Bill Carmichael: Think small when it comes to charity

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MPs are pushing for the introduction of ‘Olive’s Law’ to stop charities incessantly pestering elderly and vulnerable people for donations.

The law is named after 92-year-old Olive Cooke who took her own life last month after being targeted by up to 200 charity begging letters a month.

Mrs Cooke, known as Britain’s oldest poppy seller, was clearly a very generous lady, at one point having 27 direct debits benefitting good causes.

But instead of being grateful, the charities identified her as a soft touch, bombarding her with constant demands for more cash. The more she gave, the more they wanted – all to feed the insatiable maw of the ‘charity sector’.

Although her family do not blame the charities directly for her death, they do say the phone calls and letters probably contributed to her fragile mental state.

This week the Charities Minister, Rob Wilson, summoned three fundraising regulators – the Institute of Fundraising, the Fundraising Standards Board and the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association – to explain how they will stop people being hounded in future.

You can see a big part of the problem right there – why do we need no fewer than three organisations, all paying handsome executive salaries, to regulate fundraising? Was there ever a sector more ripe for some radical pruning and bracing reform?

Charities undoubtedly do some good but they are also big businesses, with outrageous executive salaries to match. A survey in 2013 revealed that 30 executives at 14 leading foreign aid charities were paid more than £100,000 a year – a rise of 60 per cent in three years.

They also indulge in business practices that would make the most rapacious City banker blush with shame, including incessant mail shots and aggressive telephone calling.

And it isn’t just the elderly and vulnerable who are targeted. My 18-year-old son took a year’s break from education and found a minimum wage job to earn some money for his university studies.

Being a young chap with a social conscience, he also decided to donate a small amount of his meagre salary to help a charity called Water Aid (which pays its chief executive a pay package worth a tidy £140,000).

Big mistake! They never left him alone, constantly pestering him with calls and trying to bully him to increase the size of his monthly donation. In vain did he explain that he didn’t earn much, was trying to save for university and had no cash left at the end of the month.

They kept badgering him to push up his donation by a few pounds a month. Luckily he is a bit more robust than poor Olive Cooke. He eventually cancelled his standing order and complained to the charity about its fundraising tactics.

Their attitude was on the lines of ‘Tough, it works for us’.

Fine, but don’t expect another penny from this family again.

My advice is to give the big charities a miss – at least until they introduce some sanity into the lottery jackpot executive pay racket and commit to ethical fundraising standards in future.

There are lots of small local charities you can help instead, often run by unpaid volunteers who do a deal of good in the community. You can rest assured the charity will be immensely grateful, the money will be spent wisely and they won’t be ringing you every five minutes demanding more cash.

Fateful tweet

Spare a thought for Ahmen Khawaja, the BBC journalist who announced to the entire world this week via Twitter that the Queen had died.

Thankfully it was total nonsense but that didn’t stop the US TV network CNN, the Hindustan Times of India and Germany’s Bild picking up the story and running with it, if only for a brief time.

They were probably reassured that the Tweet came from a BBC World journalist and thought it could be trusted. In fact the BBC employs as many idiots as any other news organisation.

The BBC is now investigating and Miss Khawaja could face disciplinary action.

It always amazes me that some people don’t understand that Twitter – and Facebook, Instagram and all the other platforms – are not the equivalent of chatting to your mates, but you are in fact broadcasting to the world.

It is going to take her a long time to live this down – if she ever does.