Friday 13 December 2013

A Bloody Nose For Comic Relief

You would think, surely, that any charity with access to a large cash influx and a high media profile would take care to make sure that their funds are invested wisely. And by wisely, I don't just mean in a way that will maximise profits for good causes. I mean by not investing in arms dealers, and firms with interests in tobacco and alcohol.

The blowback for Comic Relief following a BBC Panorama investigation into their finances shows how trust is a major part of any charity portfolio. It's very easy for critics to argue that big premises and lots of staff make an organisation with the global reach of Comic Relief vulnerable to corruption. Frankly, if the revelations of the Panorama expose are true, then Comic Relief deserve those accusations. They are going to have to work fast to regain the trust of the millions of people that donate to good causes through their umbrella organisations every year.

Scandals like this are fuel to the naysayers who use evidence of financial misdoing as an excuse not to give to charity. "Why should I?" the argument goes. "All I'm doing is subsidising a fancy building or the pay of a chief executive." It's difficult to make a case against that when people clearly feel angry and betrayed by a charity that they believed, and that has told them time and again, that most of their money is going to the good causes shown during the TV extravaganzas. I've never really bought into that story, because I know the uncomfortable truth: charities need money as much as the causes for which they campaign.

Once again, we're lumbered with an outdated view of what charities should be--organisations that make money for their cause with no consideration towards investment in that organisation's future needs or infrastructure. As I've argued before, there needs to be a ground-up rethink of the way charities present themselves, and how we view them. As the government cuts and cuts again on funding for charities, it's time for the dialogue to open up on how donations are spent and invested, and how the Third Sector can work with the public to make sure the good causes they help continue to get the assistance they so desperately need.

The problem for Comic Relief is that they're doing the very opposite. They've changed the way they present their accounts, making it impossible to see where the money is going. This is a serious mistake, and could have horrible implications for Comic Relief and the charities that depend on them. It's vital that charities should be seen as open and ethical in all their financial dealings. Otherwise, in the current climate, they're just giving people another excuse to keep their hands firmly in their pockets.

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