Most of you will remember the ‘Ice bucket challenge’ that swamped social media a few months ago. The idea being you pour a bucket of ice water over your head, donate money to charity and nominate several friends to do the same. It was a huge success for the charities involved and raised millions of pounds, mainly for Motor Neurone Disease research but also for charities like Macmillan Cancer Support and Water Aid when they joined in. It was the challenge you had to be seen doing, peer pressure at it’s most effective. It raised money and awareness for a great cause, with the added bonus of providing entertainment and improving your Facebook profile.
I think with this and other challenges like the ‘no makeup selfie’ before it we have proven that our digital generation still cares about helping people and raising money for charity. Albeit in perhaps a very public way. These trends and challenges work because we do care and want to make a difference. But I suppose my question is: what do we do now the challenge is behind us? How much do we care when the pressure is off, when social media has gone quiet, in the stillness before the next big challenge? How generous are we when no one is looking?
My fear is that these challenges give us the illusion of being generous. We give our allotted donation, post our video or photo. Not only do we have the satisfaction of knowing we’ve supported a charity but we can also watch the Facebook ‘likes’ roll in. It’s hard not to feel like we’ve done our bit, like can forget about charity until the next thing comes around.
And this money is vital and highly valued by all the charities involved. I’m sure there are charities across the country who are desperately hunting for the next challenge or trend, that will tap into the goldmine that is social media. But as wonderful as these one-off donations are, they are fickle and unreliable. You can’t project the growth of a charity based on being the next viral trend. This year your charity may be blessed with this income source but it will eventually taper off. As quickly as it arrives it can dry up. You have millions of people who cared about your charity briefly those months ago, but most likely they will move on. The Ice Bucket Challenge is unlikely to go viral again next year. Who knows what the next online sensation will be.
Ultimately, what charities need to secure their future is armies of people who care enough to donate month after month. People who sacrifice a part of their salary to sign up to make a regular donation. And whilst this money will likely fluctuate too, it is far more reliable. Charities are able to anticipate what will be in the bank next month. They can grow and employ more staff. They can build a level of security by increasing this army of supporters.
I know this from my own experience working for a debt counselling charity called CAP. That whilst we appreciate funds from lots of sources, it is our wonderful network of regular givers that allow us to plan for the future. With their help we can grow and expand, helping more people to find a route out of debt. They provide the fuel to keep us steaming ahead.
It’s okay if you sometimes feel apathetic about charities, if you struggle to find your enthusiasm. It’s okay, because you’ll find that those of us who work for charities have more than enough passion for all of us, and we’re happy to share it. We all do it for different reasons. For me, what drew me to CAP was the desire to rescue those so burdened by debt and poverty that they saw suicide as their only option. I wanted to be part of a charity that drew people back from the edge, that gave them a chance for the future. I knew what despair feels like and my passion is to do what I can to lift people out of those depths.
Charities are the safety net there to catch those for whom society and communities have failed. We are there to pick up the pieces for those who have no where else to turn. Charity workers are united by a belief in second chances, in giving people hope and a future, in reaching out to the lost and the marginalised. We may not be able to change the world, but that won’t stop us from trying, one life at a time. It is an amazing privilege.
At CAP I stand on the shoulders of men and women who have kept working for our clients even in the months when on time salaries were a distant dream. Colleagues who re-mortgaged houses and sacrificed salaries to keep the charity going. People who know what it means to spend yourself on behalf of the poor and needy. I know that if the money dried up we would keep going, as long as we were able. But passion alone won’t pay the bills. We need help.
We, like many charities, rely on the generosity of those who give a little or a lot every month. From as little as £3 a month. People who are prepared to hold what they have with open hands. Men and women who understand that when we find ourselves with plenty, we have a responsibility to give to those who have less. People like you and me.
Maybe this generosity will go unnoticed. It may never be fashionable or popular. It may not get you recognition or raise you Facebook profile. Perhaps only God will see it. But please know how appreciated it is. Thank you for being the lifeblood that keeps CAP and other charities going. Thank you for equipping us with the tools we need to save lives. Thank you for being prepared to stand with us through the good times and the bad.
And if you aren’t already supporting charities, perhaps today is the day to start. Or maybe you can find room in your heart for another. I would love you to support CAP. But I also know there are plenty of worthy charities that could use your money. We don’t have to wait until the next internet sensation to start giving.
Lets use the climate of giving that this digital age can create. Lets take the opportunity to get behind those charities who are working so hard to help those in need. Lets show that we are a generation who cares for each other. Lets start now.
So today I ask you simply: will you help us?