I think you would have had to be living underground, for a few weeks not to have heard about the Ice Bucket Challenge, which I wrote about last week. In fact this week seems to have been even busier on that subject, with all channels of social media full of people pouring water on their head in the name of charity. Of course, we had the side show arguments about who owned the challenge and who should benefit from the cash and the awareness, but this got me thinking even more about our perception of charities and how and why we support them.
One of the things that I experience when I meet people who have been through something as life changing as a cancer diagnosis, is a desire to ‘give something back,’ for the wonderful treatment they have received. That normally happens in several different ways, either by a one off donation of money, a desire to do voluntary work, or by starting a small charity/foundation to raise money and awareness of a particular issue. I see many new charities starting, and entering the market place, competing for money and attention in an already crowded sector.
My work places me in a very privileged position and I get invited to see many new developments in the charity world. The experience that I now have is called on by many people who are new to this area. But I have learned now to keep my emotions apart from my logic. In my own example my life had been saved by some wonderful 24/7 nursing care and once I left hospital I couldn’t wait to start my own charity to buy equipment for the ward that continues to look after me. Adrenaline and passion were driving me on, and we started to raise money quickly, but after several years both myself and supporters had run a little dry in terms of enthusiasm and ideas. As my health improved interest in the cause started to wane, and although my fund is still open it is no longer my main focus.
This appears to be a common problem with many smaller charities. Burdened by administration, and generally without professional help, sustainability becomes a big issue. There are so many wonderful people out there doing marvellous things and all making a difference in their own way, for the causes they believe in, but business must enter into this discussion too. The charity sector is becoming extremely competitive and crowded. I have spoken to many people recently about how they donate money to charity, and found that there are two main ways. One is the more traditional method of direct debit monthly, and the other is ad hoc, via internet challenges and random bucket collections.
Most of the people who donate by direct debit seem never to change things and rarely now consider whether they are donating to the right cause, They continue almost as if by habit, which is one of the reasons that charities like people signed up to pay this way, they can also contact them frequently to request an increase! When we are donating money, there are generally two emotions involved. The first and probably most important, is a feeling of well being that we are contributing to making the world a better place and secondly one of trust, that the people we are giving it to will use it properly.
The charities that we tend to hear about most are the national ones, naturally they have teams of professionals telling us about all their good work. They do a lot of positive things of course, and can improve facilities across the country. But sometimes it is local services that are required and if they are not particularly cost effective, will rarely be considered by national organisations and will need to be funded locally. But I question if people really understand how their cause operates and spends their funds. As my example, I talked in my previous post about how people were complaining about Macmillan Cancer Support ‘hijacking’ the Ice Bucket Challenge. They went on to talk about research into cancer which of course Macmillan are not involved in at all.
Being involved in the charity world and not working, I have time to consider things more fully than most people. Maybe for many, making a contribution anywhere, is enough for them, and of course it is great that people want to donate at all. But our world is changing rapidly now, we have a lot more choice and should use it. Where would we be without charities, they do so much vital work, but there is a lot more that needs to be done, and not necessarily by the people already there. Of course though, without funds nothing can happen as more and more organisations push for income, but I wonder if the fundraising bubble will burst when people switch off from the constant barrage of heart wrenching advertisements telling us that our donation can change the world.
My opinion is that exactly as in the business world, things can be done more efficiently. Currently there is much duplication of working in the cancer area, and if organisations collaborated more, things would be better for the user. But this will only start happening if we start becoming more selective with our donations. Surely if you care enough to give money to a cause you should care enough to ensure that your money is used in the way you want it to be. Generally local causes will only be funded by local money in the long term.
Of course, like me you can also donate your time to charity, but if you do donate money, how do you decide to do it? Have you re considered your causes, and what is your view of current fundraising techniques? Do you support a local or national charity and why?