[Written before Christmas so the Queen was plagerising me and not the other way round!] I’ve always thought that charities are very important, but now I think their work is even more vital, and have been interested recently in what I term ‘charity journalism’, and the variable coverage of the charity sector in the media. Admittedly it’s currently Christmastime, so everyone is thinking about charity that much more, but still… As I mentioned in my post about the little things in life being important, I believe that making people’s everyday lives more comfortable and more pleasant is of such importance, and charities play a major role in doing that.

I’ve read quite a lot of articles recently about charitable giving in the UK, and the majority pointed out that we don’t really give very much at all, and when we do give it often makes us feel we’ve ‘done our bit’ and can therefore justifiable not give at other times. At Christmas, for example, charitable giving rises considerably, as we do our bit in the ‘season of goodwill’. But most charities work all year round, and need the kind of money we give at Christmas all year. Comic Relief was attacked in some quarters, mainly for being a terrible TV show, but also because it again gave people too much of an opportunity to appease their consciences, give themselves a pat on the back and forget about charity for the rest of the year: small charities are finding it harder and harder to compete with the bigger charities, which have enormous resources. When major disasters strike, we’re generally very good at digging deep (apparently 80% of the money requested by the UN emergency appeal for the Indian Ocean tsunami was raised within 10 days), but then we give less to charities we would otherwise have considered donating to (this stat is half-remembered and I have no way of checking, but I think domestic charities reported a one-third decrease in giving in the few months after the tsunami compared to the same time the year before). One article pointed out the correlation between media coverage of events and charitable giving (the tsunami had 4543 stories in the UK press and a great response to the UN appeal; the Kashmir earthquake had 379 and a poor response to its UN emergency appeal, though could that have been partly compassion fatigue, or the fact that people had already done their charitable giving for the year?), explaining that less immediate humanitarian crises (such as the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which suffer from the twin difficulties of reporting and of finding the ‘human interest’ angles for stories, or famine in Africa, which is more ongoing) have great difficulty in raising money, because they don’t have such a high profile and thus also lack the powerful images of suffering being beamed into people’s homes, which move people to give. An article I read today explained the three strands of activity by Oxfam: (i) immediate life-saving (eg the tsunami, or the earthquake), (ii) medium-term development work (eg an irrigation scheme for a farming community), and (iii) lobbying for long-term change (eg its Make Trade Fair campaign). All three are important, and without improving the long-term situation the short-term situations are likely to crop up more often, but it’s far more difficult to persuade people to give money for long-term projects (as the article says that “Heart- and purse-strings are pulled easiest for immediate disasters”). Someone was advocating giving 1% of your income to those in need; another article promoted 10%, in a modern-day tithe.

I guess that when it comes down to it it’s a matter for your own conscience (after all, by paying taxes you’re giving a lot to charity, as the government dishes out a lot, while donating 10% of an annual £7000 salary might have more of an effect on your everyday life than giving 10% of a £700,000 salary), but I was intrigued by the media/giving relationship. Would people give more, or at least more fairly, if there were more charity journalism? Awareness is vital, and greater space in the media for charities, particularly smaller organisations that find it difficult to attract donors as they cannot afford the publicity, would be a wonderful thing. If every major newspaper in the country used one of its pages (or even half a page) to showcase a small charity every day (and, to be honest, they can well afford to give up a page, as there’s so much pap that hardly anybody would miss, and currently the mindless drivel to worthy causes ratio is about 100:1), readers would be reminded of the ongoing needs of others, and might be inspired to give a little more. I’m not much of a fan of tin-rattling, particularly when charity workers try to make you feel bad about not giving, because I think you should give to charities you are particularly impressed by, or feel a particular link to, not those who shout loudest or emotionally blackmail you most successfully, though I recognise they need to raise money as best they can. All the major newspapers I’ve seen have Christmas appeals, where one or a few charities will get the ‘season of goodwill’ donations from readers, but by presenting another good-doing organisation each day, readers would be able to to give money to the charities that they feel most moved by and otherwise wouldn’t hear about. I’d expect I also hate charities sending me pens/stickers/etc, as I’d far rather they spent their money on their charitable purposes, instead of in competition with other good causes. But charity is big business…

So that’s money. Being a poor man (I realise that in a charity context when I’m mentioning poverty in Africa, that makes me sound horribly ignorant/blind/stupid; but it is all relative, and in terms of giving to charities in the UK, I really can’t afford to give more than I do), I feeel I can give more by volunteering, and intend to do a lot more if and when possible. Currently I do a fair bit for the OMV, though I could still be doing more, and I’d like to get involved with Leukaemia Care, as a start, as that’s something I could actually bring some sort of knowledge and experience to. Giving money is one way to help charities; volunteering is perhaps a more active, or at least involved way of doing so. And volunteering can involve either taking part in whatever it is the charity seeks to improve / help with / fight / discover / etc, or increasing awareness of the charity itself. Both are vital: did you know that 2005 has been the Year of the Volunteer? I volunteer because I think it’s important to help others, because I cannot do so by giving much money, and because it’s rewarding for me, too. And fun, in the case of the OMV. And since I’ve been ill, the helping others, the making people happier day by day, the cheering people up and keeping their suffering to a minimum, seems so important. My extensive charidee work: like Smashey or Nicey, of course, I don’t like to talk about it 😉
Anyway, something to think about.

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