Can there be too many charities?


I think you would have had to be living underground, for a few weeks not to have heard about the Ice Bucket Challenge, which I wrote about last week. In fact this week seems to have been even busier on that subject, with all channels of social media full of people pouring water on their head  in the name of charity. Of course, we had the side show arguments about who owned the challenge and who should benefit from the cash and the awareness, but this got me thinking even more about our perception of charities and how and why we support them.

One of the things that I experience when I meet people who have been through something as life changing as a cancer diagnosis, is a desire to ‘give something back,’ for the wonderful treatment they have received. That normally happens in several different ways, either by a one off donation of money, a desire to do voluntary work, or by starting a small charity/foundation to raise money and awareness of a particular issue. I see many new charities starting, and entering the market place, competing for money and attention in an already crowded sector.

Can u have too many charities

My work places me in a very privileged position and I get invited to see many new developments in the charity world. The experience that I now have is called on by many people who are new to this area. But I have learned now to keep my emotions apart from my logic. In my own example my life had been saved by some wonderful 24/7 nursing care and once I left hospital I couldn’t wait to start my own charity to buy equipment for the ward that continues to look after me. Adrenaline and passion were driving me on, and we started to raise money quickly, but after several years both myself and supporters had run a little dry in terms of enthusiasm and ideas. As my health improved interest in the cause started to wane, and although my fund is still open it is no longer my main focus.

 This appears to be a common problem with many smaller charities. Burdened by administration, and generally without professional help, sustainability becomes a big issue. There are so many wonderful people out there doing marvellous things and all making a difference in their own way, for the causes they believe in, but business must enter into this discussion too. The charity sector is becoming extremely competitive and crowded. I have spoken to many people recently about how they donate money to charity, and found that there are two main ways. One is the more traditional method of direct debit monthly, and the other is ad hoc, via internet challenges and random bucket collections.

Most of the people who donate by direct debit seem never to change things and rarely now consider whether they are donating to the right cause, They continue almost as if by habit, which is one of the reasons that charities like people signed up to pay this way, they can also contact them frequently to request an increase! When we are donating money, there are generally two emotions involved. The first and probably most important, is a feeling of well being that we are contributing to making the world a better place and secondly one of trust, that the people we are giving it to will use it properly.

Can there be too many charities

The charities that we tend to hear about most are the national ones, naturally they have teams of professionals telling us about all their good work. They do a lot of positive things of course, and can improve facilities across the country. But sometimes it is local services that are required and if they are not particularly cost effective, will rarely be considered by national organisations and will need to be funded locally. But I question if people really understand how their cause operates and spends their funds. As my example, I talked in my previous post about how people were complaining about Macmillan Cancer Support ‘hijacking’ the Ice Bucket Challenge. They went on to talk about research into cancer which of course Macmillan are not involved in at all.

Being involved in the charity world and not working, I have time to consider things more fully than most people. Maybe for many, making a contribution anywhere, is enough for them, and of course it is great that people want to donate at all. But our world is changing rapidly now, we have a lot more choice and should use it. Where would we be without charities, they do so much vital work, but there is a lot more that needs to be done, and not necessarily by the people already there. Of course though, without funds nothing can happen as more and more organisations push for income, but I wonder if the fundraising bubble will burst when people switch off from the constant barrage of heart wrenching advertisements telling us that our donation can change the world.

My opinion is that exactly as in the business world, things can be done more efficiently. Currently there is much duplication of working in the cancer area, and if organisations collaborated more, things would be better for the user. But this will only start happening if we start becoming more selective with our donations. Surely if you care enough to give money to a cause you should care enough to ensure that your money is used in the way you want it to be. Generally local causes will only be funded by local money in the long term.

Of course, like me you can also donate your time to charity, but if you do donate money, how do you decide to do it? Have you re considered your causes, and what is your view of current fundraising techniques? Do you support a local or national charity and why?


  1. Very good points here, Chris.

    As I’m sure you know there’s a huge fuss going on right now with allegations being made about the ALS Association being “fraudulent” in only channeling 27 percent of donations into research … I have written about this on my site (, goes live Monday Sept 1st.

    It’s shocking when you realize how few people actually understand what health-related charities do – and for ALS to be criticized for not putting more than 27 percent of receipts into research is, frankly, laughable when you realize what else they do – and what else there is that such a charity MUST do.

