Many years ago, when I was a teenager, I was stopped in the street on Chapel walk in Sheffield, UK, by an earnest young man collecting to fund “missionary work” for an organisation whose name I cannot remember. I gave him a small amount of money and conceded that is was for “a good cause”. I didn’t really know what “missionary work” was but imagined some sort of dedicated priest with a dog-collar and bare arms digging trenches for fresh water supplies, surrounded by happy, dark-skinned children. That was the image of “missionaries” that I knew from popular media because, at that time, I didn’t understand what the word meant in this context.
I suppose it sticks with me because even then I was a very skeptical person, although at the time I couldn’t put my finger on what it was that didn’t seem quite right. What I know now is that “missionary work” is organising ernest young people to collect money on the streets of metropolitan cities from misguided and confused teenagers.
These days I have a strict policy of not signing anything or giving any money to anyone in the street (unless they are undoubtedly destitute) or at the door. I am always polite but will not entertain “chuggers” (charity muggers).
If you’re on social media, I’m sure you have seen the “Ice-Bucket Challenge” viral that is going around, raising money for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research (known in the UK as motor-neurone disease (MND)). I’m not one for jumping on any bandwagons, particularly ones that involve getting wet or cold, but I’m not unsympathetic.
Finally, I got nominated for the Ice-bucket challenge and decided to look into it before committing myself to an act of self-humiliation.
Viral Thread published a blog post about the 2013 accounts of the ALS charity. The President and CEO has a salary of $339,475.00 and more than 50% of their income goes on administration and promotion with only 27% going on research.
I realise that any major charity is a corporate business, and getting anything done costs money, but a quarter of a million pounds for the boss? You’re paying that.
The image at the top of this post has persisted as a viral for way longer than it should, despite being thoroughly debunked. This viral has nothing to do with charity fundraising, but it is a good example of looking before you leap. I am not going to name and shame but a real friend (not just a Facebook spook) shared the photo attached to the story about how the famous Matador Torero Alvaro Múnera was suddenly racked with regret about what he had done and broke down in front of this bull.
Actually, it’s all just a part of the show and this matador is actually mocking the bull, but taken out of context it looks like a moment of remorse. Múnera did eventually become an animal rights activist but the real story is very different. Also, according to snopes.com the matador pictured is not actually Múnera at all.
Remember that “Kony 2012” video? Well, I watched it but never shared it because it just didn’t feel right and I am very self-satisfied that I turned out to be correct, although that episode with the Invisible Children’s co-founder Jason Russell, getting naked in the street was an unexpected bonus. If you’re going to lose it, you might as well go off the deep end. At least that will get some TV coverage. The video is quite long but it’s worth a look, as well as some of their others which look more like music videos than charity begging videos.
I haven’t looked at their accounts but looking at the videos, a lot of Invisible Children’s funds seem to go towards parties for impressionable twenty-somethings.
So here is the dilemma, I accept that these charities do raise money for the causes they claim to, but it seems a disproportionate amount of it goes to executives and administrators, and in the case of Invisible Children, media producers. Maybe I should get in on this. I wonder if any of them need a timelapse specialist?
Okay, I know what you’re thinking, much of my supporting material has been garnered from websites and that is a notoriously unreliable source, but isn’t that how you found out about the ice-bucket challenge?
However, another example of something that I am deeply mistrustful of is the sponsor-a-child kind of thing that pays for children’s education in third world countries, but not based upon my own experience nor my internet “research”.
My mother has been sponsoring children in Africa for at least 20 years and occasionally receives a hand-written letter from her sponsored child. She is a retired teacher with 30 years’ experience in primary state schools in the UK, and in her field she could be considered an expert witness. Only a few months ago she expressed to me the concern that the written work that the sponsored children send her never improves, and she is experienced enough to know. This is as far as I go with this thread because it is outside my expertise, but the question remains, if these children are genuinely being educated, why does their work never improve?
I believe that many charities are not charities at all, at least not in the way most of us assume, they are simply regulated pyramid schemes that pay a dividend to good causes. Some of them are simply scams to skim an income off other people’s naivety, rather like those TV evangelists, soliciting donations simply in order to continue their “missionary work”, otherwise known as screwing you.
Other detractors of the ice-bucket challenge have accused participants of mere narcissism but, as a social media junky, that doesn’t bother me at all.
It’s quite possible that I am excessively suspicious, but not everything is as it seems and you should be very wary of anything shared on Facebook. If you do decide to participate, maybe you should just donate to the UK MND charity, after examining their accounts. The Independent newspaper has very kindly published details:
Otherwise, you might want to consider that half of your donation has contributed to someone in the US driving around in a Bentley.