Charities Cautioned on Impact & Evaluation
8 March 2013 at 6:06 pm
Charities are not set-up to demonstrate their impact effectively and more work needs to be done on the evaluation of cost effectiveness, a national fundraising conference in Sydney has been told.
Said to be one of the largest forums on the topic in the world, the Fundraising Institute of Australia’s three-day conference ‘Aspire to Greatness’ has seen over 600 fundraisers attend from across the country.
Delivering the annual Syd Herron Oration, world-renowned ethicist Professor Peter Singer told the packed auditorium that fundraisers’ biggest problem was to do with the misconception that charities spend too much money on fundraising.
Professor Singer said that the mistaken belief was one that needs to be “carefully combated”.
“I think it is a misconception that the organisation that spends less on administration and fundraising is therefore a more effective organisation,” Professor Singer said.
“It’s more about whether the charity is well managed in terms of the percentage of funds that go to administration and fundraising.”
Professor Singer said that the real danger is when people think that an organisation that spends 10 per cent on administration is a better organisation than one that spends 20 per cent.
“An organisation that spends 10 per cent of funds on administration may not make much use of the remaining 90 per cent if they are unable to carry out monitoring and evaluation tasks,” he said.
In his speech, which was based on the concept of ‘effective altruism’, Professor Singer said he believes the western world should do more for developing countries.
“I think for a wealthy nation, whether it’s the United States or Australia, we should be giving a lot more,” he said.
“People should be encouraged to give generously to those in need as part of what it is to live an ethical life.
“In a world in which 19,000 children are dying every day from poverty-related causes, I don’t think we’re giving enough.”
Professor Singer said there should be a “shift” so that people see that giving is an essential part of living an ethical life.
“I think if we can succeed in doing that then we will drive up the amount that people are giving,” he said.
“And it’s justifiable to invest a significant amount to do that.
“Obviously there are limits – there’s the problem of misconception – and since the accounts of charities are public if it becomes obvious that too much is going into fundraising, it will be a deterrent and counter-productive.
“But if we can do it in a way that gains approval from the public then we shouldn’t feel bad about spending money on fundraising.”
The controversial philosopher also told delegates he believes that people in the western world should be donating to overseas aid organisations over charities that work locally.
“In the United States it costs about $40,000 to train a guide dog and a recipient but in the developing world there are millions of people who are blind because of conditions that are easily curable by surgery,” Professor Singer said.
“While there’s some disagreement about the figures, it’s pretty clear that for the $40,000 you’re spending for one American with a guide dog you could cure hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of people with blindness.
“Is it better to give someone a guide dog or cure someone with blindness?,” he asked. “I’d say it’s better to cure someone with blindness.”
“Is it better to give one person a guide dog or to cure 500 people of blindness?
“I don’t think there can be any discussion about that,” he said. “We ought to be prioritising the causes that are able to do the most good.”
Professor Singer said that if a donor’s goal is about reducing human suffering and helping humans in great need then “it’s really difficult to justify directing that to Australians”.
“I’m not saying that you can’t ethically raise money for organisations helping Australians in need I am rather saying that I think we ought to be doing a lot more with a focus on global poverty,” he said.
“If human suffering is the donor’s concern – and I think it’s a very important concern – then we ought to be directing them towards those organisations that are helping the global poor.”
Australian born Peter Singer is a Professor of Bioethics at the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. He has written, co-authored, edited or co-edited more than 40 books, including Practical Ethics, The Ethics of What We Eat (with Jim Mason) and most recently, The Life You Can Save. Visit his website: The Life You Can Save.