It Ain't What You Give It's The Way That You Give
Giving Evidence £16.01
Church Times Bookshop £14.40 (Use code
YOU might think there is nothing easier in the world than giving
away money to charity - after all there are 180,000 UK charities to
choose from. Surely it's just a question of picking a good cause,
and signing the cheque? That's all very well, until we start to ask
whether our donations are really going to have an impact, whether
the charity has a good track record, and whether our money really
It is not always easy to discover the truth behind a charity's
hype. Charity websites invariably show us pictures of happy
beneficiaries, and tell moving stories of lives that have been
"transformed". The charity may also show us some impressive-looking
numbers about the good they are doing. And charities have become
much more aggressive in recent years, as "chuggers" on the streets
of most towns and cities try to sell us various good causes.
If we try to compare similar charities operating in the same
field, things can become even more confusing. Charities rarely use
common performance metrics, and they will all tell us that they are
doing superlative and essential work. It is very difficult to work
out, for example, whether £1000 given to Tearfund is more effective
than the same sum given to Christian Aid.
When giving away small sums, we are unlikely to worry about
these things: we will back a charity that we already know, or that
has a good reputation, or that has been recommended by a friend.
But if we are considering making a substantial gift - a legacy, for
instance, that might run to many thousands of pounds - we are
likely to want to know in more detail what our donation is going to
This is where Caroline Fiennes's book is an invaluable resource.
Fiennes takes the reader step by step through the process of
analysing the ways in which we can judge a charity's effectiveness.
The book cannot tell us which cause to back: we will have to decide
for ourselves whether we care more about endangered species or
outdoor education, child poverty or breast cancer. But Fiennes can
help us to decide which charities in their field get the best
results, so that our donation has maximum impact.
Fiennes used to work for the charity-impact analysts New
Philanthropy Capital, and her book reflects their passion for
charity metrics. This book may not immediately resonate with those
who don't get excited by graphs and numbers. But, if we are serious
about our philanthropy, we should engage our heads as well as our
hearts. Charities exist because the world is full of people and
causes that need our support, and our support may make the
difference between life and death. In the end, we owe it to the
beneficiaries of our philanthropy to ensure that our donations
really make a difference.
Dr Hugh Rayment-Pickard is Director of Development at the
education charity IntoUniversity: www.intouniversity.org.