Charitable Giving – an appeal for opinions

Charitable giving is an emotional minefield. Whether to give, how much to give, how often to give, who to give to. There’s so much to think about. For many people who they decide to give money to can be a very personal/sensitive topic.

I work for a fairly large disability charity, and that has made me staunchly pro-charitable giving. I started in the Supporter Care team; talking to donors on a daily basis, before changing roles a few times and ending up where I currently am – in deepest darkest IT, and I’ve been lucky enough to meet a fair number of people who have been helped by my organisation, as well as meeting the front line teams who provide support and services. I’m fiercely proud of my organisation and would love for it to get a bit more recognition. But don’t worry, I’m not on work duty here; I won’t be trying to sign you up to a regular monthly payment. I’m not going to reveal who I work for so as to attempt to avoid bias, and because of general internet safety. I will, however, reveal the charities I donate to, the ways I donate and how/why I chose them. (It’s not all completely altruistic – sometimes I do just donate to make myself feel better.)

It would be wonderful to be able to help everyone, but that’s simply not possible. With so many charities out there seemingly over-lapping it can be hard to know where to start if you do decide to give. Even just supporting a children’s charity is a complicated affair. Googling ‘charity’ or ‘charity key messages’ gave me the following three charities’ statements;

“With your help we will continue to be there for children everywhere.” – Unicef

“Donate today and help us save the most vulnerable children” – Save the Children

“Stop child abuse – support the children’s charity” – NSPCC

So which one do you pick? Or do you ignore the national charities and start looking for one closer to home? More than that; if you’re willing to spare £10 each month for charity do you give it all to one charity, or do you split it, giving less money to more charities? There’s no right answer, of course. It’s ultimately down to what you feel is right.

When it comes to money, I don’t have a huge amount to spare. I donate £2 per month from my salary back into the charity I work for. This is under a scheme called ‘Payroll Giving’, also known as ‘Give As You Earn’. I never see the money, and as it goes before I’m taxed, it’s such a small amount I barely notice it’s missing. And yes, it’s not much at all; £24 per year, but it’s something, and so long as a lot of people so a little something, then the charity will generate enough income to keep going. The other two charities I donate actual money to are Cancer Research UK (£2 per month by Direct Debit) and the RSPCA (again £2 per month by Direct Debit). Both are for personal reasons; the first is because I have already lost a couple of family members to various cancers, and have one currently living with a form of the disease. I strongly believe that research will be vital in discovering ways to beat cancer, and sadly that research can’t happen without funding. The RSPCA, on the other hand is a cause I’ve had no real dealings with. My dog came from Battersea, but I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Dogs and Cats Home. They do a great job in reuniting lost critters with their owners and finding homes for stray, abandoned and otherwise homeless animals. But, at the same time, they are a pound, and too large a number of dogs go through their doors only to be put down for no reason other than being unrehomable. I’ve heard a few stories about the RSPCA, which did make me think twice about donating, but at the end of the day what drove me to give the little I now give to them was the work they do in rescuing animals in genuine danger, and the amount of campaigning they do on behalf of all animals; dogs and cats, but also other pets as well as farm animals and wild animals. Everything they say I whole-heartedly agree in, and it seems like they need more money (and power, but that’s another blog) to be able to do everything they ought to.

And that’s it for financial commitments. I give a little less than £6 each month, plus gift aid on the last two, adding on 50p to each, but that doesn’t technically come from me. It’s not much, right? £72 a year. It’s something I can deal with, and so long as I live in the hope that other people donate to the same causes, then I can sleep happy, knowing that I’m doing something, even if it’s a small something. I make other donations throughout the year, but they’re very much based on whimsy; whatever catches my eye if I’ve got a bit of spare change – it’s happening less and less in these expensive times.

