Happy New Year! My resolution for 2013 is to blog more… it’s out there now so please hold me to it. Here’s some thoughts on charitable giving I’ve been mulling over the Christmas period.
A few weeks ago I heard a debate on Radio 4’s The Moral Maze. The backdrop for the discussion on ‘Ethical Consumerism’ was the idea that the tax avoidance schemes used by Starbucks, Amazon and Google are immoral, if not illegal. However, the debate was steered towards charitable giving and in particular whether the techniques used by charities to encourage donations at Christmas are ethically sound. Jack Lundie was there to fight the corner of Save the Children UK.
Save the Children can’t deny their adverts are intended to make you feel very uncomfortable as you wolf down your mince pie and brandy butter. Images of starving children; bald facts about the number of children who die needlessly due to hunger; celebrities clutching toddlers who are so malnourished they look like babies just a few months old.
I have held such children and it is truly heart-breaking. One little boy I met on my first trip to Benin I will never forget. At 9 months Joseph looked just a few weeks old and had a terrible cough. It really hit home when I came back to the UK and I met my boyfriend’s new born niece who was so plump and pink and beautiful. When I saw her I burst into floods of tears, thinking what Joseph might have looked like at 9 months had he been born in the UK.
I understand why charities show these images to raise funds. I understand the frustration of trying to explain just how bad things are in other parts of the world, particularly at a time when at home people are feeling the squeeze of recession and cuts. But, I think there’s always another way to get people to open their hearts (and their wallets) to support others.
People want to feel good about giving to charity, and so they should. Charity should be about enabling and empowering people, which does feel good. I often complain about the extra work involved in supporting YACI, but actually I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved and when I went to visit the families we work with in Benin last July I saw the work they’re doing to help themselves.
This year, with the help of friends and family, YACI produced giftcards and jewellery which supporters receive if they commit to sponsoring a child for a year. (The inspiration came from Oxfam’s give a goat campaign.) Each YACI gift had a story and picture about one of the children and the difference education is making to their lives. To date we have raised over £1500 with this campaign; small change to a giant like Save the Children, but it’s double what all of our previous efforts have achieved.
Charities should empower both the beneficiaries and the donors to make positive change, and I hope that’s the message people take away from YACI. I would never want to guilt people into giving, but equally, I don’t think the organisations that do deserve the kind of moral condemnation dealt out to Jack Lundie on the Moral Maze.
This issue is an important one to me because of what I do, but is it one that should be discussed on a par with corporations who have avoided millions in tax? Their adverts might be innocuous in comparison to a Save the Children tear-jerker, but ultimately I think we should save our moral outrage for the tax-dodgers.