I played 11 a side football for the first time in 24 years yesterday, the mind and the body were, unsurprisingly, not in perfect harmony. While I seemed to be able to read the game my body struggled to keep up with the play. So little had changed since I last graced a football pitch.
The match was against Boys' Town, a charity started by the Montfort Brothers of St. Gabriel that provides residential care, street outreach, fostering, and community and school-based programmes for families, children, and youth-in-need.
The charity itself is one that my company supports and, as is always the case with charitable work or donations, it makes you feel good about yourself when you go and visit a cause that you have supported. By no means is that a bad thing, but it is an interesting aspect of donating either money or your time to charities. While the stated purpose is to help others less fortunate than yourself, the sense of being "righteous" also means that you benefit from the act of being charitable.
Visiting the charity yesterday has made me reflect on how modern charitable donations tend to work. More often than not a week does not go by without me receiving a request to donate to someones chosen charity and support whatever wild and wacky challenge they have chosen to undertake; shaving their hair off, running a marathon, sitting in a bath of baked beans........the list goes on. The charities that you are asked to donate to often bear some personal resonance to the individual raising the funds, and it is a great way for people to support whatever causes they wish to help. However, for the donor it is often a fairly clinical exercise. You click three buttons (accept the tax relief) and make your donation. Once done you will probably not think on the matter again. The end result is great, money is raised for a deserving cause, but the journey itself is a little far removed and lacking in any personal involvement. That afore mentioned enjoyable glow that comes from actively getting involved in charitable causes is very much lacking in this new age of digital donations.
Personally, I have found myself as this pattern of charitable giving has grown, becoming occasionally irritated when I receive these emails. An irritation that is caused by the suspicion that the charitable aspect of the request is simply a means to an end for the person to have a holiday and do something they have always wanted to do. The best example of this is when I was asked to donate to two friends that were living in London and wanted to run the New York Marathon. This seemed a ridiculous escapade to undertake under the pretext of raising funds for charity. If raising funds was the actual priority, rather than spend money on flights and accommodation why not just enter the London Marathon? Needless to say I did not make a donation.
This raises an interesting question; does it matter how money is raised so long as money is raised? I am very much a believer in the free market and quite clearly the combination of mixing individual challenges and charitable donations has seen an increase in charitable giving. Even in the extreme example of London based New York marathon runners, by them pursuing their personal goals and mixing that in with a tenuous charitable aspect more money was raised for a good cause than would have been the case otherwise. When looked through this lense, surely it is actually me that has the problem here? At the end of the day money was raised for a good cause and who am I to complain.
When it comes to charity I have always been a believer in the Dickens view; that charity should be focused within your local community first before being focused far afield. In his view if everybody focused locally first it would have a more positive affect on society at large. The problem with people focusing on the lot of those far afield while ignoring those closer to home was most effectively parodied by Dickens through the character Mrs Jellyby in Bleak House. She is a character portrayed as a philanthropist who is so obsessed with setting up settlements in Africa that she neglects her own home, spouse, and children. Wrapped up in her project, she is callous and heartless even when her daughter pleads for her attention. Mrs Jellyby is a classic over the top exaggeration of a certain type of person, an extreme character and the type of person Dickens specialises in describing. A character that Dickens describes and portrays with an almost palpable delight. However, with the world becoming more and more obsessed with how virtuous they are perceived to be, through a never ending supply of online portals this focus on "headline" causes across the globe seems to have never been higher. While your local community centre could most probably do with your support, it makes much more of a statement about who you are to instead go on a march against the democratically elected US President. More online views, more likes,more hits, less messy and all very self gratifying.
And so when it comes to donating to charity, I believe that charity should start at home. You can have the largest impact to the cause you are helping and to yourself personally if you give up your own time as well as your own money to tangible causes that you can personally affect, While there is clearly a sense of achievement in being viewed as virtuous through supporting big banner campaigns around the world, it is surely a great deal more satisfying impacting your own community.