The uncharitable nature of charity culture: what happens when you don’t drink the Kool-Aid

The uncharitable nature of charity culture

Recently I spoke with a colleague in the nonprofit sector who had decided to leave the organisation in which she occupied a senior role due to the level of dysfunction she had observed – and experienced – within it.

When I asked what had driven her to do so, sadly her responses (for the most part) beat a well-trod path: I’ve heard and also experienced many versions of the same throughout my time in the industry. However she also spoke about an aspect that was newer to me – or rather, one that had not yet become as clear for me as it did when we sat and talked.

So what had she observed as a result of her time in the organisation that was familiar? Several items featured. One was the lack of professionalism exhibited by members of the organisation’s executive and board. Read More

Working in a nonprofit organisation: the good, the bad and the ugly

Working in a nonprofit organisation

A lot of people would like to work for a nonprofit and of course a lot of people already do. So what do people who do work in nonprofit organisations think about their workplaces? Nonprofit Explore founder Victoria Lister is a nonprofit professional who has worked across a variety of organisations and in roles at all levels. She shares some of her experiences here.

I’ve been involved in the nonprofit sector for a combined 40+ years.

No, I’m not that old – I’ve simply often worked in a number of roles simultaneously. I’ve been a volunteer, an employee, a management committee member on numerous occasions, a locum CEO, a project manager, a marketing and business development manager and, as a consultant, have worked and continue to work in pro bono and paid capacities with many social and nonprofit enterprises, the majority of which have had charitable status.

The types of organisations I’ve worked in or with range from community centres to breed associations; from human, legal, refugee and education service providers to economic development organisations, women’s services and many more. Some have been community-serving, others member-serving. Either way, you could definitely say I’ve seen nonprofit life from all angles and certainly from both sides of the boardroom table.

So what exactly have I seen? Here’s the black and white of it. Read More

Coffee, cake and charity?

Coffee, cake and charity

By Vanessa McHardy, MA Integrative Child Psychotherapist and Neil Gamble, Chairman and Director of Companies and Retired CEO.

Can we have our cake and eat it? And at what cost to our health, and the health budgets of our governments?

There is a cancer patient support charity that raises funds by asking people around the world to take part in annual coffee mornings. Their slogans for these events are ‘Cake tastes better together’ and ‘You can have your cake and eat it’. Read More

Charities, cold-calling and the nature of giving: just how charitable is it?

Charities Cold Calling UK

Dr Eunice MinfordBy Eunice Minford ~ MA FRCS Ed Consultant Surgeon with an interest in current affairs, transparency, responsibility and accountability in all spheres of life.

Last year in the UK we saw how a number of large charities, including Oxfam, Save the Children and Cancer Research amongst others, think it is appropriate to ‘cold-call’ people to raise money for their charities.

They employ external companies to do the dirty work – and dirty work it is indeed. The undercover videos 1 2 accompanying the recent media article (“VICTORY! After Mail exposé reveals shame of charity cold call sharks, PM pledges tough new laws to tackle ‘boiler room’ tactics targeting the elderly and vulnerable”) published by the Daily Mail UK 3, show the tactics that are used to get people to part with their cash. No one is spared from being given this ‘opportunity’ to donate including elderly pensioners and those with dementia. Read More

Why are nonprofits so dysfunctional?

Image of words on a scrabble board Self and Altruism

I’ve been working in the nonprofit sector in various capacities for a while now. My first foray was in 1994, on a sub-committee of a national peak body in the food industry. Since then I’ve been a nonprofit employee, manager, CEO, project manager, volunteer support worker, board member, chair, treasurer and, from 2010, a consultant.

As a result, I’ve had up close and personal encounters with many, many nonprofit people and organisations. The majority of these entities have been community-serving, small-to-medium enterprises operating in the human services domain, with some member-focused, business-oriented organisations such as sporting clubs in the mix, as well as social enterprises.

Many have offered very lovely opportunities for purposeful connection and growth and have been a joy to work with. However, I’m sad to say the great majority of people and organisations I have met or worked in or with have presented a far uglier face than we might associate with a sector that seeks to work for co-operative, harmonious ends, if not to do good. Read More

Providing aid long-term: does it end the cycle of suffering?

World Responsibility

The other day I attended a forum on the latest attempt to more specifically define the term ‘public benevolent institution’, a phrase used in Australia to describe those charities that aim to relieve poverty or distress.

As part of the discussion the question was asked if relief should be confined to providing assistance after the fact: shouldn’t those charities in the developmental space – that aim to prevent poverty and distress – also be considered public benevolent institutions?

The discussion brought to mind a question I have long pondered regarding the extent to which relief should be provided to people in distress. The answer seems clear in terms of disaster relief – it would be impractical and unloving to stand by and do nothing to alleviate suffering in the aftermath of an earthquake, flood or similar such event, be they man-made or natural. Emergency humanitarian aid also seems appropriate in situations where displaced populations have gathered as a result of conflict or similar.

Where I find things become less clear are in situations where poverty and distress are entrenched. I’m thinking here, for example, of African nations where poverty has been an issue for decades despite years of western intervention.

Is there not a point we should reach where we have to ask if all that charity is actually doing anything? And if the situation is not improved, despite long-term support, does that not indicate that it is not?

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Supporting charities: does it really help?

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Just before Christmas I glanced through my local community newspaper and was struck by the number of items, primarily editorial, that were about charity – including on this occasion the front cover.

I did an audit. Of the 36 pages of the paper that weren’t devoted to sport, real estate, classifieds or jobs, no less than 20 contained a piece (and on several pages, two to three pieces) on something to do with charity.

Some were small items, others prominent. The cover story was about the threatened closure of a charity; other items were designed to alert readers to the needs of a particular organisation or their constituents; one or two were simply communicating a success or an outcome; others were seeking support via donations of goods, money or time.

This paper by nature does report similar items regularly but on this occasion the amount of charity pieces felt excessive. Maybe the somewhat dramatic headline on the front page set the tone – and me on high alert in terms of noticing how many similar pieces followed.

How to account for this increase? Perhaps the proximity to Christmas meant charities were under more pressure to deliver services and needed additional support; possibly they were being strategic in their communication, banking on the possibility that ‘Christmas spirit’ might motivate readers to contribute extra donations or to volunteer their time.

Whatever the reason I found myself feeling quite overwhelmed by all this need and wondered how other readers might fare in the face of these alerts and requests for support.

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Charity: our biggest sacred cow?


It’s healthy to positively and constructively critique the areas of society that impact us. We do it all the time with politics and government: in fact there are whole careers built on being great at evaluating all areas of political decision-making. And we more than happily engage in critiquing the business world – there are a plethora of websites, newspapers, journals and university studies dedicated to musings on the corporate sector and economic advancements.

So why not the nonprofit sector? After all, it too is a huge contributor to our society and economy, and is an area most of us engage in in some form or the other.

But cast around – you’ll find there is little if nothing in the way of critique when it comes to charity, philanthropy and nonprofit matters. Read More

Nonprofit Explore: what is it about?


  • Highly publicised causes such as breast cancer
  • The household names we donate to
  • Starving children’s charity ads on late-night TV
  • After-hours tele-marketing fundraising calls
  • The moments we reach for a few coins to give in the street…

…unless we are intimately involved in the not-for-profit sector, chances are our awareness of it is limited to the above. Read More