Friday, 20 July 2012

charitable motivations

EXCUSE ME A MOMENT. I must remove my 'work' hat. There. It's off.

I say this because although we keep a separate, much more lovely blog for all our banter about being in Niger this year, there are of course several (extremely handsome) people who may read both. So it's important you don't get confused, as it's important that I pre-emptively reprimand and separate the comments I am about to make. In fact, if you feel a bit wobbly you should probably just head over there and look at some nice pictures of camels or something.

Fund-raising is the most finely balanced of things for a charity. It's easiest when it's carried by a third party: someone does a fun run, sponsored abseil, makes a donation off their own bat, and so on. They'll use the charity's name so everyone knows what they are doing it for, but it's all on them. For a lot of organisations, this will make up a large chunk of the finances they are able to direct towards helping needy people and causes. We're all familiar with it and are comfortable with how it works.

The internet has been helpful in a lot of ways for spreading the news about these causes. A quick "Hey! I'm doing a sponsored 24-hour biscuit-eating marathon for Save The Badgers! Please donate and help a badger have a happy home this Christmas…" on Facebook, and your JustGiving profile should start filling up nicely as your friends and loved ones chuck a few pennies your way. The web also helps us publicise events, let people know what we're interested in, and generally raise the profile of a cause.

Of course, it's not perfect: a big issue with most fundraising websites is the chunk they take for admin. Generally, I'd rather do cash-in-hand than use them, but even still they let me know how the cause is getting on.

Some charities do it pitch-perfectly. Long time readers may remember this parishes deep, deep affection for charity: water. To my mind, there are few that do it better. Charity: water picked an easily understood cause (digging clean water wells in needy places); you can track every stage of the process from your donation to the physical location it ends up (via a GPS location and a ton of pictures documenting every single well dug); they are completely transparent; and the masterstroke - they worked hard and won corporate friends to cover all the admin costs for the small team of staff. Deservedly an astronomical success, with few gimmicks: donate, people get clean water. Here's the numbers, here the results. Let's go.

Yesterday, one came across the radar which I find much more troublesome. A Christian missions conference in Australia have put up a prize $4000 donation to the charity project which gets the most votes in a Facebook poll on their page. On first glance, it's a great idea - and furthermore, one of the projects is one from our field in Niger. Dutifully, I flagged it up and voted - but immediately on completing the process, I felt like something wasn't quite right.

We make choices all the time about our giving. Should I get a Starbucks, or give some change to the guy on the street outside. Or both? Do I support this charity or this one? How much do I reluctantly drop in the cloth bag on a Sunday morning?

This one is easier though: it costs me nothing to click on the box beside what I know to be an incredibly worthy cause, and help it towards getting a big boost.

But as Mrs H and I discussed what we'd just seen over breakfast, it began to creep up on me - this sense of wrong. It felt like some good old First World Guilt.

To vote, I clicked to this Mission Conference's Facebook Page. I had to like their page first - does this mean the whole exercise, however well-meaning, is mainly for their own publicity? The wealth of updates that appeared on my news feed suggested it might be. Of course a good conference should be publicised, and I doubt that's not the sole motivation for giving. But is it giving - or is it buying airtime?

Then I was presented with the choice of several different causes. It all seemed a bit… "Which of these poor foreign kids will I help today?"

If the conference were so keen to give, why not just nominate a cause rather than giving us a choice? The more I think about it, the more it feels like this is how Simon Cowell would do charity donations. Certainly for the positive PR - but even he picks a single cause every year for his singing contest's charity single.

Perhaps I am overly cynical, or it's a cultural misunderstanding. It is wonderful that a Conference would make a large donation to a suitable cause. I can't emphasise enough the goodness that is no doubt at the root of their intentions. I just struggle to work out which button Jesus would have clicked on. 

I increasingly worry that it would be "Close Window".

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