I was chatting to a fellow mum-of-a-toddler the other day, and she was having a bit of a moan about her son’s nursery and the amount of activities they undertake for charity.
“It seems like there’s something different every week. Dress up as this, or sponsor me for this, or send in a donation for this. I can’t keep going round my friends and asking for money every week, it’s getting ridiculous.”
“Oooh,” I said. “How awkward. Thank goodness they don’t do that at DorkySon’s nursery.”
Two days later DorkySon comes home from nursery with a letter saying that all the kids have planted a daffodil bulb and would we consider sending in some sponsorship money (for an undoubtedly very good charity). It’s voluntary, of course, but they would really appreciate our support.
And so it has begun.
And I’m a bit annoyed, actually.
Donating to charity is such a very, very personal thing. Believe me, DorkyDad and I both know how important raising money is. He has worked in fundraising and development for over thirty years, and is currently the Director of Philanthropy for a major UK charity. Before the arrival of DorkySon, I was the sole Scottish staff member for an environmental NGO, and part of that job involved fundraising my own salary! Between us, we know the difference that a five quid can make, and the difference that five million quid can make. We both make regular donations, but we like to do that in an informed and selective way.
The ‘daffodil charity’ does great work – I know it does – but they are not an organisation that we have chosen to give money to before.
So we are put in the position where we have to set a precedent. Do we stick a couple of quid in the envelope just because it’s our son, and it’s his nursery and we want to support their efforts? If we do that once, then I think we have to be prepared to do the same thing every time we get asked. Or do we stick to our personal principles, keep giving money to our chosen charities, and quietly stick DorkySon’s daffodil envelope in the bin? That also sets a precedent, and means that we risk a reputation as the mean parents who won’t make donations, or the parents who don’t care about cancer, or animals, or whatever the cause of the month happens to be. We don’t want to do anything that is going to mark poor DorkySon out as ‘different’.
This is an internal wrangle I’ve had to face as a blogger too. There are requests sent out on a weekly basis for bloggers to post about a certain cause or charity – sometimes just looking to raise awareness, sometimes calling on people to sign a petition, or email their MP.
I have chosen the same approach with my time and blog efforts as I have with my money – I’ve chosen one charity that I am passionate about, and I will support them in as many ways as I can – doing blog posts, tweeting, sharing links on Facebook, attending events and the like. I evaluate requests from other charities on a case-by-case basis, but usually end up saying no. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care – there are so, so many organisations out there doing great work in different areas – just that there are limited hours in the day, and limited ways I can make issues seem relevant to me and my readers. I’ve noticed that the posts I do even for my one chosen charity tend to get much lower numbers of views and comments than other posts on the blog, and I wonder if people are starting to suffer from charity overload. Is there just so much out there that when people see a link is about a charity and they are likely to be asked to take an action after reading it, do they just not even bother clicking through?
It comes back to what I said earlier; charity is a personal thing. We all have causes that are close to our hearts; organisations we want to give our time, or our money, or our bags of old clothes to. We can all do our best to raise awareness of those causes, and persuade others that they are worth supporting, but at the end of the day people will make their own minds up.
Even in the charity sector, it is always good to ask questions, and not to support something unthinkingly.
I stood in my kitchen this morning, and spent half an hour grasping my phone and watching the Stop Kony video that has gone viral today. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it – it’s a brilliantly made campaign film, very emotionally manipulative – and it literally had me in tears. The way it left me feeling was similar to the way I felt after watching Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth for the first time. A real kicked-in-the-stomach ‘wow, why isn’t anyone doing anything about this?’ moment.
I was about to go and re-post the video on my Facebook page. But then I spotted a link to an article that another friend had posted, which is really critical of the organisation leading the Stop Kony campaign. So I tweeted that link out, urging people to find out a bit more information before they lent their support to the campaign. But then people replied to me with this post, which is full of counter arguments and fully supportive of the Stop Kony campaign, unsurprisingly as it’s written by one of their staffers! And then there’s this post in today’s Independent, and this brilliant blog where the writer really seems to know what he’s talking about.
So I’m left full of questions. I think we can all agree that Joseph Kony is a really bad man. And I think we can agree that there are a lot more people who know who Joseph Kony tonight is than there were last night, which is a good thing. But do we think that a ‘crowd sourced campaign for military intervention’ (as the excellent Ellie Mae O’ Hagan puts it) is really the way to deal with him? I don’t think so.
I somehow seem to have made my way from DorkySon growing a daffodil at nursery to the intricacies of Ugandan politics and international relations without pausing to draw breath. I’m not quite sure how I did that. But perhaps in this world where we all share links and thoughts and ideas so freely, it’s not so strange after all.
On both issues – which relate to how and where we best focus our limited resources – the only conclusion I can draw is that we all need to ask the questions that will help us make more informed choices. Be thoughtful. Be intentional. Be selective. Don’t just give money because everyone else is, or share a link because everyone else.
I’m certainly not going to recommend that you give money to the Stop Kony 2012 campaign – although if you have half an hour to spare you could watch the video and read the articles and then come to your own conclusions (and please feel free to share them here!). Or you could spend that half an hour on something which you feel is more worthwhile; a more valuable use of your time.
Me? I’m off to ponder what we’re going to do with that bloody sponsorship envelope…
Update: If you’re as big a geek as I am and you want to read even more articles and opinion pieces about the Kony 2012 campaign, here are some that I’ve found over the last few days.
Securing Rights (which has dozens of pingbacks from other relevant articles)
Africa Is A Country
Response to criticism from Invisible Children – the Kony 2012 campaigners
Pieces of Mee
The Heir to Blair
Jane Bussmann on Huff Post
Wil Wheaton on Tumblr
Unmuted: You Don’t Have My Vote
Project Diaspora: Respect My Agency