Hard News by Russell Brown


Where your money goes

How much of the near two million dollars raised for the KidsCan Stand Tall Trust in TV3's weekend Telethon will go to meet the "basic needs" of children in poverty? You'd have to hope it's more than the 19 cents in the dollar that KidsCan managed to spend on its four charitable programmes last year.

Its financial statement to the Charities Commission for 2008 show that the trust raised $1.95 million last year, of which $1.5 million went in operating costs.

[NB: I could have been clearer here: the $1.95m and costs come from the statement for the KidsCan Charitable Trust Group, which consolidates KidsCan's various activities, including the Big Night In.]

Of $1,351,162 declared in expenses by the KidsCan Trust itself, the largest item was $341,668 in wages for six full-time staff and two part-time, followed by "Events and Promotions" at $293,768.

I accept that in order to administer its programmes, and to attract funding, the trust needs staff. But a bill of nearly $300,000 for events and promotions, and a further $60,000 on advertising and $45,383 on PR? Really?

A total $357,354 went to the charitable programmes themselves -- Food for Kids, Raincoats for Kids, Stand Tall, and Shoes for Kids.

In the discussion here, some readers expressed qualms about contributing to a charity that was doing what should properly be done by the state in a civilised country. On the face of it, it appears that there's not just a moral case: there's a case in terms of sheer efficiency -- if only because we'd do without the expense of marketing.

This is not to imply that the trustees have acted improperly. I know one of them personally, and the founder and executive director Julie Helson (who runs the trust with her partner, former policeman Carl Sunderland) first made the news in 2005 as the whistleblower in what became known as the rescue helicopter fraud case, involving a scheme to return charitable funds to the pubs that owned the pokies that brought it in (it resulted in acquittals all round, but stank pretty badly, in my opinion).

Pokies, including the Trillian Trust, which was heavily promoted during the telethon, provide a fair chunk of KidsCan's income too. I do wish that charities could do without income from such a socially destructive source. And in the case of filling the "basic needs" of children, it would be nice to do without charity at all.

At the least, as PA reader Dave Nicholas suggested by email, the Charities Commission could usefully do the following:

Summarise the key ratios across all registered charities and highlight them in its communication and on the website:

• total income (donations etc)
• operating expenses
• disbursements to the charities/programmes marketed
•ratio of above

This simple piece of communication would be of great value, informing the public and encouraging registered charities to slim their costs and boost the amount received by beneficiaries..

I can't disagree with that.

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