We have all been affected by the current refugee crisis - affected being a word that encompasses something different for everyone – in my case, an unshakable sense of duty. But really, my duty can only be to give. I am not in a position to go to Calais, Hungary or further afield to help. So, I have given toiletries, shoes and books to collection points in my area. And I have given money – as much as I can within my means, but without a doubt, more than I have given to any other single cause before. This is a dire situation and it is my belief that we all have a duty to help.
What struck me as I went online to make my first donation, was how fiercely possessive I felt over my money. It wasn't something I had felt before. Not only was it difficult to sift through the many, many charities asking for donations but my thought was, I care SO deeply about this situation that I want to know exactly where every single penny of my money is going and the channels and time frames associated with it. It was then that I realised, I had no way of knowing this.
As a person working in the charity sector and as an open minded individual, I know and expect that some of my donation will be used for administration and support costs. However, what should this amount be? At what point do I decide that that's too much for a charity to be spending on support and choose to donate to a different charity? And more importantly, what am I basing this decision on?
Oxfam, Plan UK and Save the Children all display diagrams on their homepages to show how every £1 donated is used. Some are better than others with Oxfam and Plan both providing clear links to their annual reports whilst Save the Children provide three pie charts but no link to their annual report. Addressing only the online presence of charities, I would like to see this become an expected standard of transparency for all. Including arts charities. Why shouldn’t we be providing information on our expenditure and accounts, matching the standard of transparency and accessibility of some larger, humanitarian charities do? It can and is being done as creative producer Crying Out Loud demonstrated by showing their expenditure on their support page. Could we trial some similar diagrams on arts websites and see how they are received?
But will this work for everyone?
This topic brings into question impact and how we measure it. Is it by money spent? Should it always be about money? What if there is a charity doing something out of the ordinary? A charity going into areas never reached before? To alleviate issues never considered before? If they need to spend more of their donations on staff and support – do we dismiss that?
In his recent article about restoring faith in charities, Ben Summerskill asks, ‘Do you explain not just what you do (...) but what the impact of your work has been?’ From a donor perspective it is important to remember that for some people giving to charity is a highly emotive thing. It's only fair that the right information should be easily accessible to enable those people to make an informed decision about where their money goes.
Researching the potential benefits and barriers of greater disclosure online will be one of my aims during this Arts Fundraising Fellowship. With such a large and varied sector, there is most likely not going to be a solution that is welcomed by all. This is a sensitive subject as there are of course those donors who will respond negatively to the knowledge that say, 20 pence of their £1 donation will be spent on administration and support. It could be argued that for some charities, displaying this information so prominently will act as a barrier to giving and that is certainly not what any of us want.
What do you think will work for the arts sector? I’d love to know your views.