Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The Great Charity Swindle
I was strolling along Exhibition St with a friend, Tex, heading towards Chinatown. We were meeting my brother, Fanta, for a meal of steamed pork dumplings and cheap beer in a dark, dirty eating house located in a seedy alley where we planned to discuss obscure films viewed by perhaps just 8 people huddled in a dank theatre in the back streets of Brunswick.
"Great day, hey!" shouted Bubbly Young Irish Guy (BYIG) wearing a bright orange t-shirt and skipping over to us. "Hey! You dudes got a couple of minutes to chat about world hunger and the west's reluctance to make a difference?"
"No," I said, preparing to move on.
"Well, I have a couple of minutes," said Tex, always eager to please, and much to my chagrin.
"Great," said BYIG. "Basically what I need is for you to commit to many months of periodic payments to my organisation, Amnestfam Green-Vision, which will assist families to buy goats and shit."
"I already give to your organisation," I said, grasping Tex's shirt and encouraging him to keep walking.
"Really?" asked a sceptical BYIG.
"Yes, really," I said, sensing an argument and deciding to stay put. "I really do. I put coins in tins, I donate larger amounts when I can and I encourage others to do so."
"But signing up is really important. It means a constant flow of money, a good supply of goats..."
"I can't commit to regular payments. I don't earn much money. Like I said, I give when I feel I'm able to."
"I'll sign up," said Tex, trying to allay the tension and feeling somewhat positive after several cups of coffee at a dingy Flinders Lane cafe called The Bosch.
"But you don't earn much money either," I protested, annoyed Tex was getting between me and lunch.
"It's not much," said BYIG. "Ok. I'll need your bank account details."
"What?" said Tex.
"Your bank account details so we can make direct debits."
"You're shitting me," I said.
"I shit you not."
"I'm not giving you my bank account details," said Tex, beginning to realise he was in too deep.
"It's the only way we can sign you up."
"But I don't know them off the top of my head."
"I'll be happy to ring your bank and confirm your details. Give me your phone and you'll need to have your credit or debit card and driver's license handy."
"You're shitting me?" I repeated, so flabbergasted I was having trouble articulating.
"I already told you I'm not."
"Well fuck that. I'm not giving you my bank account details!" declared Tex, suddenly defiant.
"Yeah," I agreed. "Who the fuck are you?"
"I represent Amnestfam Green-Vision..."
"Yeah, but who the fuck are you?" I asked. "Come on Tex, let's go have dumplings."
"Think of the poor Africans while you eat your lunch," shouted BYIG, turning to a hapless business man eating a sushi roll. "Hey! Great day huh?"
This is largely a true story, and my attitude has finally been justified by the recent reports that many of these collectors are employed by a marketing company. This is, of course, not particularly surprising. However it means that a portion of your donation goes to a corporation and not to the kids or the goats. I'd want to know what portion makes it to the poor African fellow ploughing the field, and what portion to the managing director of Cornucopia, and I'd want this stated up front. If it's not stated, or the guy in the t-shirt doesn't know, then the whole affair can be considered a dodgy sham (as opposed to a fair sham).
For the record, I think people should give to charities if they are lucky enough to be able to afford to. But it should be the individual's choice which charity he or she gives to and when and how much.
Incidentally, it also pisses me off when someone does the hard sell on me in general. Whether it's a charity, a Lygon St restaurant or a professional tout on the streets of Bangkok, I will not buy a goddamn thing if somebody tells me to. I want the decision to be mine. I want to employ my free will, resist hard selling, resist advertising and resist all forms of marketing. Of course it's hard to say whether I've managed to avoid these influences, given the insidiousness of advertising. I mean, beer ads do make a great point.