“Why Should I Donate?” – A Most Uncharitable Response to a Charitable Act?

One of the most interesting things about taking part in Cancer Research UK’s Dryathlon, in which people pledged to give up alcohol for the month of January, has been how uncharitable some attitudes to charitable acts can be.  Although I haven’t experienced such attitudes personally, I have seen them circulating on Twitter and in comments on the Dryathlon Facebook page.  My own reasons for taking part, and indeed for asking people to support Cancer Research UK, were clear and had nothing to do with giving up alcohol and everything to do with highlighting the support needed for research to protect against and to cure cancers.

Dryathlon used giving up alcohol for a month to highlight a charitable cause, and as a result a morality discourse appears to have emerged in some quarters about what is and is not deserving of a donation to charity:

“WHY SHOULD I DONATE? Giving up alcohol for a month is no achievement, I haven’t drunk for years!”  Well, good for you!  But its not meant to be an achievement, its about people giving up something they enjoy to highlight a deserving cause.  A chocolate lover may give up chocolate, a smoker may give up smoking, or even a runner may give up training.  Each would be doing so to highlight the cause of their chosen charity.

“WHY SHOULD I DONATE? They should drink less anyway, I’m not paying them to improve their health!”  OK, but by this token don’t donate to charity when people run marathons, because clear and unequivocal research evidence shows that there is a dose-response relationship between physical activity and health, and either taking up running, or increasing the amount that one runs, in order to finish a marathon will improve people’s health – why should a charity benefit from that?

“WHY SHOULD I DONATE?  I could easily give up alcohol for a month!” Again, good for you!  But one person’s mountain is another’s stroll in the park.  I’ve been a swimmer since the age of about 5, and I am an experienced open water swimmer.  I could swim across the Humber tomorrow and be ready to swim the Channel within a month without any great effort or it being much of an achievement.  Others would find that all but impossible – people do what they can do to highlight causes they feel are deserving.

WHY SHOULD I DONATE? Its not like giving up alcohol is climbing Everest!” Fair enough, its not.  But why does there need to be an “exchange” for people to donate to charity?  If people are only prepared to donate to charity in exchange for somebody else doing something they consider to be extraordinary, most charities would be much poorer and humanity would be much more impoverished.

WHY SHOULD I DONATE?”…. because when people undertake a charitable act, when they do something or take part in something for charity, they are not asking for a donation because they have impressed you, nor are they asking for a donation in exchange for an extraordinary achievement that you agree is sufficiently difficult to warrant that donation.  They are HIGHLIGHTING A CAUSE and inviting you to consider supporting it.