3. Charities Lead to Favouritism, not Fairness

Seven Arguments Against Charity
3. Charities Lead to Favouritism, not Fairness

Most people would say that the work of charities is valuable; in fact, some of us would go so far as to say the work of charities is essential for the wellbeing of society.  But, against a backdrop of negative news stories, recent years have seen a perceptible shift and hardening in the relationship the public has with charities. In this third of a themed series of posts,  addressing some of the more common complaints against charity, The Boiling Frog looks at the risk of charities promoting a culture of favouritism rather than fairness.

The argument goes that donors, not unreasonably, choose to give to causes that appeal to them. But these are not necessarily the causes where there is the greatest need.

There is some validity to the complaint that charities lead to favouritism, not fairness. For all the good causes that charities work on, public support doesn’t always follow.

Statistics show that while public donations to causes like cancer, children and animals remains unwaveringly high, support for more controversial areas such as gambling and alcohol addiction, asylum seekers and sexual health is by contrast very low.

Those who work for charities dealing with controversial or unpopular causes, or on issues that divide opinion or provoke negative reactions from funders and governments, can face an uphill struggle in getting their message across.

I remember one time how increasingly baffled and disappointed I felt at what seemed like a very real snub for our charity by the local branch of a very well-known supermarket chain just down the road from us, We hadn’t minded in previous years as each time they adopted another deserving neighbouring charity as their ‘local charity of the year’, but when they chose a not-for-profit in the next town, we did suspect that the problem was our cause.

Of course this supermarket would argue that they make the decision of which charity to adopt in the fairest way possible, by giving shoppers the opportunity to vote using tokens. But really this is simply setting causes against each other in a kind of charity beauty contest. Why as a society would we want to do that?

Supermarkets could instead guide the generosity of their customers in a way that does truly reflect supporting the local community in all its diversity. Perhaps giving every charity and voluntary group within a fixed-mile radius a share of the annual donation pie, irrespective of the cause. Donors don’t always want to choose between keeping a memory cafe open and supporting young carers.

Having said that, the job satisfaction in successfully changing attitudes even to a small group of people, can be second to none. Perhaps one of the distinctions about charities that all of us should value most highly is its ability to attract people who can rise above popularity and prejudice and dedicate their working lives to a brilliant cause that touches them, irrespective of how much of an emotional chord it strikes with the public in general.

About the Writer– Jenny Hopkins is founder and content curator of The Boiling Frog; she is also a voluntary sector adviser and strategy specialist for Penleaf Limited, helping charities respond to the challenges of a changing world.

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