“A portion of the proceeds”

This may seem unfair with respect to charitable giving, but I wonder if there are any more mealy-mouthed phrases than, “A portion of the proceeds”?

You hear this regularly when people are going to be donating something to a charity. The issue is that a “portion” might be anything from $0.01 to 99% of the revenues raised.

Intrinsically, many of us feel good about ourselves when we buy something knowing that there’s a charitable element attached. Do I favour product A over product B because there’s a charitable element with the former? Quite possibly.

And it’s not as though the companies concerned aren’t doing it, at least partially for genuine reasons. Many businesses have specific charities or foundations that they support, occasionally very generously.

But I much prefer an open and honest discussion about what proportion of proceeds are actually going to a charity. If you say a “portion of the proceeds,” I want to know what that means:


  • Is it a set amount per product, and if so what amount is it?

  • Is it a portion of the sale amount of a product? E.g. 50p for each item sold?

  • Is it a portion of the profits of sale?

  • If based on profits, when does something go into profit? (Entertainment products like books, music and films have notoriously opaque accounting practices, meaning that enterprises that look to all the world as profitable, haven’t in fact become profitable in the eyes of the publisher.)

  • Is it a lump sum that’s being donated?

  • Is there a cap to how much can be donated?

  • Is a business or organisation gaining a tax advantage by donating?

Instead of saying, “A portion of the proceeds,” is going to a good cause, I want to know an amount per unit sold, even if it’s capped, or a percentage. Because if you make a big deal about giving 0.05% of your net profits to a particular cause, I’m not going to think quite so highly of you. (Although admittedly, if you’re Apple, that 0.05% of $45.7bn is still a very sizeable $22.9m pa.)