07 December 2012

day 7: gold coins

Christmas stockings in this house always contain gold coins, chocolate of course, and oranges or tangerines.  It seems that the tradition is derived from the stories of King Wenceslas's charity to vulnerable women, the poor, the imprisoned. Ah, those wonderful chocolate coins. I once managed to use one as a kind of currency.  One very wet evening when the tube was down, a bus driver refused to let me on because I didn't have the right change   A woman offered to pay for me, and when we sat down, both like drowned rats, I remembered that I had bought one of those giant chocolate coins and gave that to her in exchange.  Whenever I see those chocolate coins I think of her small kindness.

I've been thinking more generally about kindness and charity this week.  Everyday, or so it seems, a request arrives asking me - not my partner, interestingly- to make a donation - phone calls, letters, shopping catalogues, emails, knocks on the door.  I feel besieged.  So I decided that I'd do a little bit of research and discovered this report.  It went some way to explaining why I'm being targeted: it seems that women in my age bracket give more than any other group.  Moreover, people are more likely to give if they are asked, hence the deluge.  Among the still relatively generous UK population, we older women are clearly an easier touch when it comes to marketing.

The NCVO report  also explains that income from charitable giving has dropped for the last two years - I know mine has.  The share of giving by cause makes interesting reading, with medical research topping the list, followed closely by giving to hospitals/ hospices and children's charities following closely behind; a higher percentage is donated to animal charities than charities for the disabled.  I also discovered that, unsurprisingly,  we are more likely to give to charities which have some personal resonance for us.  Looking elsewhere I found information on the salaries of charity CEOs and wondered whether some of those six figure salaries were justified.

All this made me feel less guilty about binning those marketing letters and giving cold callers and chuggers the brush-off.  I still have no idea what is a reasonable amount* to give to charity even though I do have a rough budget for direct debits to charities, giving on an ad-hoc basis, sponsoring friends and family, and one-off gifts.  And maybe I should be spending more of my gold coins or time on local causes that might not be cuddly and pretty rather than wearing a Christmas jumper.  Or should I do both?

It's doing my head in. What do you think?

* if I stuck to the median for my gender and age, it's £180 a year cash, but that doesn't take into account volunteering time


Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

I'm not sure if I'm not old enough to be generous or so well known for my lack of generosity that it's not worth targeting me as a potential donor. It's true, though, that I have problems with giving. The small amounts I am able to share seem soon to get swallowed up in the cost of follow up letters asking for more. I end up writing to complain . . . and it all peters out. Sometimes, when there are disaster appeals, I give directly, then there's no follow up. But that's all a bit ad-hoc.

Rachel said...

I'm strict nowadays; I support certain charities that I chose for their relevance to what matters most to me (optimising the survival chances of women and babies, really) and I'm firm about saying no to others wanting me to sign up for regular donations. I will respond to catastrophe appeals though. But demand is overwhelming, as is need, and it's hard to say no....

Your point about CEO salaries was interesting - I have a friend who is a CEO of a national charity, and - because funding is always precarious - she is worked to death and stressed beyond belief, and her health suffers. Her salary would be three times higher in the private sector, but I wouldn't swap places with her for ten times that amount!

Rattling On said...

I'm a member of the National Trust (and have bought 2 memberships as Christmas presents)and I pay by direct debit to the Woodland Trust. I also support a national charity for the disabled by donating and using gift aid.
I can't abide chuggers and will not give to them. I'll only pay 'in the street' to local animal charities, the hospice and for the poppy appeal.
At school we support local charities and occasionally national ones, though these seem less popular.
I agree that personal involvement/interest is a big factor and for myself I'd rather pay to give help and support right now than as some sort of insurance for the future (I believe the government should fund medical research).
This is probably one of the least frivolous comments I've ever left and I'm glad you posted about it!

Liz said...

Well, I make regular monthly payments to a couple of charities which I top up with additional amounts throughout the year. And yes, those charities are relevant to me and my family. I donate to a few others, like the Sally Army, less regularly and usually respond to emergency appeals whilst the mister volunteers three days a week at the local animal shelter.

As for chocolate coins, the tradition/expectation here is for Cadbury's ones. Why are they so hard to track down?

60 going on 16 said...

I can't remember if, when we met, we had the conversation about the charities I've worked for and with over the past 40 years or so, from Shelter in its early days to at least one charity with a global reach. It was, to say the least, an eye-opener. I was always amazed at the ability of some, often small, charities to make a profound difference to the lives of people - and animals - at times of need or distress. The National Council for Parent Families (now merged with Gingerbread), was certainly one of the best. My immediate boss was a brilliant campaigning journalist who, went on to become a household name - and is still campaigning almost four decades later.

By the same token, I was truly shocked by the way money was squandered in some of the larger charities, from travel and hospitality for unnecessary meetings to lavish spreads put on for directors and trustees. Then there were, in many cases, the enormous reserves, although I suspect that those reserves are not now what they once were; the creative accounting that hid the true costs of raising the money in the first place, and sponsorship from companies that were about as unethical as could be imagined. In one case it became a resigning matter for me; I walked away from the charity of which I was then one of the directors and set up my own small - and ethically run - consultancy.

These days, the only large charity I support on a continuing basis is Breast Cancer Care and I do that by being a volunteer (as a Breast Cancer Voice) and I always buy a poppy in memory of my late husband.

The charities I support through modest monthly donations are mainly small-medium sized organisations, doing specific work that few others are doing, for example, the Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research, which funds and promotes the development of techniques and procedures to replace the use of animals in biomedical research and testing. Their CEOs are by no means in the six-figure salary bracket and, as Rachel says, they tend to work their fingers to the bone. I also support local charities, such as our nearest hospice, the women's aid group, and Labrador South West, all causes close to my heart.

Chuggers? Absolutely not and almost all the direct mail is shredded on arrival and then recycled. I can think of relatively few major charities for which I would now be prepared to dip into my much reduced post-60 income.

Sorry, longish comment but I welcomed the opportunity your post gave me to put this in writing!

Joanna said...

The thing that makes me absolutely furious is when charities send me STUFF I have not asked for. Stuff like greetings cards and bookmarks. It is my firm belief that if there were less STUFF in the world, it would be a better place and perhaps some environmental charities would have less work to do. Recently I received an unsolicited CD of Christmas music and I simply returned that to the charity (wasting a stamp and an envelope in the process and presumably some of their time as well). We do give away a certain amount of our income and mainly to local organisations but I am sure we could do much, much more. Like you I find it does my head in.

Martin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jessica said...

Definitely a tricky one. It sounds like I have the same giving habits as many people who have commented; I have a few small regular payments set up to certain charities, then will donate on an ad-hoc basis to things like the poppy appeal, some collectors in London train stations such as the Salvation Army, and emergency appeals (these feel particularly important in a way, and there seems to be more chance of a high percentage of the money being used on the ground - but then maybe I am wrong). I live in an expensive city and am not on a high salary (and was a part-time student until recently), but I still think it is important to give. I’d love to volunteer really but like most people don’t feel like I could fit it in at the moment, so making monetary donations is my only option for now. I know that a lot of my friends don’t donate anything (or volunteer), which makes me a bit sad – people in my social bracket (graduates, in work, no kids or mortgage yet) definitely can afford to spare something. I think a common argument is that you don’t know where the money will go, but I figure if everyone thought like that then where would charities be?! Surely we would be A LOT worse off without the good work these organisations do, even if not every penny goes on front line work.

Oh, and I also hate 'chuggers'. There is just something about being harrassed in the street that puts people off, can't think why....