The following blog will probably make me sound like a bastard. A self-confessed, selfish bastard. If it does, please feel free to leave a comment telling me I’m a bastard. Don’t be dissuaded by the fact that I already know.
I seldom give to charities.
I can put forward a list of arguments as to why I rarely give, starting off with the financial argument that I’m a writer: I don’t have enough money to give to charities, but that wouldn’t be entirely true.
I’m typing this blog into a fairly recent purchase – a PC that was brand new when I bought it two years ago. The software on the machine was the most expensive I’ve ever bought (the new version of Office that adds an ‘x’ to the suffix of every file just so the rest of the world can’t access my files any more). I’m well-fed. I can afford a bottle of beer when I care for one, a bar of chocolate whenever I don’t need one, and I drive a gas-guzzling car to the university centre where I spend some of my working week.
So it’s not that I can’t really afford to make a donation. I live in a comparatively wealthy country and I’m comfortable (if not affluent) with some disposable income in the back compartment of my leather wallet.
And it’s not that I’m without empathy. The recent situation in Haiti is heartbreaking. Global crises (whether they’re famine, war or ‘natural’ disasters) are always distressing and I honestly can’t imagine the cataclysmic devastation of such an event. I’m genuinely scared to contemplate the life-changing upheaval of such catastrophe because I know it would seriously hurt.
But still I seldom give to charities.
My decision is not political. I was around in the 80s when Live Aid was trying to raise money to help put an end to famine in Africa. It was a worthy cause, although many participants and politicians tried to make it political. It’s almost worthy of the darkest satire to show fat politicians in designer suits and chauffeur driven cars talking about the politics of being hungry, as though they know what that condition is like.
But that sort of exploitation and band-wagon-jumping is not why I rarely give to charities.
I could say it’s because I don’t trust charities. I’m not talking about the occasional tabloid scandal, where a charity boss has been found to have their fingers in the collecting jar. That’s human nature and forgivable. Also, such crimes happen so rarely it’s barely worth mentioning.
I also have no qualms about the 5-15% administrative costs that are removed from the intended source of each donation and given to the fundraisers. We all have to make a living and those who work for charities deserve something for their valuable time and effort.
And I’ve got no great qualms about the government taking their tax cut from charities. Admittedly, I don’t trust governments. And I do wonder why neither charities nor governments try to rectify our universal misconception that charities don’t pay tax. The cynic in me wonders if the governments think this myth makes them look benevolent whilst the charities know that donations would suffer if contributors learnt their money was lining the pockets of the tax man.
But that’s not the reason why I so rarely make charitable donations.
As I said at the start of this blog, you’ll think me a bastard by the time you’ve reached this point – and you’re justified in that opinion. I seldom make a financial donation to charities and my excuses are pathetic in the face of all the human (and animal) suffering that charities struggle to eliminate. Admittedly, if I’m in a position to invest time or effort to help an individual improve their lot, I will happily snatch that opportunity – and I have done whenever the occasion arises.
But I don’t make a habit of giving to charities. And I know that each of the reasons I’ve listed sound like the wheedling selfish excuses of an uncaring man who is trying to hide his personal greed behind intellectualised smokescreens.
My only genuine reason for not financially supporting charities is that I don’t have the time to invest in learning about the structure and ethical policy of each institution I’m potentially supporting.
I was once devastated to learn that I had (naively) contributed money to a cancer charity that advocated and funded vivisection. Instead of paying money to help someone live, I’d invested money in helping an animal to die. I was genuinely devastated.
I’ve contributed to Christian charities (which I won’t name here) who reportedly endorse discriminatory practices against gay and lesbian employees. Where I thought I was giving money to help a good cause, it seems I was paying to perpetuate bigotry, inequality and injustice.
This uncertainty about where my money is going, and what it is ultimately funding, is the sole reason why I prefer to invest my time in helping an individual or a cause, rather than handing over cash to support someone else’s efforts.
Charities do good work. I am not disputing that fact. I could quibble that there are too many of them – an estimated 1.4M charities in the US and more than 170,000 in the UK. But I’m convinced there are a lot of good causes that require support. The majority provide relief and aid with an even, ethical and conscionable approach. The causes that have been mentioned this week by my fellow bloggers here at the Grip are undoubtedly worthy. The bloggers here at the Grip (not including myself) are a wonderful bunch of people and I sincerely believe them when they speak of the good works of various charitable institutions. They’ve written some hugely emotive pieces on human suffering and shown the ways that charities can respond to them and alleviate some of the devastating impact caused by personal and international disasters. If you’ve been moved by anything that they’ve written this week I urge you to make any donation you can afford to match their selfless generosity.
Please don’t be swayed by the arguments of someone who is a self-confessed, selfish bastard.