My Thoughts On… Charity

With all the internet spam on the new hype of the Ice Bucket Challenge, I figured I’d post up my views of another semi-controversial topic: charity.

ALSA logo

In a nutshell, the Ice Bucket Challenge is a wave of new internet hype where people pour a bucket of ice water over their head or donate money to the ALS Association in the US.

As it appears to be with everything in my life, I am extremely picky about what charities I choose to support. I mostly support volunteer-run charities. For example, I support K9 Friends over here, a locally-run dog shelter. They do incredibly good work, especially considering the lack of resources they have available to them, and the high supply of inconsiderate people here who abandon their dogs during the summer.

K9Friend Charity Logo

I have a few issues with how most non-profit charities work which is why I do not donate to them, and I’ll explain them in greater detail. The issues I have are:

  • Employee Salaries
  • Advertising
  • Playing on empathy
  • Use of gimmicks

Before I elaborate further, I do want to say that there are some really good counter-arguments to my thoughts on this matter. They’re very nicely put in a TED Talks by Dan Pallotta.

Non-profit organizations pay their employees salaries. That’s to be expected. Everyone’s got to earn a living. What I take issue with is the fact that some non-profits CEO’s earn salaries in the millions of dollars. Don’t believe me? Search around (Google’s your best friend) and you’ll find several non-profits who pay such salaries to their CEO’s. While I do agree a CEO has a responsibility, I believe a person’s commitment to a position in a charitable organization needs to be a charity in itself. There are a few good resources online you can look at to get a bit more information on the financial aspects of a charity you’d like to support. These are Charity Navigator and Guide Star. Unfortunately, they only look at US-based non-profits, but they’re still a good start.

The next one on the list is advertising. Charities spend money on sending out all those flyers asking you to donate (which you eventually throw away). Some even come with pre-paid envelopes. If money is being spent on this, it is not going to further the charity’s cause.

My third point is the exploitation of empathy in order to get money out of you. A perfect example is one that I have noticed over here in the UAE. I have not received a single SMS on my phone requesting a donation. But come Ramadan (a holy month for Muslims, where being a good person is rewarded in the eyes of God), I receive countless messages and emails at work asking to donate money to charities. Why not ask during the rest of the year? Why ask now? Simple answer: Because it gives them the best chance of getting donations, by exploiting people’s religion, beliefs and ideals. While I will say that this is advertising money well spent, I find it very underhanded.

The final point semi-ties in with my previous point, and is essentially what got me to write this post in the first place. Donating money to charity is no longer about just giving someone some money. It has to be stylish with some very nice flair. And for that, people come up with stupid things to get that money.

Case in point: the Ice Bucket challenge. “Oh, someone challenged you to donate money. Don’t want to do so? No worries! Post a video of you pouring a bucket of ice water on your head”. Yes, let’s do that, while there are so many non-profits out there trying to get fresh water to people who do not have access to it. And let’s not only get one person to do it, let’s spread a viral video and get people wound up in all the hype so that even more water, ice, and basically time is wasted.

Think the Ice Bucket challenge is a one-off thing? Think again! I shall direct your attention to the Kony 2012 hype. The Ice Bucket challenge is just a product of the large impact social media has. Using stupid gimmicks to get the Facebook Likes and getting videos viral are all part of the plan. Ice Bucket is not the first, and certainly won’t be the last. But I will tell you this: it was definitely poorly thought out.

So in response to the Ice Bucket Challenge: No, I refuse to waste fresh water (which is a precious, expensive and valuable resource) just to buy into all the hype.

So what do you think? Have you taken part in the Ice Bucket Challenge? Do you support any local or international charities? If so, how do you go about selecting which causes you support?

Update 28/8/2014: Turns out the ALSA is now trying to copyright the Ice Bucket Challenge Trademark. I’m definitely glad I didn’t give money to an organization that’s trying to take advantage of an already-broken copyright system to make even more money and fuel their greed. Apparently, money does make people show their true colors.

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