The author is right in reminding Canadians that they should do their research before supporting the work of a particular charity. However, she is wrong when she suggests (as does MoneySense) that Canadians should be primarily concerned about overhead costs when choosing to give or not to give. Numbers are important and they should be accessible to all, but they will tell you very little about the impact of an organization (which is what really should matter). Just looking at overhead costs is a simplistic approach to an often complex situation. Imagine Canada’s position statement underscores the fact that charity ranking systems are not only unhelpful, but can also be misleading.
Before giving, Canadians should actually assess whether the charity has the ability and the tools to do the work effectively. Research increasingly shows that organizations that do not spend enough on their infrastructure have very little impact on the ground. Good governance, strong management systems, program evaluation and measurement are all examples of investments that charities need to make in order to be effective.
This does not mean that transparency about expenses is not important. It is. Look at the numbers, but don’t forget the most important issue – whether the charities you want to support are having a real impact. That story is far more important than what they spend on overhead.
President & CEO