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Oxpresidentgate and a Crisis of Generosity

Its been an interesting start to the year for the third sector. As we all get to grips with GDPR (more later), we have been subject to increased media attention as first we reeled from President’s Club revelations to the far deeper impact of this week’s revelations about Oxfam (and others).

There is much that can be written. Undoubtedly there are some in media and politics who will seek to exploit the 1/3 of us who don’t think aid should be sent overseas to change policy off the back of bad behaviour by some people. We could face a drop in giving to international development, as supporting Oxfam is no longer seen as acceptable (like buying a plastic bag). I suspect this will recover at some point, possibly in different form.

However, there is a deeper moral crisis for third sector organisations and my fear is that Christian charities are not immune.

To explore this let me go back a month. The President’s Club- where charities were set to receive significant amounts of money from an event which had a level of attitude to other’s that surely our third sector values eschew. It was said in the immediate aftermath that the strategy for the event was to get people drunk and aroused enough that they would give their money. To medical charities. In a country where wealthy people are slowly pickling themselves (conveniently poorer people do this more publicly so we can drink our bottle a night with an easy target of judgement).

Undoubtedly some employed events manager, or PR exec felt this was a good strategy. And in terms of money given they were not wrong.

If only the Christian sector were immune.

We may not get people drunk, but we will still sit an intern on a table to tell stories of people who need our help. We may invite the wealthiest to something swanky and get them to bring their friends. I say we because I have been party to it and have probably applauded the “schmooze the money out” approach. I’ve been part of it because I’ve used the charity ticket to get a place in a race I wanted to do.

On my facebook timeline there are always at least two or three people who are raising cash for something that is really worthy whilst doing something that is basically fun for them. I’m running a half marathon next weekend, and people are almost annoyed that I’m not being sponsored. I’m running because I like running. How about you give because you like giving?

This is what it is: but it’s a poor substitute for generosity.

We give to facilitate ourselves or our friends doing something. This is detrimental because we give because we like our friends not because we like a charity and what they do. It reduces accountability. And ultimately it can mean that we are not buying into the values of that charity. I’m not sure it’s the most economically helpful way of being generous either (how much do races take to put on). I’m pretty sure I heard some kind of story about the cost of charity parachute jumps to the NHS…  Furthermore, this way of giving intrinsically favours large charities who can afford to buy up places. It’s those same large charities who have abused their power it seems; not just in the Oxfam related crisis but also through giving away contact details and badgering older people for money. Something to think about as we all grapple with new GDPR regulations.

I’m not trying to knock the charity sector- I have worked in third sector all my adult life. I am trying to suggest that some of the practices that we have taken on are antithetical to Christian ideas of generosity and giving.

Jesus had some pretty stern words for the people around him who wanted their generosity to be seen. He had words of challenge for the rich young man who couldn’t simply give. There were no sponsorship forms in the early church. (Admittedly I cannot conclusively say this..). The Christian model surely is that we give generously, to the needs that we know and are aware of- not simply to the biggest PR machine or the coolest challenge.

The model for Christians is give so that stuff can happen. I wonder if we can be brave enough to lead the way in it?

How might we do that?

·      Work out what you can give, add a bit more and commit to giving it.
·      Research some charities or organisations that you share values with.
·      Give them money, regularly if you can.

·      And relax knowing that you don’t have to haul yourself through 10k of mud just to appear generous. (though you can do it if you like that sort of thing).


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