If we knew what went into a burger, so they say, we wouldn’t ever buy one.
Similarly unpalatable, it emerges, are some of the practices that go on at various big charities: a “bonus culture”; unhealthily close relationships with large corporates; the consequent pulling of punches in dealing with the issues that most affect the people that the charities are supposedly trying to help; and emails that chronicle those attitudes in the most cringeworthy fashion. It is ugly stuff and, sadly, may tempt those already looking for an excuse not to donate to turn their backs on dreadful suffering here and around the world. Save the Children, for instance, does brave, heroic and vital work that deserves the widest possible public support.
Like every other private sector organisation, charities – even big ones – face growing pressure. Since the recession, donations from the public have fallen. More and more have been forced to turn to large companies, rich individuals and government to fund their essential work. Much of this is harmless; nothing is asked for, and nothing offered in return, beyond the association with a worthy cause. That is obviously how it should be.
But when a conflict of interest arises, things can go wrong quickly. Energy companies, who are being demonised at the moment, may not be an ideal partner for a charity that deals with poverty and homelessness, just as most charities concerned with the environment might think twice about accepting help from an oil giant. Some of this is silly; there is no intrinsic reason why an energy company should not behave responsibly. The only realistic answer is for charities to be more careful of the company they keep, lest they lose more than they gain from the appearance, or reality, of mercenary motives.