Charity is a tricky thing – we’re all familar with the scenario of a chugger (charity mugger) approaching you on the street and you being in a rush, too distracted to be stopped, or just plain not interested and then feeling like a heel because someone has said ‘do you care about children dying with cancer?’ and you’ve muttered ‘no thanks’. How about the heart wrenching adverts about clean water and HIV in the developing world that play throughout the day on TV? There are also the door to door visitors, the friends and family who encourage sponsorship, and the magzine and newspaper inserts as well as the adverts and ‘one click’ options all over the internet. The poor and the sick and the lonely can make us feel guily, paralysed, awkward and lucky . I often remember a stand up comedian describing his efforts to tackle climate change being a bit like turning up to the site of an earthquake with a dustpan – our efforts to change and/or do good here in the fattened, bloated West feel futile, pathetic, laughable and pointless.
Spending time in the world of causes can create burn out and/or cynicism and I’ll be the first to own up to that, I’ve written before about how hope and campaigns make me feel caught between ideas, things and places.
But I’ve been giving to charity lately, giving actual money, not time, thoughts, energy or hot air but actual money-not very much, but it feels important, valuable and worthwhile and a like it might actually make a difference.
I’ve a spending attitude to money, not a saving or a giving attitude. But I made a commitment, a resolution if you will, at the beginning of the year to give some money to charity; regularly – the same amount each month – by hook or by crook – regardless of scepticism. For these reasons:
- Small amounts of money make a difference, especially regular small amounts of money
- Giving should be a discipline/way of life/commitment
- I have plenty, plenty, plenty and I can reduce the shoes, clothes, food I buy in order to give some money away
- It may transform how I manage my money
- It may also transform my perspective on charity
- I’ve have plenty
I chose two charities that mean something to me, they work on issues I care about, in places where the problems far outweigh the resources and the staff and ethos is progressive. The charities that I give to are:
Kids Company – Because I heard their director speaking about the Christmas Dinner they run each year on the radio and she spoke so articulately about the needs of vulnerable adults – who aren’t necessarily unwell – but have never had love, time and attention invested in them. Read their latest newsletter here – I was particularly pleased to see their appeal for male mentors on page 41.
Centrepoint – Because they run a holistic homelessness service in London – one of the go to cities for many homeless young people – they provide shelter, support and educational opportunities for young people and they understand poverty and the dynamics for different groups and individuals within the homeless demographic.
As the year goes on and I see the direct debits slipping out of my account each month, I’ve stopped thinking about the money, I’m more interested and transformed by the discipline of giving.
News headlines last week run the risk of encouraging people to think that the world is so dark that all causes and charities aren’t trustworthy. Whilst experience has taught me that it’s important not the be naive and to understand there are measures of manipulation, politics and spin at every level of our society, I would be concerned that challenging and withdrawing support from charities because of what they pay their workers and leaders is a little bit about scapegoating an already weak, vulnerable and pressurised sector. Mainstream news stories that target charities and the voluntarily donated funds that are used largely to change the lives of the poor, sick and lonely should not be valued over criticism of tax evaders, politicians expenses bills, the cost of war and weapons and bankers bonuses.
Charities already report that giving has significantly reduced as times become increasingly austere. I’ve started to wonder, if the thousands and thousands of people who are like me, with the same size income as me and the same reticence and paralysis when it comes to changing the world as me, set up a couple of direct debits – perhaps we might actually change the world and change ourselves in the process. What would the bankers, the arms dealers, the corrupt politicians and the wealthy businesses do with an economy that radically changed character because people began to give some if not more of their money away, a small amount, only what was affordable, regularly?