The current craze in the charity world is the charity wristband. These are usually rubber bracelets, often in the charity’s colours, and they either bear a slogan or the charity’s logo. They probably cost a pound or two, and you wear them to show your support, whilst also making a small donation. I have two of these; a yellow band proclaiming that I’m ‘caring for kestrels’ from the local hawk and owl sanctuary, and a navy, red and sky-blue band with ‘Help for Heroes‘ emblazoned across it (although it’s started to break in places, so I’m going to have to replace it at some point soon). Again these are causes close to my heart – I visited the hawk sanctuary last summer; my sister and I took our dad for Father’s Day. It’s a lovely place and tey do a lot of work protecting their birds and educating visitors about them. I love driving into work on a clear day and seeing the red kites circling overhead, and on the rare chance I do see a kestrel or a sparrowhawk or a buzzard it’s all the better. As for Help for Heroes, well I know a number of people who either have served in one of the branches of the military, or who still do. I’ve always been a supporter of our forces, even if I don’t necessarily support the wars they’re involved in. Thankfully I haven’t lost any of my friends in the conflict, but in these days of wide-spread media coverage it’s impossible to not be aware of the physical repercussions of war, and I think it’s vital that those men and women injured in their duties are given the support and treatment they need to enable them to live a fulfilling life.

But charitable giving isn’t just a matter of money; of donations and direct debits. I’m much more proud of the time I give as a volunteer. I have nine ferrets. Yes ferrets. Yes nine. Yes I’m aware just how mad that sounds to most people. All nine of my ferrets came from a local ferret rescue, STA Rescue based in Sonning. I give them many of my weekends for 6-8 months of the year as we go out to village fairs, to school barbeques and to private gatherings and we do our bit for ferret PR – letting members of the public meet our well-handled, non-bitey, non-smelly pets. We also put on races, using a specially crafted race course, for the audience to place bets on which ferret they think will win. It’s great fun for all – we volunteers get to socialise with other like-minded folk and we get plenty of ferret cuddles, the audience get an exciting show and the charity gets the money made from the betting.

Also giving time, but in a different way, I once jumped out of a plane for Guide Dogs, sponsored by my very kind friends and family. It was something I really liked the idea of doing, and Guide Dogs, despite being national, have their Head Office in the next village along from where I grew up, so they were the first place that came to mind when I decided to do my parachute jump for charity, rather than just saving up and doing it off my own back. It was great fun, and as a result I raised a couple of hundred pounds for the charity, so I would recommend it to anyone. Most of the big charities have their own events teams who will help you sign up for this sort of activity, but if you wanted to support a smaller charity you can arrange the jump yourself and collect the sponsorship monies to then give them to your chosen cause. It’s just one step up from the bathtub filled with beans. One fairly big step up…

The last, and most fiscally helpful way of giving to charity is something I’ve not done, although I’ll definitely consider it in the future. Where I work, a vast amount of our donated income comes from gifts left in wills. It’s a time old cliché; the dotty old woman who leaves the entire family fortune to the cats home, but it’s also a very big reality. And for once the Government are actually making it easier – if you leave over 10% of your wealth to a charity, your other beneficiaries are excused from paying inheritance tax on what’s left. This is probably the most personal choice you can make; I would guess most gifts in wills are made where there is a strong connection between the will-maker and their chosen charity. I haven’t yet found the right charity to give any portion of my hard-earned wealth (ha!) to, but it’s certainly something I want to put some effort into looking at.

This post isn’t supposed to be a ‘look at how wonderful I am; giving all my time and money to charity’ type of thing. I’ll freely admit that I only do suhc a variety of things because I work in the third sector, and that has made me more predisposed to respond when asked; I’m already very much sold on the necessity of charities. What I want this post to start is an open discussion about charities; do you give to any? Why or why not? How did you decide who to give to? I particularly want to hear from anyone who doesn’t give to charities, to get their opinion on things. I’ve heard the phrase ‘charity begins at home’, especially in the troubled economic climate we’re currently facing, so I wonder if that’s the main reason, or if people actively refuse to give, or if it’s just a case of not having thought about it.

I’ve mentioned a LOT of different charities in this post and have tried to link to all of them. Please let me know through the comments/on our facebook or twitter if I’ve managed to put a duff link in anywhere!

So, my closing statement; I give to charity because I believe in the real need of the causes, and I think it helps to build a sense of local or national community through that old-fashioned notion of ‘everyone pulling together’. I think that everyone should support a charity (or several) if they can. Gavel!



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