Sunday, 7 September 2014

Charity Appeals. Or does it?

Times change and so do our social habits. That's mostly a good thing - a great thing, even. But....

There's always a but, isn't there?

The word 'mostly' should be the clue, but when I write the word 'charity' as being  a possible exception to the changing times rule I'm betting that more than one eyebrow is raised. So let me explain...

or else...

This past week at work I started to count the number of times that various individuals asked me for contributions to the charity that they are currently supporting. It wasn't an exercise that I completed once the number spilled into double-figures. By Tuesday afternoon.

I changed tactics when a certain young man approached me and asked me whether I wanted to take part in an ALS Ice Bucket Challenge event he was organising (you read that right - he asked me). I declined as politely as I could in the face of request number fourteen but asked him to explain what is was actually for. Guess what? He didn't even know which charitable cause he was 'supporting' through his efforts to get people wet.

For the record, in the UK it's all about Motor Neurone Disease - not a million miles away from MS, but light-years apart in terms of current levels of charitable support.

My refusal had nothing to do with the cause, however, but more to do with the fact that everyone seems to want to have me donate portions of my salary to one cause or another - and that some of these causes have descended to slightly farcical self-aggrandisement exercises. By all means ask, but please, please, ask because you truly support a cause, not because you want to pour a bucket of water over a giggling teenager while someone else takes pictures for the local newspaper.

That specific challenge has actually been trending on Twitter (although quite what the challenge is in getting wet - especially for a Brit - is beyond me), but so few people understand the cause let alone the condition itself.

More worrying still was the element of 'if you don't do this then that means you must be a nasty, selfish person who doesn't care about... them'. That smacks of peer pressure - bullying, even - and there's probably a charity or seven trying to raise funds to combat that...

It's not that I don't support charitable efforts - I give to a few causes and even feel very slightly guilty when it's an MS charity because that might be seen as looking after my own interests - but there really should be freedom of choice in who gets supported without the bully-boy tactics that seem to be creeping into the equation.

I fully understand that if causes are not thrust into many people's faces then those people simply ignore what is happening around them - the benefits of TV marathon appeals are both an entertainment and a salutary reminder of how we can help others. The trouble is, it seems that every cause now has its champions no matter how obscure it might be.

How long will it be before Bernie Ecclestone and Bill Gates co-host 'Multi-Billionaires in Need?'

Come to that, the proliferation of causes make me wonder how long it will be before everyone has their own personal charity (in my case it's rapidly becoming Help the Aged Idiot).

Charity used to mean giving of both your wallet and your self - time, effort, overcoming fear - not of organising an event simply because you fancy trying some go-karting or mountain-biking or whatever. Those sort of events - opportunities for the organiser and friends to try new things - strike me as the exact opposite of what charity is all about.

Back at the end of the eighties - 1987 to be precise- the funding that Great Ormond Street Hospital received through the rights to J M Barrie's Peter Pan royalties (a secret before then), came to an end and funding was threatened (it has since been reinstated). The GOSH charity was established to help raise funds for the children's hospital and I took on a couple of challenges - and please note that word. The most memorable was that I did something that petrified me.

Billions and billions of pounds, dollars, yen, Outer Mongolian yak beans and various other currencies have been poured into the research required to get heavier than air objects to buzz around many thousands of feet aloft. Those banknotes have ensured that you or I could climb aboard an aircraft almost 100% sure that we are safe to do so.

Which doesn't explain why, some twenty-odd years ago, I chose to step outside one of those aircraft at 20,000 feet wearing a parachute probably made by the cheapest bidder for the contract, a fourteen year-old Far Eastern girl having a bad hair day, while she tries to translate the assembly instructions from a language she's never read before...

Or in other words, I undertook a charitable parachute jump.

These days, of course, I find a tall curbstone just as intimidating, and I know that not everyone has the time or opportunity to do anything quite so extreme (and which I have never, ever, ever, ever repeated) - and that means that easy opportunities to make a difference are very welcome and very much needed.

But not as many times as we are currently seeing, surely?

We should all consider how we can help others and charities are a convenient way of doing that. But by 'helping others', I mean the recipients of the monies raised, not those raising it. 

And please remember - if you haven't got spare money to donate to charitable causes, and you haven't the time or fitness to participate in charitable events, then you can at least spare some thoughts for those less fortunate than you.

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