The shake of the collection box has long been a familiar sound to Irish ears. From the poor black babies’ collections of the sixties, through the Hurricane Katrina appeal, right up to today’s charity street fundraisers, it seems the appeal for money is incessant. But where does all this money go? Is it worth giving at all?
I think that it is, but choose carefully what you give and whom you give to. Non-voluntary charity workers can be quite misleading. For the most part, these fundraisers are working for an agency and are paid on a commission basis. The charity pays this agency for its services and the agency fee. These plus the fundraiser’s commission will eat up most of your monthly donation for the first year. Unless you plan on keeping a standing order going for longer than that, or are willing to donate more than the €15 a month usually asked for, charities can actually stand to lose money.
Generally, those who sign up do give a return higher than the agency’s fees, or charities would not hire them. But would it not be better to cut out the middle-man, and give directly to the charity, thus saving them the commission?
Charity fundraisers also put people off donating to the traditional tin-rattling volunteers we see shivering on our streets. These volunteers often represent smaller local charities who cannot afford to hire agencies to compete with the larger national charities. People who already have a direct debit each month feel that they’ve done their bit, and are less inclined to reach into their pockets for the smaller charities.
Once the charities have collected your money, do you ever wonder where they keep it? Unfortunately, being a charity is no protection from the economic doom. Although Irish investments in Irish banks are protected up to €100,000, the government offers no such cover for investments held in Icelandic banks. In the UK, many charities had invested their money in Icelandic banks who offered seemingly wonderful interest rates for savings and investments. These banks have now collapsed. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has estimated that these charities may stand to lose £120 million between them. The Cats Protection League alone could lose £11.2 million. That’s an awful lot of cat-nip.
How do you know that the charity you’ve donated to is legitimate? There was huge scandal over leaflets posted through letterboxes last year, purporting to be from charitable companies looking for clothes donations. They were bogus. The clothes they gathered were actually sold on to East Europe and Africa with none of the proceeds going to charity. This sort of fraud deeply impacts both the legitimate charities and potential donators. The director of the Association of Charity Shops estimated that their members were losing between €2.5m to €4m a year through scams such as this which makes people wary of giving to legitimate charities.
It seems that the world of benevolence is fraught with problems. For us poor college students, I think the best thing to give is your time and energy. Donations of money are wonderful, and it is true that they do a lot of good, but by volunteering you can see first hand the difference you are making. It isn’t hard to give up an hour or two of your time, you can see the good you’re doing and you will probably enjoying doing it. There are plenty of worthy causes in college all begging for your time, including St. Vincent de Paul, the Voluntary Tuition Programme and SUAS. Volunteers are the backbone of any charitable organisation, and they are the one thing that money can’t buy.