The meaning of your charity work

chó Hojoken

Michael Noetel is a psychologist and senior lecturer in the school of behavioural and health sciences at the Australian Catholic University.

He’s given a lot of thought to why we donate, and how our goodwill can have the greatest impact.

“Most people give to charity because they want to help people,” he says.

“But if that’s the case, we should really look for the charities that do the most good in the world — and I don’t think most of us do that yet.

“We often give because there’s some nice feeling that we get when we think about a certain charity, but that nice feeling isn’t a good predictor of how effective the charity is at helping people.”

For example, Dr Noetel points to a much-loved organisation: Guide Dogs Australia.

“Guide dogs are amazing. They’re beautiful animals and they really help a blind person for about nine years, which is how long the guide dog’s career is before they have to be retired,” he says.

Making the greatest impact

Administration costs are a necessary part of any organisation, and Professor Hall points out that certain investments — such as a new IT system — can improve charity efficiency for years to come.

But some organisations spend more on administration overheads, marketing costs and fundraising efforts than others.

“Some people worry that if they’re donating overseas, they’re just throwing money into the mist, and they don’t see where it goes,” Dr Noetel says.

“There are bad examples of that happening in the past, but just because we donate to an Australian charity doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s much different.”

Firefighters near burning bushland.

Often meaning wins out

Before donating to a charity, Professor Hall recommends checking that it’s listed with it is solvent, and that “the people running the organisation have a track record”. 

But he recognises that many of us choose to support organisations that we feel a connection to, regardless of how effective they might be.

“People often rely on their personal network, like they do with making other kinds of decisions,” he says.

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