Some thoughts on donations
Members of the public and the media often refer to the percentage of their budget that non-profit organisations (NGOs) spend on administrative and fundraising expenses, as a way of assessing whether donations made actually go to people in need. This subject certainly deserves attention. And one of the important factors concerns the mission, principles and practices of each organisation.
MSF, as an emergency medical humanitarian organisation, delivers care directly through our field workers and local staff on the ground. All medical consultations, operations, treatments and vaccinations provided are free of charge. That explains some of our priorities in spending in the projects. On the office costs side, although NGO spending ratios are not legally binding in Hong Kong, MSF seeks to allocate a minimum of 80% of the financial resources for our field work. In 2015 alone, MSF-Hong Kong received a total of HKD390 million, of which 9.4% and 3% were devoted to fundraising and administration. The rest, 87.6%, was used for relief operations.
That spending on fundraising is closely tied to the principle of financial independence we endeavour to uphold, which is part of our identity. Maintaining diversified, predictable and sustainable funding is critical for our neutral and impartial life-saving activities.
In conflict zones and complex contexts especially, MSF teams in negotiation with various authorities and armed groups are often confronted with the same question, “Where is your money from?” One of the ways to demonstrate our independence is to ensure that we do not accept funds from governments or other parties who are directly involved in conflicts. In these circumstances, funding from private individuals is particularly vital for us to gain acceptance and access to populations in extreme need.
Currently, over 90% of MSF’s worldwide funding comes from private sources. Our decision to intervene in any crisis is based solely on people’s needs – not political, economic, nor religious interests. Supported by 5.7 million donors around the world, including 170,000 people channelling their donations through the Hong Kong office, MSF is able to respond to crises immediately, without awaiting official funds to be released.
Those individual donors come from many varied backgrounds themselves, and they support our work because they agree that our common humanity with the people we help is the most important interest that unites us. We value our relationship with those supporters. It would cost us much less to cultivate a few dozen governments around the world, who could then provide large grants. Instead, we choose to invest more in finding and convincing individual, private donors to help our patients with some of their hard earned cash. And that in turn is a major reason why we believe they deserve clarity about our spending.
The MSF Orienteering Competition held annually features simulations of our frontline work, which allows supporters to better understand our relief action while raising funds for us. © Jacqueline Poon
The general public and the media should continue to monitor the donations entrusted to NGOs while those organisations must be accountable and transparent, communicating comprehensively and regularly how money is spent and the impact made. Beyond that, MSF hopes that donors share our mission and principles, and support us to put them into practice.
MSF (Hong Kong) Activity Report：msf.hk/AR2015