Combining Heart and Head

by Simon Goland, November 30, 2010

Today’s Reflection is about charity and donations. Sort of.

Wilford organized a very unique event about a year ago. He brought together a group of activists and business figures, together with a diverse group of indigenous tribal leaders, to a retreat for a dialogue about our common future.

There was a moment when he told a woman, who represented a tribe of Hawaiian people, that the only condition is that they take an equal part and full and equal partnership role, both in the dialogue, and in the emerging actions afterwards. Her reply surprised him. First, she acknowledged the fact that it was the first time a white person came to them with an offer of equals, and then said that her Hawaiian people are not yet ready for this type of partnership. The reason, she said, was that for many years they lived on the charity givings of white people, and have forgotten their independence. “My people need time,” she said, “to be able to step out of this mentality.”

“It is by not always thinking of yourself that you might someday be happy. Until you make room in your life for someone as important to you as yourself, you will always be lonely and searching and lost.” – Richard Bach

Let’s leave the principle of giving to charity for some other time, as there are at least two possible schools of thought about it. One says that it is a fair and moral thing to do, to give to others in stronger need than us. The other thought is that the only thing it creates is more dependency, disempowerment, and actually exacerbates the problem to begin with, enabling those on the receiving end to continue maintaining their status-quo of dependency.

The fact is that when we give to another, we not only come with the intentions of help, support, and morality, but we also get to feel good about ourselves. That we are kind, considerate, and caring enough to share some of what we have with those possibly less privileged. This is a good thing. Yet, the real question is how do we give, and to who. How do we come from the heart, yet remember the head as well?

This whole Reflection started when I received the following fascinating statistics, listing some of the charity organizations, and what happens there “behind the scenes.” In other words, when you donate to charity, where does your money go? How much of each of the dollar you donate actually goes to those in need, and what do the top people in these organizations, Presidents/CEOs/Commissioners, get paid (from your money)?

“There is no calamity greater than lavish desires.
There is no greater guilt than discontentment.
And there is no greater disaster than greed.”
– Lao-Tzu

The worst offender was, yet again, for the 11th year in a row, the CEO of UNICEF, who receives $1,200,000 per year (plus a Rolls Royce for his exclusive use wherever he goes, and an expense account that is rumoured to be well over $150,000). Only pennies from the actual donations goes to the UNICEF cause (less than $0.14 per dollar of income).

The second worst offender this year is Marsha J. Evans, President and CEO of the American Red Cross, for her salary for the year ending in 2009 was $651,957 plus expenses. Enjoys 6 weeks fully paid holidays including all related expenses during the holiday trip for her and her husband and kids. Including 100% fully paid health & dental plan for her and her family, for life. This means out of every dollar they bring in, about $0.39 goes to related charity causes.

The third worst offender was again for the 7th time was, Brian Gallagher, President of the United Way, who receives a $375,000 base salary (U.S. funds), plus so many numerous expense benefits it’s hard to keep track as to what it is all worth. Some of it includes a fully paid lifetime membership for 2 golf courses (1 in Canada, and 1 in the US), 2 luxury vehicles, a yacht club membership, 3 major company gold credit cards for his personal expenses, and so on. This equates to about $0.51 per dollar of income goes to charity causes.

Fourth worst offender who was also again in the fourth spot, for every year since this information has been made available from the start (1998) is amazingly yet again, World Vision President (Canada), who receives $300,000 base salary (plus a home valued in the $700,000 – $800,000 dollar value range, completely furnished, completely paid all housing expenses, including taxes, water/sewer, telephone/fax, HD/high speed cable, weekly maid service and pool/yard maintenance, fully paid private schooling for his children, upscale automobile and an $55,000 personal expense account for clothing/food, with a $125,000 business expense account). Get this, because it is a “religious based” charity, it pays little to no taxes, can receive government assistance and does not have to declare were the money goes. Only about $0.52 of earned income per dollar is available for charity causes.

Of the sixty some odd “charities” that were looked at [by the group who compiled this statistics], the lowest paid (President/CEO/Commissioner) was heading up a charity group right here in Canada. It is none other than the Salvation Army’s Commissioner Todd Bassett, who receives a salary of only $13,000 per year (plus housing) for managing this $2 Billion dollar organization. Which means about $0.93 per dollar earned, is readily available and goes back out to local charity causes.

And then there is Kiva (, that supports many local initiatives, following the micro-lending model of Muhammad Yunus. The fact there is that the whole $25 that you lend (or in multiples of this amount), goes to the recipient – whether a farmer in Africa, a cooperative in Latin America, or someone else in some other part of the so-called developing world, trying to improve their life. And it is not a charity donation, but a loan, which means it comes back to you and you can re-loan it to someone else. After 27 loans and re-loans, not even one defaulted for me.

“One of the weaknesses of our age is our apparent inability to distinguish our need from our greed.” – anonymous

Ultimately, it is not about “to give or not to give.” Definitely “to give,” only better and smarter. Every dollar does make an impact and a difference. The only question is where, how, and to who.

A sunny week to you all, inside and out.