    I don’t give much to charity in money terms, preferring instead to work with both local and national voluntary groups and initiatives like my Cancer Survivorship community on Google Plus, here –

    Thanks for an interesting and information article.

    • Hi Suzan

      So pleased you enjoyed the piece. You’re absolutely right when you say that people don’t really understand what health related charities do. Half the time I don’t and I work with many!

      Coming from a purely commercial background, I was truly shocked when I entered into the charity world, but of course without them our world would be a poorer place. Without doubt there is a lot of money and resource wasted, on ‘brand ego’ etc.

      I believe that people leave their donations to trust, and particularly these days do not take time to really look at what individual organisations do. It has almost become like a fashion, to give to popular charities, rather than to give where is really required.

      Like you I rarely donate cash but I give a lot of my time where I can see a tangible result. Just had a look on your Community, it is great work that you are doing! Let me know if you would like to collaborate on anything in the future.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to share your views, Chris

  2. Thought provoking yet again Chris – brilliant. I believe the whole charity situation needs reviewing but that would have to come from Government & who would be brave enough! As you say, I have my own reasons for the charities I support each month plus those friends who carry out numerous brave challenges. I do get annoyed at the daily adverts for those in foreign countries though – we give significant amounts of money already and do believe that foreign aid is the responsibility of governments not individuals.

    • Thx Ken! Charity giving is such a personal thing, but I’m not convinced that most people understand what their particular favourite charity really does. We are so influenced by brand now, most don’t take time to look into it. For example many people still think that Macmillan Cancer Support helps find cures for cancer, despite the name!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Chris

  3. Hi Chris
    So much of what you have written mirrors my own personal views on charity. I shall try my best to answer the questions you ask and add my views.

    Ice bucket Challenge – I was nominated to do this by several relatives, friends and colleagues but I messaged them personally to say I would not be taking part. Firstly, it was not a charity I support and I have better things to do with my time. I also explained that I spend every day working in the charity sector and all my spare time fundraising. Secondly, I do not need to film myself pouring water over myself to prove that I am a charitable person. Finally, I also felt disgusted that Macmillan hijacked this and also I think I just got bored!

    My husband runs a very small charitable trust – he has a workshop where those people who need time there usually ex military suffering with PTSD volunteer and build sandrails. He works with military charities and donates sandrails for them to raffle off. So what he does is to help other charities to raise money and to help people get adjusted to civilian life after time in the military. He also works with the Princes trust, job centre and local colleges to provide work experience in engineering. He enjoys giving something back and helping others whilst creating beautiful things.
    I myself work in charity retail but my background in in education I have swapped one lot of targets for another. We are in a target driven industry – to carry on the good work of the charity I must push myself must give 110% and I love my job. I feel passionate about what I do and I believe in the work that my charity does. I love my volunteers they are the best people I have ever met and I feel honoured to have the chance to spend my days working with them. We are proud of our shop, we know many of our customers by their first name and we are regularly complemented on how nice our shop is. However, sometimes I feel my location is against me – the shopping centre behind me has shut, the supermarket that was going to be built at the bottom of the street has fallen through. My street is dying, on rainy days noone walks down it as they choose to stay in the big new shopping centre undercover. Then there are the lack of donations some days I might only get two or three bags over the door. It is a constant battle against all these circumstances but it is a rewarding job when you see where the money raised is spent – the charity I work for are very good at showing how they spend the money. I also like that fact the name of the charity does what it says on the tin! With some charities it worries me as I am not sure what they are raising money for.
    Direct debit fundraising I think is an easy way of donating but I usually find these people will not make further donations as they are already doing their bit!
    I absolutely HATE with a passion those guys who are on commission trying to get you to sign up to direct debit. Same guys different charities each week or so and they ask me every night I pass them. Luckily at the moment I am wearing my charity t-shirt and tutu and they’ve stopped asking me now and say nice things to me as I pass. I admire them for working but do not like this way of fundraising – these people are not actually from the charity they represent so just give you the spiel they’ve learnt by rote.I do not know how successful this way of fundraising is – maybe you can tell me? if it really is successful I will eat my words.
    Heart wrenching advertisements – I love the ones my charity does but I feel frustrated they do not do an advertisement for our shops. I really think by shopping in our shops it is fab because you help raise money, you are recycling and you are also saving money. Donating to us is great too as from one bag it could raise as much as £30 -£50 and that costs nothing!
    So by donating your unwanted goods you can support a charity without it costing you anything. NOW That is something to thing about!

