Sweet Charity

Posted on March 18, 2008. Filed under: Life Day to Day | Tags: |

On Tuesday I was walking home, wrapped up in the music coming from my headphones and thinking about what to cook for dinner when, from amongst the crowd streaming by Charing Cross station, a red-jacketed individual with a clipboard emerged and asked me a question.

“Hi. How are you doing today?”

I looked at her smiling yet professional face and quickly scanned the surrounding throng for similarly dressed people. Dammit. It looked like I was about to be chugged.

Since I don’t like to be rude, I engaged in the conversation with this Representative of the Urban Outcasts, all the while preparing my “Yes, I know that they do good work but..” reactive speech. This is my version of the ‘I have no money/time/no thanks’ snippet that everyone surely has equipped for rapid use on the streets in case of emergency.

I mean really. We don’t want to encourage them do we?

But dammit (that’s twice) this lady was good at her job. We started out talking through this and that (my accent, her accent, both of which it turns out are slightly off considering where we are from), and the conversation and her selling speech had me held for so long that I managed to remind myself that at the moment the only voluntary organisation I was really contributing to was Diabetes UK, and since I am an immediate benefactor of their work it’s not the most altruistic choice I could make. I then continued through thinking I probably *could* do with contributing to someone else, and the ICRC do good work and..yep. She left with my bank details, but (hah!) she only got them on condition of Gift Aid. Yeah. Go me!

The thing that got me though was at the end. The female RotUO handed me a wee plastic bag with some bits and bobs in it, and said “I know some people don’t like to take these, but it has some useful information in it as well as some plasters and an alcoholic swab. And everyone could use more of these right?”

That got me thinking. Why is the immediate reaction to be unhappy with it? Is it only the feeling that the money you’ve just signed away is clearly going to waste before you’ve even spent it? And thinking about it, isn’t this clipboarded RotUO getting some of that money as well?

On the flipside though: thanks my girlfriend, I know more or less how successful charities should work (she has a fair amount of experience in the area). They treat themselves as a business which happens to share out any ‘profit’ with their targeted stakeholders. And just like most business that trade day to day on their image, excellent marketing is the centerpiece of sustainable charity work. There are obviously lots of caveats, tradeoffs and goodwill that a charity can use as well, but this is the point: good marketing is gold dust.

So a small pack that has a band aid, safety pin, gauze and alcoholic wipe, along with some information about how to contact the charity should you have any questions about your donation is well thought out. I wouldn’t complain about that.

On the other hand, bad marketing is like pointing prospectors at the gold chunks accumulating on the river next to your house. You’re begging for trouble, and no good will come of it. Bottom line, no matter how efficient chuggers are at getting money for charities, and they must be since they’re still being regularly employed, they inevitably tarnish the image of the charity for whom they are working. I would urge charities to find other inventive means of fundraising, of which there are many. I came away from my encounter, happy that I’d upped the amount of contribution I was making, but slightly saddened by the knowledge that an organisation as vast as the ICRC had to resort to thrusting young people into red rain jackets and out of society in order to interrupt people on their way home from work.

If you have any thoughts on this, let me know. And while I’m talking charities, I should mention that in support of Irish music legend Ronnie Drew (of The Dubliners), a good chunk of Irish musicians got together and released a single “The Ballad of Ronnie Drew.” All proceeds are going to the Irish Cancer Society, who do fantastic work all over Ireland for cancer patients and their families and friends. Watch the video above, and then go out and buy the single.

It’ll be better than getting suckered in by your own guilt; the Outcasts won this round dammit (gah! Again!)


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