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Is ‘Big Charity’ a con?

Jasmine Birtles 7th Aug 2023 5 Comments

Is ‘Big Charity’ a con? Not a nice thing to talk about, but one that needs addressing.

I need to preface this article by setting something straight… I am in no way telling you not to give to charity, give your time to charity or to do charitable work or things. I can see the headlines already: “Jasmine Birtles HATES giving”. This is simply untrue. What I am getting utterly fed up with is the extravagant use of funds by some large charities and innocent people wasting their hard-earned cash on organisations with unjustifiably large overheads.

Big cars and bigger salaries

What started as a slight niggle – at charities providing the entirety of the UK with a free pen – became a full-blown horror when I went for a meeting with an unnamed charity a few years ago. The car park resembled that of a Wall Street broker: filled with Mercs, Beamers and Audis.

My friend at the time joked that we “were in the wrong business” and my inner journalist was absolutely outraged.

I went home and started to Google what the CEOs for most charities earn in the UK. I was absolutely dumbstruck.

According to Payscale, the average wage of the CEO of a non-profit is £48,000. However, if we look at Big Charity, this figure jumps to £208,000. Although this is considerably less than the average for a CEO in the non-charitable sector, it is still very dubious considering the nature of work done and way funds are raised.  

If they’re taking big fat pay cheques out of the people’s donations, instead of a reasonable, living wage, then they’re not a ‘charity’ in my book.

Millions of pounds for one employee

One of the most shocking discoveries of this research was that into health charity Wellcome. Wellcome’s highest-paid employee, Peter Pereira Gray, chief executive of its investments division, received a package including salary, bonus, long-term incentive plan and allowances totalling more than £4.6m. A single mother I know gives a monthly donation to them. How is this just? 

As my research increased I started to feel heartbroken. I saw my neighbour volunteering her weekends for Mind, (CEO between £180,000 and £200,000 per year).  I saw people on the breadline sharing their small incomes with charities, and I saw the constant and often pushy fundraising drive being directed at my loved ones online. All done with such purity of soul, from people trying to give to someone in need, not to buy some fat cat a second home.  

A real life horror story  

Then came the final straw. A close friend of mine was running an advocacy service for people with learning disabilities. The people were vulnerable and her wage wasn’t huge. She had spent years building trust with these people and helping them in every way she could. However, one of the fat cat charities swept in and said they could do what her agency did for less government money. (I am afraid for legal reasons I can’t name and shame. Trust me, I would love to.)

Her entire team were replaced by ‘volunteers’ (including her), and the often weekly changes in staff meant no rapport could be built and no trust gained.

The charity in question had zero specialism in this area and, within a year, the service had pushed seriously vulnerable people further into vulnerability. It was all a cash grab. All the bosses got salary increases that year. She was paid off and had an enforced gagging order.

To this day, when I see the sheer amount of people publicly plugging this charity, I feel sick.  

The Oxfam debacle 

Then in 2021, the UK suspended aid funding for Oxfam following allegations of sexual exploitation and bullying: this came as a follow-up to previous allegations of sexual abuse in Haiti by Oxfam staff in 2018.

The Foreign and Development Office said at the time that Oxfam would not be able to make applications for UK aid money until the new allegations were resolved: “All organisations bidding for UK aid must meet the high standards of safeguarding required to keep the people they work with safe,” a spokesman said at the time. The statement resulted in further bad publicity for the charity.

It also put further doubt into where my money would go.

Are all charities so lavish with your money? 

Absolutely not! I am patron of Community Money Advice and have campaigned with many charities over the years. So I’m keeping well away from Big Charity and concentrating my giving on small charities only.  

In fact, one charity I really can recommend is Acts 435. Do please take a look here to see what they do. 

It’s a fantastic, Christian charity that gives money directly to people in need. Those in need are referred by debt charities such as Christians Against Poverty and Community Money Advice, and then people like you and me can donate £5 upwards to help pay for a child’s bed, or a cooker, or even a Debt Relief Order. The charity itself runs on a shoestring. They just use the Gift Aid payments to administer it. All the rest of the money – i.e. all the money you and I actually pay in – goes directly to the person in need. 

They have a constant need of funds so if you feel like doing a bit of good with your cash, do go and give some money to help someone on the breadline. 

 Come and read more of my column’s here.

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Paul Smith
Paul Smith
10 months ago

Your information is mind-blowing, but only what I have suspected for years. It would be interesting to see how the fat cat Charities rank amongst each other, and to have that information published so that people can take an informed decision if they want to continue paying into such charities. Maybe that is something worth campaigning for.

Lynn-H
Lynn-H
10 months ago

I have worked for three charities and I was continually disappointed at the mis-allocation of funding and even sheer corruption that I encountered. I too looked deeper into charities, particularly CEO pay, and I was disgusted by their financial packages. Volunteers get nothing, if they’re lucky and ‘scrab’ hard enough they get meagre expenses – the fat cat CEOs claim more expenses for one meal than a team of charity shop volunteers manage to claim in a year. Beware the ‘chuggers’ as well, they are paid to persuade you to sign up for monthly donations. Bravo Jasmine for being brave… Read more »

Jenny
Jenny
10 months ago

This made me so angry! I’m on minimum wage and still give to some of these big charities. I assume that I’m honestly sharing my fortunate position to earn and often go without any treats or luxuries to do so. I’m not paying charity for some astronomical wage!! I’m going to look into the charities I donate to. Thank you for sharing this.

John Andrews
John Andrews
10 months ago
Reply to  Jenny

A very interesting book, War Games,The Story of Aid and War in Modern Times by
Linda Polman cured me of any urge to donate to any large, national charity.

Jenny
Jenny
10 months ago
Reply to  John Andrews

I will look at getting a copy … I’m so sad at this corruption

Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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