  4. “think” not thing oops
    I must proofread my comments.

    How do I fundraise?
    As part of my job description as a charity retail manager I am expected to do some fundraising so in the last four years I have organised coffee mornings, cake sales, Xmas and Easter Fairs at a community centre in the New Forest, Quiz nights, Bingo afternoons, music events as well as tombolas and raffles even been in the stocks.
    At the moment to show my support for Maddoggwalking ( Lee’s walking the coastal paths of the UK for charity) and because my boss and husband thought I wouldn’t be able to I am walking to and from work each day (abt 2 1/2 each way) this walk can deviate and take me around Southampton as I walk for a different person each day and am set a challenge to do. I am being sponsored by friends and family.
    I support a national charity because I work for them. But I have personally in my spare time supported a charity which my husband is involved with Royal Navy Royal Marines Children’s Fund – they are a great charity who “knit the family” back together as well as support children in their education.I like the holistic work they do as by “mending the parent we mend the child” I love hearing about how children they have helped are now at university and still sending thank you letters. Amazing charity.
    I’m also interested in a local hospice for children and my friend organises large car shows for them so we donate raffle prizes same as with another military charity we have donated a raffle prize to them one of Mark’s big offroad cars he makes.
    I’m also interested in things like hospital radio and when we do the tour of local hospital on their open days each year I will donate to them to keep them going as they do such important work.
    With my friend last christmas we also made hot chicken curry and fed the homeless through the local centre and gave out presents of hats, gloves and scarves.
    So as you can see I don’t think I need to prove I am a charitable person by throwing icy water over my head.
    I also donate clothes and unwanted items to charity for them to sell as I think it is environmentally sensible to do so.
    Hope my comments are interesting to you. I really enjoyed this article as it really got me thinking.

  5. Hi Karen

    I think your reply was so thorough it was longer than the post itself 🙂 Firstly I’m so pleased you enjoyed the piece and it encouraged you to share your experience. As I say frequently, we can all learn from each other, and although I will facilitate it is always great to hear from others.

    I am interested to read the views of a professional fundraiser, and intrigued to see that although your job involves you in a main stream charity you also support many smaller good causes. It also seems that you donate time as much as you do money, which I know from a personal perspective is extremely rewarding.

    My concern when writing this piece was that many smaller good causes get forgotten and swamped by the massive machines of large health charities, but it seems you are also aware of that issue and doing your bit to support this sector too!

    Thanks so much Karen for sharing your personal experience of fundraising. I think you have shown us a really unique perspective. I look forward to welcoming you back to the blog soon, and please tell your friends 🙂 Chris x

    • Hi Chris
      I am not a professional fundraiser – I have never done a course in fundraising, never had any training in fundraising. I am a charity shop manager my training is in the retail sector – we don’t get training as such in fundraising.
      I would also like to say I manage my shop as I would my own business – every penny is accounted for and it is like that for all our shops and indeed the whole of the charity. It is clear with the charity I work for how money is spent.
      I do know that for every £1 donated 80p is spent on research the rest is put towards future funds.
      Running a charity shop is expensive – you have rents, business rates, running costs and salaries as well as other costs such as buildings and repairs. But on the other side of this you are the public face of the charity and can help the cause in many different ways.
      I am passionate about the charity I work for and love my job. It is clear from their annual review where the money raised is spent.
      There are always going to be running costs, rents, salaries, money spent on sundries – you know something has to pay for the bog roll!

      • Hi Karen

        Thanks for clarifying all the above, and it is interesting to understand the line between your retail experience, and lack of formal fundraising training as such. It is great to hear the satisfaction that you gain, from your work, and I’m sure there are many people envious of that. Keep up the fab work you are doing, and your enthusiasm shines through! 🙂 Chris

  6. “I have no problem knowing that most small charities – like our own – have a limited life span. I have no grand plan. The #JHF is helping us thru an unspeakably tough time & if it makes even a small difference to the causes we support-in memory of Jess-then it will have been worthwhile. I appreciate each charity is unique.”

  7. So good to get a ‘smaller’ charity perspective on things, and I totally understand why so many exist. They do many positive things, not just raising money but also are a great support for many people personally involved with them. My concern is for the many organisations like your own, doing wonderful work, that may be forgotten under a deluge of large brand marketing.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your views which have added a great deal to this discussion, and I wish you well with your wonderful work, Chris

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