but charity has to remain a matter of individual choice.’

Cause4 is skeptical about the figures produced by Hope Consulting – or at least the way in which they might have been interpreted. The 86% of donors who apparently support causes that don’t generate greatest social good do not begin to produce 86% of income. 86% of income generated for charities will, of course, come from a much smaller number of heavy-weight philanthropists. If Martin Brookes is implying that heavy-weight philanthropists give away extensive gifts in blithe ignorance of the charities they support, then this is not a circumstance that Cause4 has yet to encounter. The philanthropists we know are thorough in the extreme and extraordinarily discerning!

Cause4 also thinks Stephen Bubb is entirely right in arguing that philanthropy must always be a matter of personal choice. Furthermore, it will always be a matter of personal choice. We are talking here about private money given freely and independently – and nobody, neither Government nor New Philanthropy Capital – is able to dictate to anyone how and where charitable money is given.

I assume I am just like Martin Brookes and do not personally wish to support donkey sanctuaries. There are many, many other causes that ‘float my boat’ – ones that help to transform lives and give hope and comfort to our fellow human beings in times of despair. I would not invest my money in donkeys, however cruelly they have been mistreated.

More pertinently I would be angry if Government were to invest tax-payers’ money, our money, in donkeys. And this is where Cause4 might side with Martin Brookes. As Government sets about working much more directly through Third Sector organisations and investing in them, it has a clear duty to spend our money in the most cost-efficient way to deliver the greatest amount if social good. They will need some sort of means by which to evaluate and rank charities. The questions are who is going to undertake this work and by what definition will ‘social good’ be determined?

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