Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Charity Begins at the Checkout

Update: different angle at RobinsonS, worth a look, and not so much to read!

By Saturday morning, Children in Need had raised over £20m from Friday night’s fundraising, with more to come from sales of the CiN single (great work by Peter Kay)

There were lots of donations from workplaces and high street stores, with a giant ASDA cheque seemingly in the background of every shot*. Plenty more will come from the merchandise, with Peter Kay appealing for the brilliant poster for the single above to be taken on by a high street name and distributed. The annual accounts for 2007-8 shows ‘corporate partnerships’ contributing nearly £5m to 2007’s total, whilst direct donations amount to £12m, and the rest is accounted for by fundraising (some of it organised and branded by corporates) and legacies.

Pudsey in Perspective
Children in Need, along with Comic Relief and the like, keeps the fun in fundraising, and it’s fantastic to see the generosity and compassion of thousands of people in action. At the same time I wonder what would happen if someone gatecrashed the stage and said ‘ladies and gentlemen, the war in Afghanistan is costing us £48m a week’. Raising over £500m over the last 20+ years is a wonderful achievement, but a few bonus-donating bankers would double that money.

That was Friday evening. Friday morning I was in a local shop buying Christmas cards, treading the line between staying within budget, and buying cards which gave more to charity. £4 for a pack which gives 25p per card sold, or £2.99 for a pack which ’supports the following charities’, but probably by not as much? Was I shopping, or giving to charity? Or both? Why was I finding 2 sets of values arguing with each other in my head over a few cartoon pictures of a stable?

The commercialisation of charity is an interesting one: ‘Give as You Spend’ is replacing Give as You Earn. For the businesses, it’s a chance to promote positive brand awareness (did you see those folks on CiN holding their jam up to the camera?) as well as raising money, for us it’s a chance to do what we like best – shop – and get a warm glow thrown in. From Fair Trade to charity Christmas cards, charities have worked out that we’re not going to start spending less and giving more, so it might just be easier to get us to spend differently. At the same time, the trend towards Gift Aiding entrance fees seems to have taken off – the chance to ‘donate’ your entrance fee (?) so that the National Trust, or whoever, can claim the tax back.

Homeopathic Giving
At the same time, the timing may be significant. We can now enter the Christmas shopping frenzy with a clear conscience: we’ve done our bit. Give the Children in Need CD to someone for Christmas, and everyone wins.

Perspective again: we’re forecast to spend an average of £358 each on presents this year. Even if Children in Need ends up with double last nights total, that will be roughly 65p per person in the UK. Of course, people will be giving in other ways too, not least through those Christmas cards, but there’s a sense of spiritual homeopathy: a small amount of giving diluted in a swimming pool of consumption equals ok.

The best solution, though it may disappoint the relatives, is Present Aid, where you send something useful to the developing world as a present, and your dearly beloved gets a card saying ‘you have sent a goat/toilet/water pump’, and is saved the bother of disposing of the wrapping paper, or working out where to put yet another ornament.

Giving Up?
Earlier this year, the Charities Aid Foundation reported that UK giving had fallen faster than the contraction in incomes – by 11% year on year. The number of people giving has stayed roughly the same – around 55% of the adult population – and on average they gave £31 each. Half of overall giving comes from just 2 million adults.

Even during a recession, most of the folk who still have jobs have got money to burn. If you can afford a Nintendo Wii, you’ve got money to burn. If you can afford a ticket to a Premiership match, or a bottle of wine with your meal out, or a Sky subscription, ditto. The charities folks calculate that £750m per year is lost to charity because taxpayers don’t Gift Aid all their donations. There is plenty of slack in the system. We have the weapons. We have motive. We have opportunity. So what’s missing?

*we used to live in an area where the ASDA Events Manager was the nearest thing we had to a community worker – she organised loads of events around the ASDA calendar (which was basically a series of opportunities to sell stuff to people, based on events like St. Patricks day, or a movie release), and in the absence of any community meeting space, helped to make the supermarket a good place for charitable work and a community focus.

This piece originally appeared on the Wardman Wire at the weekend. Recycling and all that.

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