Simon Scriver

Charities can spend their income in any way they want as long as they are able to explain why their actions are the best way to make the world a better place, says Simon Scriver of Total Fundraising.  The sector needs to be more transparent and to focus on showing the real results of their work.



The new buzzword in fundraising is ‘impact’. That’s a good thing. More charities and their supporters are beginning to focus on outcomes and what we’re actually achieving.


It’s strange but, yes, there are still lots of people and businesses and newspapers that are obsessing over finances and costs without taking the time to ask if charities are actually making a difference.


It’s nonsense, of course. High overheads and salaries do not mean a bad charity. Indeed, your admin costs might be rock bottom, but then you mightn’t actually be making things better. Would you care what my salary was if I wiped out malaria?


Still, the mindset is changing, and the main spokesperson of the movement seems to be Dan Pallotta. His recent TED talk went semi-viral with 3 million views so far – 3 times as many as Bono’s.


Whatever you think of Dan Pallotta you have to admit nobody has ever made the argument so eloquently to such a large audience.


I love Dan Pallotta. But I see one glaring problem. It’s the same problem all of us have when we ask and insist that the public give us the same freedoms they give the private sector.


The problem is that when we say that, what people hear is that we want a payrise. When we point out that there are unethical businesses in the private sector with staff earning millions it sounds like we want a piece of that action.


Why don’t the public have a problem with the private sector spending money on salaries and bling? It’s still our money. Your iPad would be cheaper and your Pepsi would cost less if these companies were as frugal as your charity is expected to be.


I’d like to see private companies held to the same standards of pay and ethics as we are.  Furthermore, I’d like to see aid workers and nurses and teachers flying first class, rather than Mark Zuckerberg and Tiger Woods. Surely they deserve it more?


Of course it’s not a straight comparison between the private sector and the charity sector. We receive donations, grants and tax breaks. And frankly, the public cut us a lot of slack for some pretty shoddy ‘customer service’.


In return we owe our supporters ‘transparency’.


The public are forgiving of failure as long as you’re transparent. A charity can spend their income in any way they want as long as you are able to explain why your actions are the best way to make the world a better place. And if you can’t then why are you doing it?


We say our sector is transparent, but is it really?


Those pie charts conveniently sliced in to ‘projects’ and ‘overheads’ are rubbish. They’re over simplified and misleading - No two charities are calculating the figures in the same way. And they’re perpetuating the notion that one slice is bad and one slice is good.


The truth is 100% goes to the cause every time. Without the administration there would be no projects. True transparency means showing that, and justifying every cost.


To the charities I support: Use my donation in any way you see fit. Spend it on toilet paper. Spend it on salaries and fundraising. Spend it on medicine. Spend it on whatever you need to do what you do. Educate me on why you did it.


And show me the results. Show me that we are making a difference. Show me that someone’s life is better because I invested in you.


Simon Scriver is Director of Total Fundraising, a service provider to the not-for-profit sector and winner of Supplier of the Year at the 2013 Irish Fundraising Awards. Simon began working in fundraising nearly 10 years ago and currently works with some of the biggest and smallest charities in Ireland and abroad. He blogs and speaks internationally on all things fundraising.