Thursday, 28 August 2014

Giving, getting, volunteering and the system.

Hello world.

I wrote a post about no make up selfies a while ago, but with this ALS ice bucket challenge being the biggest topic on my social media feed, I thought maybe I should share some of my own thoughts about charities, giving and getting.

You can read lots of great articles for and against the ALS ice bucket challenge. I'll link some when I'm not typing on my iPad. I don't feel I need to discuss the merits or lack thereof because it's been done.

What this brings up is a really important point, and that is how we are lending a hand to a charity, cause or organisation and how we can do so in an ethical way. Everyone knows Brownies lend a hand, and seeing as I am a Guide, I'm posting my thoughts on this.

Social media lends itself readily to public demonstrations, to awareness campaigns and ways to donate without finding your local Guide Dog collection container. This is not a bad thing. I really like social media because it reaches a broad range of people who may not connect with the world around them in broad ways. The are a few things I don't like about social media, such as watching You Tube clips on a breakfast news show (why?!) and the overwhelming sponsored content and spammy articles. All in all, it's a great option away from television and newspapers.

I really like awareness campaigns, but to be honest, few are done well. In light of the ice bucket challenge, it has brought some awareness of ALS. The light pink colour is readily associated with breast cancer (there's some gender equality issues with this though). Posting messages like 'repost of you are against child abuse' is not an awareness campaign. No one is for such things. The best thing an awareness campaign can do is inform and end the "othering" that comes with illness. How can we detect a certain disease or type of cancer? These are the kinds of things awareness campaigns should be doing, and plenty fall short when the branding is seen as the awareness, not the actual cause itself.

Now, let's talk about donations.
You can read about my tale of child sponsorship, but as far as I am aware, such cases are pretty rare and I really got a bad hand (no pun intended) when trying to deal with the situation. One of the criticisms about the ice bucket challenge has been about where the donation is going, with a statement I read today suggesting that about eight percent (not eighty, no typo) is going to research. In my opinion, if the organisation is about supporting families in times of need (and to be honest. I am not really sure of what the organisation is standing for, and it doesn't matter because I'm not donating to it), then that is where your money goes. All charities are going to have administration costs and overheads to meet. A good charity will have branding so that you can easily recognise it. These things cost money, and who is to say that just because it's for a good cause, it doesn't mean someone should work for free. It's also important to know that some organisations have other causes and purposes other than research,mor whatever your personal interest in the organisation is. 

Before giving and making a serious commitment (for me twenty dollars is a serious commitment), researching the charity is really important. A good charity will be forthcoming with their financial statements, these are easy to look at online. My advice would be to read blogs and articles about the organisation to decide whether you really want to give to them.

I think the other thing to remember in this is that crowd sourcing or giving directly to a person is also a good option. 

My second piece of advice is to give in two ways, regularly or as part of a campaign. 

Regular giving
The reason I believe in this is because a charitable organisation needs to rely on ongoing support. Some might exploit this by asking your too often to increase your givingor at least inform you of good opportunities such as giving a sponsor child money for Christmas which will feel his family for six months. You might think that a charity welcomes all money all the time. Of course they do, but they need something to count on. It's like pocket money. I would rather have five dollars a week rather than twenty dollars whenever my parents had some left over lolly, which could be highly irregular. 

Supporting campaigns
Lots of Not for Profits and NGOs run campaigns throughout the year. Often these have a theme, and behind that theme and branding will be a target for fundraising, whether they make this known or not. Supporting annual or once off campaigns is a good alternative to regular giving, as it happens enough that they can count on the support. Also, campaigns often have a theme or purpose, so you have a good understanding of where your money is going.

Finally, and I hope to wrote a much more informed article shortly, is the idea of volunteering. I recently saw a call for volunteers at a children's home and lots of people wrote things like 'this will be good for uni/teaching experience/work'. We need to start embracing the fact that rarely volunteering is a selfless act. Yes, sacrifices are being made, but we can always gain something from experiences. It bothers me when people say otherwise, because they are not identifying that the organisation they are serving is giving them an experience they wouldn't have otherwise have had. While I was in India we had a visit from the amazing Dr Mune, who runs the Green Tara Foundation. Dr Mune said that there is no othering (in not so many words) because both the girls and the volunteers appreciate that the volunteers get just as much out of their experience, if not more than those they are helping.

I don't want to say that throwing a bucket of ice or water on your head is a bad idea, because in terms of an awareness campaign it's done really well. And I don't think every one needs to run off and volunteer overseas either. I guess what I really wanted to say is to think carefully through before you over commit to lending a hand, or lending a dollar, and more importantly, to think it through before strongly (or otherwise) urging others to do the same.

Lend a hand, don't be a lemming.