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.


wari lasi said...

Why does the name escape me? Auscare? The charity I think Malcom Fraser was involved with that had admin costs (paying blokes like him and dodgy marketing firms) running at more than 100% of donations.

I think the Salvos win in terms of percentage of funds donated that actually get to the people for whom they were intended.

As for unsolicited arseholes walking up to you on the street, we've been there before recently with Alex. I reckon it's like someone breaking into your home, they have no rights to politeness or any civility whatsoever. "Fuck off!" works well and is all they deserve. Funny you mentioned Bangkok...

Puss In Boots said...

I sponsor a child through Plan, but I made that decision by my own research. I like that they're not politically or religiously affiliated, and apparently have the highest (or one of the highest) rates of funds going to the community itself.

I used to give to WWF, but was hassled too many times on the street such as in your story. So I called them up and cancelled my donations and told them exactly why. They didn't seem all that surprised, actually. Must happen a lot.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Good post, Bob.

Did you get your dumplings in the end?

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I look friendly or what, but people approach me on the street all the time. Mostly, it's just to ask for directions.

The problem I have with the charity people is that they don't start with "Do you have a few minutes?", they start with "Have you ever heard of [organisation]" and then immediately launch into a 10 minute sales pitch. I tend to feel rude cutting a person off once they're already talking but I also feel rude letting a person speak for that long knowing full well that there is no way in hell that I'm going to give them anything. To make matters worse, the people who have been approaching me recently have all been really, really tiny women and I feel even worse being rude to really, really tiny people in general.

In any event, I'm going to see if I can follow Ramon and Wari's advice and tell the next person who starts hurling a charity related sales pitch at me to fuck off. I don't particularly like my chances in actually pulling it off, but at least it's something to aim for.

Anonymous said...

They seem to generally employ young attractive backpackers to flog their charities on the street, probably paying them a commission on sales. So while they are motivated to get you to sign up, that motivation is not directly related to an actual desire on their part to support the charity in question, which most of them probably don't.

Of course, when it's a cute young woman trying to sell me a charity, I'll tell them I'm short of time, but would they like to take me out to lunch and try to persuade me? No acceptances as yet of this exceedingly generous invitation, though :-(

In general though, for any type of salesperson, whether on the street or door-to-door, I tell them to give me their literature and/or website details and I'll mull it over in my spare time, but I won't make any spontaneous commitments. Of course they don't like that either, because if you sign up through a website, they don't get their commission.

squib said...

We signed up to Oxfam with our account details years ago. I don't think it's any big deal

Charities always spend money on marketing. It's all part of their sneaky plan to get more money for those in need

Lewd, you sound like a bit of a Luddite with your money tins (and charity packets of skittles too I bet)

Anonymous said...

Squib, I don't think you have to be a Luddite to not want to give your bank account details to some bloke you just ran into on the street. At the very least, with a credit card, you get a bill that you can peruse before paying anything and contest it if you wish. If somebody pinches money out of your bank account, it's gone until you get it back, if you get it back.

Kettle said...

Good post, Bob. I hate any kind of sales pitch, but particularly of the kind that involves humankind and suffering.

My sadness about charities is that they're collecting for things that should, in a perfect world, be funded generously by the government from tax and other revenues. Medical research, overseas aide; I'd be stoked if the govt funded all of them properly on my/our behalf.

Melba said...

I agree. I think charity workers should be volunteers when they are at that tin-shaking level. Otherwise, they are being paid a wage/commission and that is money coming out of the collections.

Also direct debits can be hard to cancel. I've heard of gyms making things very difficult and they just keep on taking the money out. Similar to some overseas companies with credit cards.

The whole thing's giving charity a bad name.

I'm very blunt to people who call on the phone and who approach me on the street. I tell beggars I don't give money on the street, and tin-shakers I don't give money (for the above reasons)unless they are clearly volunteers (ie wearing CFA uniforms, etc.)

patchouligirl said...

