His book Charity Sucks was published last year and he’s taking part in a panel discussion Wednesday 25 January, 12-2pm at The Wolfson Theatre, looking at whether philanthropy has helped alleviate poverty or not. Book your place on CareerHub and get a taste of his views before the event in this guest blog:
It’s 30 years since I graduated from LSE. Back then, we were largely focused on one of three career paths – banking, law or media. And whilst we were very actively engaged in political debate, it was just that. Words. And the occasional demonstration, if you were on the left.
It didn’t really occur to us to do anything socially meaningful, to use any of our time to help victims of poverty, homelessness or environmental decay. Through LSE Generate, I get to meet students who today have largely different mind sets and aspirations and many want to set up businesses and work in social enterprises.
We often lament the rise of the ‘career politician’ – someone who has no experience of anything else other than the machinations of Westminster and Whitehall. Less well documented is the breed of the ‘career charity worker’ who comes out with a degree that has the word Development in it and feels compelled to spend their lives to help improve the lives of others.
It sounds churlish to challenge such a seemingly noble career decision, but having spent the last decade on the boards of charities, chairing a few and giving a fair amount of financial support too, I’ve seen up close and personal why the voluntary sector’s reputation with the public is at an all time low. High profile governance failures such as we witnessed with The Kids Company make us angry that the money we donate to them often gets used in questionable manners.
The truth about charity as I have outlined in my book, which I’ll be talking about on Wednesday with a distinguished panel, is that the line between wanting to do good and actually doing good is too blurred to commend itself. Trustees and donors have largely failed to adequately scrutinise the effectiveness of the organisations they have honourably committed time and money to, assuming the charity professionals know what they’re doing and are part of robust processes. Quite often for small charities the processes focus on making the wage bill at the end of the month rather than the impacts they set out to make. At the other end of the scale, the multinational charities rack up millions in administration fees which they feel unable to control.
We distrust the career politician because they have no experience of life outside of their enclave, nothing new to contribute. When I meet students who say they want to go into business upon graduation, I urge them not to, suggesting instead they go and work for a company that does something similar and learn at their expense what’s going to help them when they in due course do set out to launch their own enterprise.
And to LSE students considering going straight into a charity, my advice is this: you would serve that organisation’s goals better by first immersing yourself into the discipline and focus that a private sector company has to follow. Learn how key performance indicators and balanced scorecards are as essential tools as visions and missions. Embrace the world of digital technology that has shown that we can track and measure virtually everything.
People often choose to work for a charity because it makes them feel better about themselves. By absorbing the rigour of commerce, you might have a chance to make the charities themselves better.