Ranking charities – interesting, but unrealistic.

I attended Martin Brookes’ RSA lecture last night, in which he called for someone – I’m not entirely sure who – to look into developing a ranking system for charities according to how much they benefit society. The idea is to inform people’s decisions on their charitable giving.

To me it was clearly a very interesting debate, but it can only really be taken seriously on an intellectual level.

The practical implications of putting such a list in place boggle the mind, and in my view render the whole idea unrealistic.

First of all – and I am in agreement with Stephen Bubb on this – who on earth would have the moral authority to put together such a list?

Secondly, the needs of our society and environment are so fluid that this list would need to be continually updated, almost on a daily basis, if it was ever going to reflect accurately which organisations are the most beneficial at any time.

And finally, where is the cut-off point for something like this?

If, for example, you decide that giving money to a charity which helps starving children is far more worthwhile than giving it to a donkey sanctuary, at what point is it all right to start giving a proportion of the available funds to the donkeys rather than the next starving child?

This is a question which I fear can only really have one answer: when there are no starving children left to help.

I would obviously love there to be no starving children in the world, but is it realistic that this is ever going to be the case? And is Brookes saying that every other slightly less worthy cause should be abandoned until it is?

I would never judge anyone who donates to charity. As Brookes himself pointed out in his speech last night, the number of people in our society who donate to charity is steadily falling.

To my mind any donation to a charity, however worthy or unworthy some may believe it is compared to another cause, is to be applauded, and it is just not a good idea to go down the dangerous path of finding flaws in it.

The good news is that there are many charities out there which do fight very obviously ‘worthy’ causes and are very successful in their fundraising. They are some of the biggest and most generously funded charities in our society.

So in my view there’s no need for this proposal from Brookes .