We have a very proud charitable tradition in our country
Fresh research by CAF shows the UK is the most generous country in Europe and sixth-most generous in the world. But unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past six months, you know that charities and even the very idea of ‘charity’ have been in the (bad) headlines for all the wrong reasons lately – sometimes justifiably, mostly not.
The latest target for the gutter press: BBC Children in Need. I mean seriously, what’s next? Attacks on the local hospice? How about the home for disabled people? Or the hospital transport service for the elderly grandmother with dementia? Or the charity providing rehabilitation for injured vets? (wait, er, we’ve had that a few weeks ago already).
What exactly have Children in Need done wrong?
Well, I’ve always been annoyed when they claim 100% of your donation goes to help children – of course it does – otherwise it would be illegal. All charity funds have to be spent on the charity’s purposes and according to the law. But the misleading impression that there are no overheads for these kinds of campaigns or for the services they support perpetuates misconceptions and contradictions in the public mind about fundraising. (Children in Need say their overheads are funded through investment and trading income).
But that’s a fairly technical (albeit important) complaint. Apart from that, I fail to see how raising well over £30 million every year to help kids is something to be criticised. And it’s more than the money raised – Children in Need engages the public and indeed hundreds of thousands of our youngsters in the idea of charitable giving. By making grants, it supports many small charities that never get a look-in for national appeals. It deserves far better than a media cheap shot to sell a few papers and get the trolls raging.
Here’s the thing: we need charity
I need it, you need it, everybody needs it. Journalists and even politicians need it! (Hey hacks, did you know there are charities just for you too?). We all benefit from charity. There is not one single person in the UK who has not, is not or will not benefit from the work of our incredible charities. Regardless of your socio-economic background, no matter how rich, how privileged, how powerful, however much you might think that you get nothing from them, think again.
Unless you believe in some form of anarchism (and not that many of us do), there are basically three options for a modern society. At the extremes you can have a society where the state does everything for people (communism) or one where it does next to nothing apart from have a military and maybe prisons (pure free-market capitalism). In the first example there is no civil society, just the state. In the second, there is no idea of social security or collective welfare – no sense of social responsibility.
I would argue that the last 150 years of our history (at least) suggests we as a nation are not happy with either extreme. If we want to exist anywhere in the middle of this spectrum we need charities. Lots of them. And if you need charity you need fundraising and fundraisers. Not everything can be done by trading or other ways of generating income.
That’s just how it is.
And you know what? It is shocking
But not for the reasons the critics say. It isn’t shocking that somebody approaches you on the street for a donation, or rings you to ask for one, or sends a letter in a post. Of course charities need to make sure that they ask in the right way and have high ethical standards. When these aren’t followed that needs to be addressed pronto.
But the really shocking thing is that charities have to ask for voluntary donations in the first place. We have to ask. It’s a necessity. We have to ask to help starving children, and survivors of domestic abuse, and people with incurable diseases, and desperate refugees who are drowning in the sea. It’s shocking that we cannot rely on people receiving this help unless we have charities that ask for it.
So remember this: if even one of the following applies to you or anyone you care about, there are charities working on your behalf:
Basically if you are a human being, living or dead, there is almost no aspect of your life that does not owe something to the work of a charity. Don’t give if you don’t want to. But don’t punt out cheap and easy criticisms without properly understanding how vital charities are to the fabric of this nation. There are not too many. There are not enough.
Want to add to this list? Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll put them up on this article.