I like to think that I'm fairly generous to charities. Although I no longer give directly through my salary, I do (I hope) go out of my way to make regular donations along the way. Not to blow my own trumpet, but I gave a decent chunk to Shelter, the homeless charity, when the cold weather was really starting to bite, and just last week I made a contribution to Macmillan as a nod towards a friend's mother who is currently battling against breast cancer. I also give my time, spending six or so hours until 2am manning a phone on the Children in Need call centre.
This year, if I do go ahead with running the Robin Hood Half Marathon again, I will try to raise some more money for the MS Society. Clearly, that's more than a touch self-interested, but the MS Society half-fund the MS Nurses, who are an absolutely invaluable first line of support for multiple sclerosis sufferers; they are an invaluable source of knowledge, experience and are a gateway into the services offered by the wider NHS. If you have MS and you have a relapse, the very first people you call are your MS Nurses and they will take care of the rest. My nurse, Maxine, was also good enough to write me the letter that I took with me to Australia that persuaded the doctor doing my dive medical that I was fit enough to do that diving course on the Great Barrier Reef. The MS Society funds 50%, but the other 50% comes from the government. Do I need to tell you that the government, ever on the lookout for ways to shaft the people who need their help the most, are looking to pull their funding. That's David Cameron's Big Society for you. If I can raise a few quid to help keep this brilliant service alive, then I will.
Anyway, I digress. I was talking about (even though I don't like to talk about it) how I give money to charity.
One of the charities that I donate is the Red Cross. I think I started around the time of the terrible floods that devastated Bangladesh in the summer of 2009. Like lots of other people, I saw the footage of people stranded on the tops of trees, drowning livestock and flooded villages, and felt moved to donate. I know terrible things like this happen all the time and in all sorts of places (Queensland being the most recent example), but I found myself moved by the footage and decided I couldn't just sit there and do nothing. So I donated.
Since then, the Red Cross have sent me post encouraging me to donate more money, more often. I'm not a big fan of this kind of spam (let's call it what it is. They also send me lots of emails).... but at least you can mostly ignore it. Then, in summer last year, I received a phone call. It was one of those charity cold-callers. As a person who had donated to the Red Cross in the past, they wondered if perhaps I would donate again now. Had I seen the footage of the floods in Pakistan? Yes I had. Did I know that [insert name of cold calling company here] had been commissioned to raise £250,000 for the Red Cross in the next n days? No, I was not aware of that. Yes, and of that £250,000, nearly £200,000 of that would be used to provide aid to Pakistan (the rest, shockingly, was commission). Did I want to donate?
To which the reply, as if it was any of their business, was "Can I ask why not?"
"I've already donated to charity"
By now I was starting to get annoyed. What damn business was it of theirs where or how I spent my charity dollar? Why was I being put into the position where my compassion was being questioned and I was being guilt-tripped into giving more? Still I felt the need to justify myself.
"I give to charity regularly through my salary"
"Have you donated specifically to the floods? Just £2 a month will help to do x, y and z"
"I'm not going to sign up for a direct debit"
"But have you given to the floods?"
"May I ask how?"
Now I felt like I was being accused of lying. "I put money into a charity box at work". Trace that, you fuckers.
Eventually I got rid of the guy, but it left a sour taste in the mouth. Now, every time I get some post from the Red Cross (and I got more on Friday), it makes me feel cross. This is a good charity that does good work around the world with people who need it the most.... but all I'm starting to see is more begging spam, and it's actively turning me off them. The Red Cross (and they're hardly the only offenders) may raise more money this way, and I know that times are hard and people aren't giving as much as they used to, but surely this kind of hard-sell is counter-productive in the long run?
I finally opened last week's letter, actually. It contains a pin badge and two tea bags. As the letter explained, as it invited me to share a cup of tea with them:
"Because in the time it takes to brew and drink a cup of tea, some very important things can happen. For example, one of our dedicated Red Cross volunteers can arrive at the scene of an emergency and save someone's life through an action as simple as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. So while you brew and drink your tea, I hope you will decide to help us again today by making a donation....."
And so on.
Is it wrong to be cross about this*?
*no pun intended**
**well, maybe a bit.