Blowing Money Fast

Around a month ago a video went viral worldwide; it prodded the heartstrings and provoked a great deal of discussion. The video was leant its emotional strength by the presence of a villain in the form focused eyes of one Joseph Kony. As we all know by now thanks to the back and forth “I told you so” nature of viral videos, Joseph Kony was a very real villain replete with the necessary menace. Although not quite as villainous, the protagonists in this greater viral piece did somehow manage to place the limelight upon an oft forgotten issue, one set apart from their money-spinning foray into the dust cloud that is African politics – the role of Non Governmental Organisations in the western world.

In recent years it has often struck me as odd that the internet, which can be described as Attention Deficit distilled, has never really fixed itself until recently on NGOs. The lack of scrutiny on NGOs is somewhat galling considering the hefty tax breaks many receive. To criticise this ignorance is probably harsh considering that an element of naivety is mined from a trust that the majority of organizations granted charitable status clutch the spirit of charity close thereby ensuring that they do not lose sight of their aims.

This naivety comes unstuck when, quite simply, a society assumes. Assumption of this kind relies on trust, and when money is involved trust in organizations should only emerge with scrutiny, ensuring proper practice. Over the years the British public, admirably, has given obscene quantities of money to charitable drives which are almost always linked symbiotically to the media. However, even the use of TV as a platform illustrates the inextricable link between charity and big business; one cannot survive without the other.

Media drives such as Live Aid and its more local derivatives have, unmistakably achieved over time, yet, the efficiency and transparency of these drives can and should be drawn into question. Years back Bob Geldof, in all his hand-wringing magnificence, spearheaded a drive which succeeded in having a number of African nation’s debts struck off by the west. Understandably, it does come across surly to critique an achievement like that but it should be a necessity. One would have thought, upon donating to Geldof’s cause that this coup would help usher in a coup-less generation of prosperity in African nations. This, quite plainly, has not been so.

Attention deficit rings throughout our approach to a very pertinent issue which relates to both our personal finances and the day to day lives of people detached from our own lives, whether it be overseas or domestically. In a time of real austerity that is gripping the globe, it irked and worried me that Invisible Children could exploit a sympathetic population to, quite plainly, fill their own coffers.

Notably this is not merely a viral problem. The business side of NGOs is quite darkly portrayed on our streets on a day to day basis. Today, young fundraisers litter the street pedalling a cause that, when placed under direct scrutiny from members of the public, they do not truly believe in. Yet, these are young people simply trying to make ends meet for degrees, for children and, in some cases, just for a living. These young people are not the ones who deserve any kind of ire; they are merely reflections of the corporate face of NGOs and, much like litter, are treated as if they are disposable. As those who have personal experience of street fundraising know, it can be as high intensity as a business sales job (one girl who I interviewed in the charity I volunteer at informed me she had quit a charity telesales job after just one week when she was asked to press a man who had recently suffered a stroke). The sad thing is that even NGOs who do engage in a great deal of good have hired third party fundraising companies which have increased the corporate feel of things.

Of course in my opinion, this level of corporation when it comes to ideals which should be largely altruistic is immoral (let’s not get into a debate on morality; I just wanted to use a punchy word). There is a strong argument for the necessity of this corporate approach when handling larger charities, however this, and I have seen it first hand (I share a building with the Red Cross), can lead to an organization which can come across as detached from its roots. Much like with our government, I think devolution of powers to more local areas avoids this, providing tailor made solutions for unique circumstances.

In all honesty I initially thought up this piece as a means to promote the work of the charity with which I currently volunteer. The issue is, very clearly, far bigger than the goals of any locale. What I wish to encourage is that people, not only in regards to NGOs do their homework; call up any charity you are considering donating to, grill those at the bottom and try and talk to those at the top, query what precisely your money will be doing. In other walks of life in western society these things are a given, and yet they are flagrantly ignored when it comes to NGOs. This is why, if you are in fact interested in donating to the charity that I volunteer for, call me or their offices first and make a decision based on what you hear, or even come in and make one based on what you see. You earn your money and are the soul controller** of its purpose.

*A Ghostface reference is never inappropriate…