Charity CEOs Get Rich by Taking From the Poor

The greed and selfishness that the free market capitalist economy inspires impact just about every area of social and commercial interaction in consenting societies, it seems. It’s not just Wall Street and government leaders caught in the trap. It’s the entire system in terms of the way that it’s set to run, which moves the money ever more to the top economic tier by siphoning it from the bottom and middle ones.

Since there is a relatively fixed supply of money, it stands to reason that the more that one sector of society gets of it (often through economic disaster schemes in the patterns that Naomi Klein describes) — the less that exists for other sections. So in the end, the country increasingly becomes a banana republic with a huge lower class, a greatly affluent upper class and not much in between.

Years ago, the founder of central Massachusetts’ food bank told me of the obscenely high salaries that the directors of a major, well-known Massachusetts charity providing funds for hungry Americans received every year, an amount that was purposefully not readily made public. The reason is that all of the volunteers for this charity, that raises millions of dollars each year, would be greatly dismayed that around a fourth of them were, actually, working to enrich upper management.

In other words, approximately a quarter of the money raised went to salaries and much of the rest went into advertising so that, in the final reckoning, only a modest amount, actually, helped to provide food security. What a seamy racket! The unwary public, eager to work hard to uplift starving Americans, was (is), obviously, duped in the process.

Granted, the charity’s directors who we were discussing were talented in terms of advertising and, in other ways, promoting the aid organization. However, can’t competent executives and other upper tier staff be found that are willing to work for much less than this bunch due to a devotion to the causes that they are advancing?

In the end, is it really just about the money that’s a primary motivator for the people who plot, scheme, climb and claw their way into the top positions in organizations in an outright self-enrichment gambit? If so, what a sad state of affairs even if they have the skills and understandings to be greatly adept in their jobs!

In addition, what does such a situation imply about the underlying social values, ethics and principles that guide all manners of social affairs in countries whose public condones such a pattern? Would you want to venture a guess?
Perhaps the general situation is somewhat best summed up by John Berger as follows:

“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.”

Of course, the drift of this overall discourse begs several other questions. They are: Do we really imagine that executives of businesses like the aforementioned Massachusetts charity and Boys & Girls Clubs (“Senators question $1 million pay for charity’s CEO”) want to self-police to avoid blatant financial abuse when it is potentially so personally lucrative not to do so? Do government representatives want to provide this service when they, indirectly, benefit in myriad ways from lack of corporate regulation?

In relation, does free market enterprise without tight controls really represent the best way to serve societies as a whole? Does the prevailing model of capitalism in general create benefits for the majority of people and preserve an intact natural world despite that gain of maximal profits derive from taking advantage of both? Lastly, on what patterns relative to eco-systems and working populations is economic growth founded?

Emily Spence

Emily Spence is an author living in Massachusetts. She has spent many years involved in human rights, environmental and social services efforts.


  1. Steve Lamb says

    I’ve been a volunteer for one organization or another for well over thirty years now. I discovered in the 1980’s that the best way to get rich in America is to become a administrator in a poverty pimping not for profit. I now refuse to sit on any boards or volunteer for any organization where the staff costs are more than 18% of the budget. I also refuse to give money to any organization whose books I have not examined.

    Finally while I know liberals have a general antipathy to religeous organizations, I must and do freely admit that the Christian and Jewish organizations I have volunteered in had the lowest overhead and honestly delivered the most services. Most of the purely secular organizations I have examined are just outright thieves, often with staff costs being over 80% of the budget and most of that being administrative and fund raising and almost none of the staff costs going to actual work in the field.

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  2. DC Matthews says

    Having been homeless and disabled and still in inaccessible housing
    and not able to access (supportive or enough) legal services to correct most that’s been and still is wrong..
    I have felt the health and other effects of non profits who discriminate or fail many
    including shelters, advocates, legal services
    who do more for their self promotion than clients.

    The state and local agencies and “advocates” know and so do many others.
    There is benefit to some from division, discrimination, denials causing the failure of many to be able to access programs and services.

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