Its a well timed post - I was hit up at 5.30pm yesterday in Toronto by a PLAN representative brandishing a photo of Jamie Durie. They asked have I heard of Jamie Durie and I said "yes" (but thought "he's such a wanker"). Then they asked me was I aware of what was going on in the world today and went on about the importance of building infrastructrure for starving communities. I just kept looking down at my restless 2 yr old in his pram and said "look, not today" and they accepted that.

My problem with all these charities is that no matter how many children we sponsor over how many decades, no matter how many wells we dig, schools we build etc, the problem doesn't seem to go away. The fact that we are still being hit up to sponsor children and dig wells tells me that the last 50 years of Australians digging deep hasn't worked. Handing over cash will not work - if Western countries are going to solve this it needs to be a more hollistic solution. We need to have some kind of commitment on the part of the Governments of these countries that don't seem to be able to provide the basics for their people. Without that you may as well throw your money out the window.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

As a result of this piece in the Age this morning, I can now confidently conclude that Lewd Bob is Catherine Deveney.

Perseus said...

I give an organisation $30 a month, and have done for many years, and so that's my line to the charities who approach me on the street. "I already give a monthly donation to x"

But I'm a sucker for cleaning product sales pitches on TV, as well as toothpaste/toothbrush ads.

Mad Cat Lady said...

I had Jamies thong clad baby oiled butt inches from my face once, but it was the guy professing to be Thor dressed in an itty bitty loin cloth that dragged me up on stage.

Lewd Bob said...

Thanks for outing me Ramon. But surely I'm much nicer than her ain't I?

Coincidentally I was also dropped by a child I was sponsoring in Gambia many years ago. The messages I received from him/his family/his aid org were very contradictory. One day he was 8, then next he was 6. He lived in Gambia then Mozambique. He was black, then white. It didn't add up.

Lewd Bob said...

And yes, Ramon, I got the dumplings, and yes you are nice Alex, and nice pick up line Boogey, and I agree PG and Kettle, Govts and Corporations should take more responsibility and no squib, I'm no luddite. Perhaps the organisations who still use tins are the luddites.

Puss In Boots said...

Ok, am I the only one who notices a marked difference between the writing of that piece, and the writing of her other pieces a few months back? And the description on her profile says is a comedy writer and stand up comedian.

It's almost like she was getting too much hate mail being a rabid feminist and has now decided to try and be funny. That article was definitely written with the intent of humour (though failed on many instances). The other pieces she's written were dead serious.

I find it odd.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Puss, I think you'll find the Dev likes to mix things up a bit bewteen comedy and the more serious stuff.

Probably so she doesn't get bored, I suspect.

Perseus said...

Puss - she's been a comedy writer for years, as far back as Fast Foward, and she also wrote for the Vizard show. She's also been responsible for those gags that international celebrities read off cue-cards at The Logies.

The term "comedy" is used loosely however.

Personally, I think she's hit and miss, but her hits are more like a careess, and her misses, like Leunig's misses, are embarrassingly woeful.

I remember years ago she wrote a "comic" article about having her baby, and she said some rather unkind things about the midwife. The midwife (or someone else from the hospital) took extreme umbrage (from memory, it was a letter to the newspaper) and she back-pedalled faster than Cadel Evans.

catlick said...

Probably so she doesn't get bored, I suspect.
Is it too much to ask if she could extend the same consideration to her readers?

Puss In Boots said...

Really? Huh. I never knew that. I just thought she was a bitter and twisted feminazi. To find out she actually thinks she's funny? Well. Just makes me despise her more, really.

Anonymous said...

if Western countries are going to solve this it needs to be a more hollistic solution. We need to have some kind of commitment on the part of the Governments of these countries that don't seem to be able to provide the basics for their people.

PG, my guess is that a big part of the problem is the ingrained corruption and general ineffectiveness of the governments and public services sectors in these countries. That sort of thing is difficult enough to combat in developed countries where poverty and low education aren't such a huge problem.

My assumption is that long term positive change is going to be very slow and painful and probably require a number of backwards steps to achieve.

Melba said...

Wouldn't Cadel's chain come off if he backpedalled?

