Thursday, 28 July 2011

NOTW Charities - Shame on You!

When I first read the story yesterday that it had taken more than 50 telephone calls to find just three charities that would agree to be the beneficiary of a huge payment of cash stemming from the final edition of the News Of The World, I really didn't know what to think.

Read the full article here on Third Sector.

I was somewhat torn. And if you read the article all the way through to the end, you may possibly have seen my comment.

You know, I can understand (to a point) the moral sensitivities of the boards of some charities not wanting to be "tainted" with NOTW money. But I am sure the ultimate recipients - the people these noble agencies are representing - would have no such reservations. We can't even raise $500 dollars to help some kids in Peru, or money to put a new roof on a school we are associated with in Uganda, or a former journalist in Mogadishu who found himself being hunted because of his humanitarian work... they've probably never heard of NOTW. If they have any cash left, send it our way

But after sleeping on it, or rather lying in bed trying to sleep on it, I just found myself becoming increasingly agitated.

The article did not offer the names of the other 47 who turned down the generous offer, but doubtless many of you would be familiar with them. Perhaps just today you received a brochure through your letter box, or an email in your inbox, soliciting donations for their good and noble cause.

Or maybe it was an exquisitely designed full page advertisement in a national newspaper, or a slickly produced 30-second television slot timed to appear just after the nightly news had completed its coverage of the famine in the Horn of Africa.

You will have been told, no doubt, that your donation will bring light where there was darkness, offer education where there was only ignorance, bring water when there was only drought - and bring food where there was only famine.

Dead cattle, dying kids. Dust and filth. The sort of "flies in the eyes" images the larger agencies have traditionally used to tug at your heartstrings, and your pursestrings.

In most cases the video and photojournalists who work for these agencies get paid well, some of them quite handsomely. Out of your donation.

The images are then sent back to a prestigious address in the highest rent areas of London and other cities for processing, where some of the best digital editors and layout artists in the business will ensure they will be produced to a high glossy standard that you simply cannot ignore.

Again, out of your donations.

And all the time the money pours in.

Some of it goes to pay for many of the - hidden is too harsh a word - the understandable perks of being on the board of a prestigious aid or charitable agency. To be fair, having a couple of Lords or Ladies, Dukes and Duchesses, Knights of the Realm on your board is an absolute necessity if you are going to reach and stay at the top of the donation food chain. So who can blame you if you spoil them, just a little, eh?

But time out. Let's stop here and make one thing absolutely clear. As someone who has been on the fringes of the aid sector for decades as a journalist, and more directly involved through our own small grassroots non-profit, I know that this goes on. To be frank, I think it is a little sleazy, but if it does do what these agencies claim - and each of those Dukes and Duchesses and minor royals are worth their weight in bringing in funds, then good luck, get on with it.

Can I seriously begrudge them their little "goodie" bags of minor treasures in exchange for the time they take out of their busy schedule to sit around a mahogany table to discuss what they can do for a bunch of skinny, half-naked people sitting hungry in their own shit around a burnt out campfire 3,000 miles away?

No, I cant.

In addition, as a non-profit that relies exclusively on volunteers working pro-bono, I actually have no issue whatsoever with professional people being paid a professional wage for doing a professional job. In fact I wholeheartedly support it. Unreservedly.

But what ticked me off about this story, was the almost blase way "these noble guardians of our donated pennies" put more stock into maintaining a fatuous moral stance against the NOTW than they did into considering the potential good that money could have done.

A popular response was, "Some members of our board were former servicemen". Good for you. Nothing quite like a spit and polish general to bring a little discipline to a meeting, eh? Well, ladies and gentlemen, so am I. An ex-serviceman. So were two of my brothers. My father. Uncountable Uncles. Some cousins and a few nephews. And many of the older ones fell in the service of their country.

Would they have condemned the NOTW for what they did? Of course. And in some very colorful language, you can be assured! But being blue-collar chaps way back to the time of the great depression, there are plenty of veterans in my extended family who have a slightly better appreciation about what being poor, hungry, homeless and hopeless is all about than perhaps many of the grand old board members do.

Don't for a second think that pride is the prerogative of the ruling classes, it isn't. But not wishing to be rude, the nobs do seem to have been standing at the back of the queue when the common sense sandwiches were handed out. And it is self evident they completely missed the "seconds" on pragmatic pudding.

So after you sent the upstart from the NOTW away with a flea in his ear, concluded your board meeting, picked up your "goodie" bags and headed off to your secluded mews cottages, or fashionable apartments, or homes in the country, morally uplifted by the stand you had made against that hateful little man Murdoch and his scurrilous tabloid - did you even once spare a thought for the child who might have been spared the prolonged and painful death from starvation - if you just had the moral fortitude to swallow your pompous pride and accept the money?

It really grieves me, but somehow I doubt you did.

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