Be canny when choosing your charity giving

Renee Watson

Renee Watson

First published in Columns Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , (It's Not) Rocket Science

It seems 2014 may well go down in history as the year when Chinese Water Torture went viral in the form of a bucket of ice-cold water over the head.

And all in the name of science! Whether or not you have been doused yourself you have undoubtedly heard about the Ice Bucket Challenge, in which participants are sponsored to tip freezing water over themselves and post the reults online.

If like me, you had never heard of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS for short, fear not. You are not ill-informed, it is the just the American name for Motor Neurone Disease.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has raised in the region of £60m from more than 1.7 million donors in less than one month for ALS.org – the charity that launched the challenge. Not bad for an organisation that raised £1.6million during the same time last year.

As the challenge seems to be reaching its peak more and more people are beginning to express an unwillingness to take the plunge (those who have done it nominate others to take part).

It has highlighted a very interesting science question: research costs a lot of money, but how do we decide, both as individuals and as societies, how we allocate money to the hundreds of good causes that need our help?

People will have a whole host of personal motives for donating to one research charity over another but if you are struggling to decide whether to make a donation or not these are some of the things I like to consider:

1: How much money does the charity spend on administration? We need to be realistic – running a charity costs money – however you don’t want to be giving your hard-earned cash to a charity that spends huge chunks of their income on posh cars. I like to check out their last accounts and see what percentage they spend on admin – 20 per cent and under is a sign that they are putting the vast majority of their income where you want it; into finding new treatments for disease.

If they don’t clearly state their admin spend I would be a little suspicious.

2: How many middle-men stand between my donation and the people who I want it to reach? Each time money is passed through a different organisation, a little bit is going to be taken off to pay for that service. Local charities tend to be good at being a direct route from your pocket to the recipient without chunks being syphoned off.

3: Could my time be more valuable than my money? Having worked with many charities the answer to this is often no – but when it comes to research, volunteering to take part in a clinical trial could be a more valuable contribution to finding effective new treatments than a few pounds in a bucket.

There has been a lot of talk about amounts of money raised versus number of people affected by the disease. I don’t think this matters.

It is interesting to compare how much money is invested in research on different diseases. But think about the vast amounts of money slushing around the wealthiest parts of our world and I don’t think we can begrudge a less common disease having a brilliant awareness and fundraising campaign. After all if I, or someone I loved got Motor Neurone Disease I would be very grateful for every single piece of ice thrown.

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