Opinion: Third Voice - The ethical deficit that plagues charity fundraising

Hilary Blume, director of the Charities Advisory Trust

The voluntary sector reflects the values of the wider society. In a society where greed is seen as an acceptable motive and shame or even embarrassment are viewed as signs of weakness, is it any wonder that there seems to be a moral deficit in charity fundraising?

Charities present themselves as able to solve problems if only they are given the resources. This is a ridiculous claim. Charities have no magic wand that makes everything better. At best, they provide limited practical help.

The alacrity with which the big aid agencies roll out their fundraising machines for every disaster appeal makes my stomach churn. Read the Disasters Emergency Committee's post mortems on every disaster, for example, and see the gap between its claims and the reality.

Charities justify their fundraising methods on the basis that the virtue of the cause overrides the means. Take, for example, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, which increased direct debit payments from its members without explicit consent - a Third Sector story quoted by The Guardian.

Chris Vick, head of marketing for the WDCS, said that "charities need to use sophisticated fundraising methods to meet rising costs". He failed to see anything amiss, and even accused his critics of naivety.

Whether it is charity Christmas cards, where charities agree to licensing deals with as little as 2 per cent going to charity, or child sponsorship at £240 a year, when no individual child gets even a fraction of that, charities are brazen in soliciting funds and bury the details in the small print. Am I the only person who finds it hypocritical of Oxfam to campaign for fair trade while its Christmas cards are printed in China?

Charities were quick to spot the fundraising potential of alternative gifts, pioneered by the Good Gifts Catalogue. But although they give you a card saying "I gave you a goat", the small print reads "we use the money where it is most needed". Spot the difference between "I gave a donation to Oxfam instead of buying you a present" and "I bought a goat in your name for a poor person in Africa". Surely this undermines public confidence.

Like the political parties, charities follow the letter but not the spirit of the law. It all shows the ethical deficit in our society. The end is said to justify the means - but, as Gandhi said, the means are the ends in the making.

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