For anyone with a guilty conscience, the seemingly innocent act of donating to charity has become a bear trap. At every shop till, pictures of deprived children stare deploringly at you with their Malteser eyes, urging you to empty your petty cash into the collection tins their images adorn. What’s 20p here or there, right? But this guilt induced giving is, for me at least, dissipating the money I give to charity and spreading it thinly amongst a range of organisations that I wouldn’t necessarily choose to support. I have nothing against guinea pigs, but paying for their rehabilitation does not seem to be the most pressing of causes.
For a brief time in my younger years, I was nicknamed ‘charity girl’ (a title of which I am simultaneously proud and ashamed). From primary school through to sixth form, I arranged fund raisers from talent contests to fashion shows, and of course committed the similar crime of urging those around me to part with their pennies and help whichever cause I was supporting. Where this differed from conventional collections was that people had greater freedom to decide whether or not to give their money. They would ask about the charity’s work, and make a more informed decision about their own donations.
Contrary to what many might think, this desire for information was not simply a get out clause for those unwilling to give generously, but rather a platform for people to donate more money and even participate to help raise funds for those in need. People are willing to give, but parting ways with one’s hard earned cash is a choice, not a duty. By encouraging people to give so frequently to such a huge range of charities that they are largely disinterested in, they become less inclined to donate to those they truly support.
This notion of ‘giving guilt’ was made overwhelmingly apparent to me last week in a busy London train station. As I inhaled the glorious fumes emanating from my cappuccino, I spotted a lady collecting money for the blind. Cue pangs of guilt and frantic rummaging in my bag for some loose change. It wasn’t until I drew closer, however, that I realised she was visually impaired herself. Now this struck a little bit of a chord with me: would children’s charities cart over malnourished infants from the third world to parade through Euston and shock passers-by into giving? Would animal rescue organisations line up a selection of maimed pets in order to raise a few more pounds? I highly doubt it. I’m sure that this particular woman volunteered her time to collecting for the charity, but it seemed rather distasteful and almost a cheap ploy used by the charity to guilt people into giving.
Another con centred around the desire to give is the gap year system. People pay thousands of pounds to charity organisations which are supposedly dedicated to bettering the lives of those in need around the world, but much of this money gets lost in translation and doesn’t get given to those it was intended to help. For many, the idea of going to Kenya to build schools for young children is seen as cool, rather than desperately urgent. The likes of Brad and Angelina have glamourised popping up at various locations in the third world to paint a wall here and there, and many students end up paying a small fortune to causes they often had no former interest in.
Of course, the main aim for charities is to raise as much as possible, but I truly believe that people give more when they are informed about and invested in the causes they are donating to. We should give generously, but do so with intent and understanding.