Forget celebrities and focus on people in need, UK charities urged

by Umberto Bacchi | @UmbertoBacchi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 29 January 2018 18:38 GMT

Cast member Lena Headey attends the premiere for the sixth season of HBO's "Game of Thrones" in Los Angeles April 10, 2016. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

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"I worry that too many large charities are too focused on chasing the next public service contract, or a bigger fundraising return, or a celebrity patron"

By Umberto Bacchi

LONDON, Jan 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British charities should stop chasing celebrities to promote their projects and focus instead on the people they were set up to help, the outgoing head of a charity watchdog said on Monday.

William Shawcross, who has chaired the Charity Commission for England and Wales since 2012, urged charities to measure success in terms of their impact, rather than their image.

"I worry that too many large charities are too focused on chasing the next public service contract, or a bigger fundraising return, or a celebrity patron," Shawcross, who is set to step down in February, wrote in The Telegraph newspaper.

"Charities, small and large, should be lean and agile, focusing on the people they were set up to help," he added.

From British singer Ed Sheeran to actor Emily Watson and Olympic champion Mo Farah, aid groups are increasingly turning to celebrities to champion their cause and attract donors.

Charities say celebrity endorsements are crucial to raise public awareness of important issues, such as children going hungry or women facing violence and abuse around the world.

"Celebrities have a unique ability to bring our brand to wider audiences ... helping us raise much needed funds for us to continue our vital work on the ground," Claire Wilkinson, head of media at ActionAid UK, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The International Rescue Committee announced on Monday that British actor Lena Headey, best known for her portrayal of Cersei Lannister in the hit television series Game of Thrones, would work with the group to highlight the plight of refugees.

"I believe it is vital to do everything I can to bring people together and to recognise that at our core, we are all connected," Headey said in a statement.

A 2015 survey of the world's 50 biggest humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) by expenditure found their annual spending had more than doubled to $18 billion over the previous decade - with large amounts spent on fundraising.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation survey found that almost $1.5 billion (6.6 percent of expenditure) was spent on fundraising in 2013-14, compared to some $500 million (5.8 percent) in 2003-04.

Almost 170,000 charities were registered in England and Wales in 2017, with a total annual income of 75 billion pounds ($105 billion), according to the Charity Commission.

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Kieran Guilbert; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit

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