On the Dev, I reckon Ramon is married to her. He is a Dev apologist.

Also, she's not funny, but I think she's trying to be funny. But with subject that get people's backs up: private school education, scheduled caesarians, all the feminist issues, all the religious issues, some of the sex stuff? I reckon she's got a list.

ALSO I do take umbrage at Leunig being lumped in with her. The two can not be compared. I know people here don't like him either, but he is on another level. He is CLEVER and FUNNY and INSIGHTFUL. Things that I don't think she is. His cartoon today for example. Good.

Anonymous said...

Is Catherine Deveny that lady with the dark wavy hair who comes on Q&A every so often and talks over the top of everybody?

Sorry Melba, but I take umbrage to Leunig being called funny.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

I'm pretty sure that's Annabel Crabb, Alex.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ramon. As I don't usually read opinion columns, I tend to confuse opinion columnists.

Melba said...

Alex, some of Leunig's earlier work was hilarious. You obviously aren't familiar with it, or you don't have my fabulous sense of humour, which is ok, don't feel bad about it.

Puss In Boots said...

I challenge you to find 5 things Leunig has done that are hilarious, Melba. I bet you get stuck at one, if that.

patchouligirl said...

a big part of the problem is the ingrained corruption and general ineffectiveness of the governments and public services sectors in these countries

Of course this is the problem, plus the fact that they keep on fighting each other while their people starve. Do we keep giving charity for decades with no end in sight? It is a band aid solution and doesn't address the core problem. It could even prolong the suffering.

Melba said...

Jeez, ok then. Off the top of my head:

1. an early one re Fred Nile that had a punk in a safety-pinned, ripped t-shirt saying "nihilist"

2. the suit-stone of Al Jazeer (parapharasing)

3. a cartoon about developers and included the words like "hard", "erect", "enormous"
"thrust" or similar.

4. the iWant - a comment on the iPhone (more recent)

5. now I had to stop and think.

I can't think of any more specifically but I remember some good ones re Howard. They're all clipped and packed away. When we move into our new house, and when I unpack all my shit I will offer you a feast. For I have them all.

And when I say hilarious I don't mean piss myself exactly, I mean smile, nod and like. Maybe hilarious was a little too strong a word. But why the hate?

It's the baby/childcare one he did, isn't it. Admit it.

Anonymous said...

It's the baby/childcare one he did, isn't it. Admit it.

Not for me. I can't point to any one thing that the man has said or done and say "This is the reason I don't like Leunig". I just haven't seen a single cartoon of his that I found funny. I don't know what the direct opposite of funny is, but if I did, I would use that word to describe many of those cartoons. Maybe I've just been exposed to his B stuff. I don't know.

Do we keep giving charity for decades with no end in sight? It is a band aid solution and doesn't address the core problem. It could even prolong the suffering.

PG, if there's a quick and effective solution, I have no idea what it is. I'd say the best bet is education, because if you give a man a fish or teach a man to fish and so forth. But education won't happen overnight, and you're still going to need the odd well full of goats to tide people over in the meantime. A few less religious types running around telling people not to use condoms probably wouldn't go astray either.

Perseus said...

It's the baby/childcare one he did, isn't it. Admit it.

That was one, but it was the Israel one that finally got to me. The Iranians thought it was FANTASTIC.

Melba said...

I probably did too. Can't remember the detail.

So we agree on lamb and the non-existence of god, and we disagree on Israel and Leunig (and they are kind of connected.)

Ok. I can live with that.

eat my shorts said...

But I'm a sucker for cleaning product sales pitches on TV, as well as toothpaste/toothbrush ads.

I want to marry the ShamWow guy. I reckon he'd go off in the sack.

Convince me I'm wrong.

Anyone ... anyone?

Yeah. That's what I thought.

Marissa said...

check out "The War You Don't See" to see how the news loves to sell us shit too.
Oxfam, Plan International, Save the Children, World Vision are all reputable organisations - Plan and Oxfam are apparently the most transparent and use the least amount on admin. I sponsor a child through Plan, I think they're cool.