“Charity creates a multitude of sins”
How many times have you logged onto Facebook or some such social networking site and read a seemingly humble status update, with words to the following effect:
“I am running a marathon/going apple bobbing in shark-infested waters off the coast of Papa New Guinea with Lenny Henry/being shot out of a canon over the Irish Sea to raise money for very sick kiddie-winks or decrepit Spanish donkeys. Please donate whatever you can via x website…”
Discussing these life affirming (for the fundraiser) efforts cum charity feats with an equally cynical friend, we noticed a number of glaring intellectual and emotional holes in the rationale for these often very socially rewarding, individualistic efforts.
1) I want a refund!
What would happen if the person running the marathon, or entering the stratosphere in a bathtub full of baked beans didn’t actually complete their self-imposed challenge? Recently, in the company of someone (whose identity I won’t disclose) sponsoring another not to drink for one month asked plaintively, “but how would we know she’s gone through with the challenge and hasn’t had a drink?’ This mind-set highlights a major issue I have with this whole set-up. Do you only want money going to charity if someone is doing something fairly pointless, or often, outright ridiculous beforehand? Do those donating to the fundraiser and their cause want every last penny clawed back in the event the challenge is not satisfactorily complete? ‘Oh dear, Jessica blacked out from fear whilst strapped to Les Dennis before jumping out the plane during her sponsored sky-dive, I’ll ask her for a refund and ensure not a pound ends up with the sick kids.”
“I’ve got a charity run coming up in June, please donate ask much as you can now.”
What if it’s February when you read a sentence like this? Are you going to donate your money to this fundraising middleman/woman, withholding your money from a charity you could donate to immediately? What’s to be gained by waiting for a middle class thirty something to bumble around the London marathon, the culmination of their new fitness regime?
3) But Pete, it’s all about raising awareness for the cause!
Is it? Or are these personal challenges just that, very personal, individualistic and at their worst, egotistical social showboating? Personally, I donate to a couple of charities on a regular, or irregular basis depending on my income. I go online, send money electronically. No one tells me ‘well done mate, good work, what a great guy.’ That’s not what I’m donating money for, I’m donating to offer some tiny palliative effect on the worst effects of our socio-political system and often, its side-effects on our health and of course, because I often can’t be bothered to get off my ass and actually DO something for the cause, which would be far more helpful than donating cash.
4) Charity aint all that
I have many issues with the concept of charity in itself. As Oscar Wilde once said;
“Charity creates a multitude of sins.”
Charity accepts inequality and industrial scale destitution and ill-health as the norm. Personally, instead of throwing crumbs to the worst off, I’d prefer to see an egalitarian redistribution of wealth on a macro-societal level. We’d do a world of good more for the poor, sick and homeless forcing multinational corporations to pay taxes, funneling billions to fund social services that are now provided by very selective and often quite elitist charities. A very cold Saturday spent picketing Starbucks with UKUncut could be a far more charitable act than raising £5k for a privately run charity, whose existence depends on deprivation.
5) Maybe you could have spent the 1000 hours spent getting fit for the marathon helping in the local homeless shelter?
A lot of well-meaning people, spend hundreds of man or woman hours running around getting fit for a marathon to raise money for Shelter, when they could have spent that time offering help to their local shelter. However, whilst more helpful, the latter course of action may be less glamorous and may not have won you the adulation of your friends, family and that person at work you really fancy.
6) Don’t get me wrong, I believe some people approach these efforts in earnest
I’m in no way claiming that everyone who does a sponsored charity challenge/fundraiser is on an ego-trip, using the plight of others to big up their ‘altruistic’ side and make themselves appear far more attractive to the opposite sex. I’ve met people who have undertaken these kinds of challenges because they really believe in the cause and they’re working within a social framework in which people won’t always just give money to the homeless because they can’t bear the fact many, amidst great wealth, spend their nights resting their heads on sub-zero temperature concrete, facing perennial abuse from those a few paychecks away from a similarly dire situation. It’s sadly a reality that to help the needy these days, people have to do something that removes all attention from said individuals and groups in need. Lots of very generous, determined and selfless people have raised huge sums of money for good causes and I hope they continue to do so.
If you’re reading this and have been involved in some kind of fundraising event in the last few years (especially since the dawn of social networking) and got a warm buzz and social kudos from your efforts, maybe ask yourself if this is what aiding others is all about. Did you post all the pictures of the big event on your Facebook page? If so, why? Did you think this was raising awareness for the cause, or was it just because it made you look really good to other people? Could you have started that diet, got fit and managed 15k runs without connecting it with some Big Cause in the world and instead, written a cheque and offered your time down the local hospice?