I have heard claims from several people in relation to the occasional donation my wife or I make: that some charities have so much waste in their organization, or use so much money to market their charity work in order to get donations, that only x% of the donated money goes to the advertised cause, where x% varies from 10% to 50%.

I thought I might get some good results by Googling, but wasn't too successful: I seem to encounter specific numbers only in un-cited sources, like this one which is where I got the UNICEF/14% claim from.

Only pennies from the actual donations go to the UNICEF cause (less than $0.14 per dollar of income)

On the one hand, a charity might need to pay their employees at least something, but on the other hand requiring lots of employees to do the same work as another charity can do with a third of the cost is certainly a waste of the donated money.

Have there been proper studies of how much of the money donated to UNICEF in particular (since it is claimed to be the worst offender) is used wastefully, in the sense that the same charity work could actually be done without spending that money?

  • 5
    For future reference, Charity Navigator is a great site for charity research. As you can see on the UNICEF page, they include information about accountability and transparency, as well as information on how much money actually goes to services.
    – user7864
    Jul 16, 2012 at 15:29

2 Answers 2


This is not the case.

All charities in the United Kingdom (excluding Scotland) are under the remit of the Charity Commission. As part of a charities registration, they are required to submit annual financial returns to the regulator, which in the case of large charities such as Unicef UK ("The United Kingdom Committee for Unicef", Charity Number 1072612) are made public for transparency.


Having looked up the records for Unicef, in summary for the year 2010 (there is some delay) Unicef received £81,312,000 and spent £81,246,000.

Of the £81.25M that they spent, £63.17M was classified as charitable spending. This equates to 78% of spending reaching charitable causes. Of the remainder, only 22% was spent on further fundraising and governance whilst <1% was retained for future use.


2012: To illustrate that this trend is continuing, the spending percentages for 2012 recorded 67.4% on charitable spending. Screenshot of funding for 2012

2013: In 2013 70% of spending was charitable spending:

2013 Financial Spending

Source of data for current financial year (with links to previous years accounts)

What counts as charitable spending?

The definition of this charitable spending that the Charity Commission provide (this help page) indicates that this figure only includes:

  • Costs incurred by the charity in supplying goods or services to meet the needs of its beneficiaries.
  • Grants made to meet the needs of the charity’s beneficiaries.

Therefore costs to simply raise awareness would be counted as "Generating voluntary income":

  • Costs incurred in encouraging other parties to make grants, gifts or legacies to the charity (e.g. mailshots, collection costs, assembling funding applications).

Meaning that the figure quoted above seem accurate - the percentages of spending given in this answer is directly helping people.

As you mentioned employees, it is worth mentioning that Unicef UK has 216 paid employees, the remainder being volunteers.

  • 2
    Does "rising awareness" count as "charitable cause"? AFAIK, that was for example the issue with Bono's ONE "charity", which was spending less than 1% on helping the poor, while spent most of the money on "rising awareness about poverty" and self-promotion.
    – vartec
    Jul 16, 2012 at 14:33
  • @vartec I updated my answer to reflect this, in summary no I don't think it is included.
    – Rory
    Jul 16, 2012 at 14:56
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    I know of UNICEF pilots who fly back and forth around Africa with next to no one on board to maintain their income requirements for the next fiscal year. These flights are classified as aid. So just because something is called aid, doesn't mean it's helping people.
    – Coomie
    Aug 7, 2013 at 8:45
  • 1
    Presumably 'costs incurred' includes salaries paid to employees?
    – Rob P.
    Nov 1, 2013 at 0:17
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    @Coomie this is 7 years late but that is a rather serious allegation. Do you or anyone have a source? Pilots flying empty to reach a number sounds like a scam
    – Siddhartha
    Jun 17, 2020 at 18:50

No this allegation is not true.

Charities are subject to strict auditing requirements, and UNICEF is no different. i'm going to point you at the report of Canadian UNICEF because I'm more familiar with it it. It says:

  • 4% of your donation goes on administration
  • 20% of your donation is used for fundraising

That means 76% goes to the actual programs. That's a pretty good ratio.

The Red cross is not quite as good: 16% administrative and 30% fundraising leaves 55% spent on programs. For World Vision (which your example singles out for special criticism) it is 5% and 14%, leaving 81% for programs.

  • Thank you. I hate to choose between two equally good answers to mark as accepted...
    – RomanSt
    Jul 16, 2012 at 9:46
  • 3
    No problem. Rory's answer was more complete than mine. I'd probably vote for him myself. Jul 16, 2012 at 13:13
  • please provide sources for the others.
    – Keng
    Jun 4, 2014 at 3:01
  • How is that 76% spent? If it is simply donated to UNICEF proper then there is additional overhead to be taken out before it is spent on programs.
    – phoog
    Mar 26, 2020 at 22:53
  • What do you mean by UNICEF proper? Mar 26, 2020 at 22:55

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