Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Opinion: A small amount can make a huge difference at this time of year

'How low must someone be to feel they have no better option than to sit down on the street'
'How low must someone be to feel they have no better option than to sit down on the street'
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

It's the time of year when we give each other gifts and many charities try to tap into the sense of goodwill by running their main annual fundraising drives.

We Irish have a well-founded reputation for charitable generosity. But various controversies have had a negative impact on overall donations.

Of course, there are those who say that we shouldn't give at all. Not just because of the looming pensions time bomb but rather because - see Oscar Wilde's socialist essay The Soul of Man - altruism doesn't solve problems like poverty but actually prolongs it.

But, until the arrival of an absolutely just world, who should we give to? Most people want to help but nobody wants to see their hard-earned dosh and goodwill exploited.

Perhaps there should be an order of "absolute neediness" and aid would be distributed in that order? But there are different views of need. I might think a human life should always come first. Others might prioritise dog welfare or an acre of rainforest.

Even among humans, how to decide? Does someone who is starving always come before someone with a life limiting condition? In terms of poverty, some feel that charity begins at home while others are more struck by extreme deprivation in developing countries.

Almost 10pc of the world's population, over 700m people, live on less than the World Bank standard for extreme poverty of US $1.90 per day.

So how to measure how good a charity is? Even if you were to study a set of accounts, which most of us don't want to do, would you be able to work out how "good" they are. I certainly wouldn't. Whenever irregularities are uncovered it is often by a team of investigative journalists.

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Because I am unsure who to support, my inclination is to spread it around. This may explain why I've got several begging letters from charities in the past few weeks. I find this approach off-putting and have been very slow to open these letters. But at least it does put me thinking about giving.

In terms of efficiency, surely the aim should be to try to give where there are as few intermediaries as possible. There was a time when I would never have given money to someone begging. Because I feared it would be wasted.

But who am I to judge? How low must someone be, not just financially but psychologically, to feel they have no better option than to sit down on the street and thrust out their hands to strangers for help.

Perhaps the beggar may be a fraudster, perhaps not.

If you are not comfortable with supporting begging, then how about what have been termed micro-causes. Pick up your local paper and you are bound to see where a relatively small amount can make a real and immediate difference to someone's life. If you don't have money to spare, maybe you have time or goods?

People give if, when and to whom they wish. Most of us, whether we recognise it or not, follow certain criteria. Often we have a personal connection to the cause.

Sometimes we don't give because we fear it's too little to make a difference. But even if your donation only helps one sick, hungry or homeless person, that still makes the world a better place.

It's easy to find excuses not to help but don't forget the giver gets as much if not more happiness from altruism as the recipient.

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