Who holds charity clubs accountable?
You see the bake sales every week. Sometimes a particular treat pulls you in. Sometime a specific poster draws your attention. But how often are you directly concerned with the cause or where your money is going?
Mac has over 300 MSU-affiliated clubs and approximately 125 are specifically related to social issues. These groups may be building homes in the global South or combatting domestic poverty.
But how are we to know if what they say they’re doing, they’re actually doing?
In a TED talk by AIDS Ride founder Dan Pallotta, he discussed how we are damaging the non-profit sector by refusing to look to business models as ways to improve their impact and our own charitable giving.
As students, part of our MSU fees goes towards clubs funding. And don’t you want to know your money is being used productively? Besides the portion that goes to services we directly access, at SHEC for example, other parts of our fees go towards various other operations in the MSU. This is largely to do with the management of clubs.
As someone who was once on a club executive, I am acutely aware of the process that clubs undergo to simply renew their status and receive funding.
But I don’t think it’s enough.
You submit a rough budget, a year plan, lists of goals, etc. But fundamentally no one is holding you accountable to these goals. And specifically in the case of social issues clubs, I think this puts us, as investors, in a dangerous predicament.
We are unaware if a club is sending money to where they say they are. Or we may not even know if they are achieving or struggling to achieve the goals they set out to accomplish.
When I see the small, student-led grassroots initiatives in various countries, this fear seems especially real. How well thought-out are their endeavours? Do they have a business plan based on short-term and long-term goals and an action plan to get them there?
And from a human resources perspective, will all of the initial startup money they received from clubs funding be in vain if the founding students graduate and haven’t planned for a leadership pipeline?
This problem can be just as applicable to other social issues clubs that are tied to larger not-for-profits and NGOs like Amnesty International or Free the Children. These groups may be well structured and aligned with larger organizational goals, but can easily lose sight of goals or funds amidst all the bureaucracy.
In five years here, I can certainly say I’ve seen social issues clubs pop up and collapse within the course of a year or two due to poor planning, lack of support and lack of goal setting and other accountability-based measures.
I’m not saying that other types of clubs don’t face the same problems, but if we really want to call ourselves global citizens, and our generation really cares about addressing social problems, it has to start with caring about social issue-based clubs on campus.
One day, we’ll have incomes of our own to invest at will. Hopefully we’ll choose to invest in not-for-profits and social enterprises that address social problems. And hopefully we’ll choose wisely and invest strategically in organizations that truly will make a difference.
But until then, let’s critically ask if we’re doing enough on campus to hold social issues clubs accountable.
So next time you’re at that bake sale table, speak up and ask what it is that you are supporting.