By SYMONNE TORPY
Walking down Broadway, you navigate past colourfully dressed students, away from the allure of the second hand furniture store and the muscle men handing out pamphlets for the 24-hour gym.
You’re making headway in the street traffic. Then you see the charity worker. Almost frothing at the mouth with enthusiasm, he bounds up to you like a friendly puppy.
He’s wearing a T-shirt with a hopeful message on the front. His flyers are plastered with images of hungry children from far off lands. You think about the kebab that you had for lunch. Guiltily you slow down. Perhaps it’s time to sponsor a child?
‘Sales and marketing’ is what it says under the ‘experience’ tab on my résumé. For six months in 2010, I worked for a marketing company that was outsourced to deal with the pressures of attracting new donors for high profile charity organisations. My role was essentially to sell sponsor kids. They had become commodities– a means of generating an income, with all the morality associated with helping the less fortunate slipping by the wayside in our thirst for personal profit.
The Charitable Aid Foundation recently identified Australia and New Zealand as the world’s most charitable nations. According to the ABS, the Australian public donates about $4 billion per year, more than six times the level of donations made by big business.
But where is your hard earned money going?
Figures from Givewell showed the average fundraising cost in 2009 was 19 cents in the dollar, varying widely between organisations from 2% – 40% in NSW. The micro-regulation of charities is the responsibility of state governments, and in NSW there is a requirement to cap fundraising expenses at below 40¢ per dollar.
However,there are no enforced consistencies in the definition of ‘administration’ or ‘fundraising’ in reporting on charity expenditure. In 2008, Funding Institute Australia released a paper in which it stated: “There was general agreement among FIA members that the current disclosure regimes are neither relevant nor appropriate.”
Most marketing agencies keep up to 95% of the first year pledge of a regular donation. Because the average donor makes several pledges over 4 years, the charity wins out over time. However, if the donor is short term, as many students are due to income volatility, the charity will lose money.
Thinking purely business enterprise, the marketing company profit model is an effective one. The company I worked for employed personable youth on a commission only basis, to appeal to the broader community with a carefully rehearsed sales pitch. People would sign up on the spot for child sponsorship and depart feeling the glow that comes with an altruistic act. We would leave with the glow of another $120 dollars padding our wallets. Per customer. And the ‘high rollers’ in the North Sydney office were making between $500 and $2500 per week, not to mention competition perks such as Prada handbags and trips to the Gold Coast.
I was part of that group, rising quickly in the industry. We were flown to Melbourne to open a new office, where the company culture meant pearls, cocktails, Sunday gâteau, designer shopping and incredible dining. We said our own version of grace before dinner, “Thank you Lord, for those who do not eat. Thank you for allowing us to give them food, so that they can give us money and we can eat.” And we went on this way, earning and squandering thousands of dollars a week on the backs of the charity organisations that employed us.