Coerced into charity

This weekend just gone saw the broadcast of the BBC’s Sport Relief programmes, where various activities are done by celebrities (usually with a sporty theme) in order to raise money for charity. It got me thinking a little bit, and this blog post is the product of that thinking. I’m not sure you’ll agree with me and if so, let me know why not. On the surface, what I have to say may sound quite nasty, so let yourself be warned here before reading on.

Why do people have to put themselves through personal torment, physical extremes or do something in someway spectacular in order for someone else to donate to charity? The BBC now broadcast 3 major evenings per year (yes, that’s less than 1% of all programming time) to these kinds of shows: Comic Relief, Sport Relief and Children In Need.

At the time of writing (started Saturday afternoon, finished Monday evening) I just watched most of “John Bishop’s week of hell” and really couldn’t fathom why it was that he felt he had to do that challenge. What was the motivation behind people donating? I don’t know the answer to that.

If it had something to with the very vague notion of “doing it for a good cause” then how closely are these good causes investigated before donation? A few weeks ago, the world of social media erupted with the story of Joseph Kony (who I had not heard before I saw it at the top of the most popular topics on Twitter) only for there then to be backlash against the charity that promoted the expose video as they were not considered to be the most financially transparent charity around. Yet in the backlash, the anger that was stirred up against Kony was dissipated and redirected.

I’m not suggesting that there is anything untoward in the accounting for Comic Relief, Sport Relief or Children in Need. I simply wonder how many people who donate to them investigate where the donations go to. Of course, there are these very powerful and emotionally charged mini-documentaries that dot the programme.

I think there is a strong thought process that goes something like this: “Let’s provide people with an evening of entertainment. Interspersed with this, we’ll show these videos to guilt-trip them into giving. We won’t publish a strict schedule so that people can only tune in for the parts they want. We’ll issue constant reminders of what is “coming up” to keep them enticed, instead.”

As cynical as that sounds, it seems likely to me that there is at least an element of truth in that. But why can’t these mini-documentaries stand on their own feet? If someone passionately believes that that a cause is worth giving to, then I would rather they try and persuade me with me evidence and reasoned argument than with an evening of light entertainment with lots of famous faces.

What would it say about me if I don’t donate to Comic Relief on the basis of the needs of others presented to me, but instead because the BBC newsreaders did a silly dance?

I’m not condemning these programmes or calling for them to be stopped. I’m questioning the mindset of the British public and whether our priorities are in the right place.

With that said, and at the risk of undoing my whole argument, 2 of my friends are doing a sponsored event soon. Most important is the reason why they are doing it, which you can read about here. You can also find out what it is they’re doing, but it would seem odd in the light of what I’ve written to draw attention to it. Their donation page (which isn’t as straightforward to find as it might be) can be found here.

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One response to “Coerced into charity

  1. I think there is a level of masochism involved – somehow we don’t think a donation is deserved unless it has cost someone something. Actually I think this is a deep psychological thing, which explains some theories of the atonement.

    In our society that has evolved to be this idea that a) we identify a problem and then b) we raise money so someone else can deal with it. We want to be involved in the solution, but most of the time that is limited to a fundraising capacity.

    Most of the time, I believe that is screwy. For (a silly) example, it is said that a major problem amongst the elderly is that they are lonely. One can imagine some kind of sponsorship scheme where everyone raises money to buy them big wide-screen TVs, which people might be inclined to donate to. What is much more difficult to imagine is a large number of people donating a tiny amount of time to the local elderly.

    But in another way, maybe this is just the model we’re all so accustomed to hearing that we find it hard to think in any other way. It is possible (I don’t know) that it would cost the same amount to insulate millions of houses as to build a nuclear power station. For the sake of the argument, let us assume it is and the energy produced is the same. Politicians are much more likely to pick a discreet, single solution to a problem than a diverse, uncontrollable one. Our children are much more attracted to grand, exciting schemes than small, apparently dull ones. We’d rather go to a massive shopping centre than get the same things in a small town.

    Sorry for waffling.